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Divine mercy, even in the parking lot

I never expected seminary formation to fly by as quickly as it has. In a recent Zoom call, I realized I’d met the other seminarians only a year or two ago, yet it feels like I have known them for a lifetime. Priestly formation has certainly been an unexpectedly fruitful, wonderful journey, and it should be no surprise that God always works in our lives in unexpected ways.

On Divine Mercy Sunday in 2019, I was fortunate to be at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., to assist with the almost 18,000 pilgrims who would descend on the shrine for the feast. The chaotic weekend weather, which ranged from cold and cloudy to bursts of sun, rain, sleet and snow over the course of three days, was no match for the overwhelming excitement and joy of the pilgrims. While carrying the processional cross ahead of a Eucharistic procession, getting pelted with sleet, I heard a religious brother behind me recite the Canticle from Daniel 3:52-90: “… Ice and snow, bless the Lord … ” How appropriate and worthy it seemed to praise God in that very unusual moment. 

At the end of the weekend, as we headed to our vehicles, we passed huge lines of pilgrims waiting to board their buses, some anticipating hours or days on the road. They were all eager to greet us and share their overflowing joy, gratitude and trust in the Lord’s mercy and love. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, my heart was overflowing with immense love and gratitude to God for all the demonstrative ways he had revealed himself that weekend.

This year’s Divine Mercy Sunday contained a little less adventure. As I was thinking of the joy of last year, I walked across a desolate parking lot from the rectory to the almost empty Blessed Sacrament Church, to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet with my seminarian brother. Four parishioners had come to pray as well, all of us spread out well beyond the pandemic social distancing norms. One parishioner placed her phone in the center of the church so we could hear the Divine Mercy Chaplet being broadcast live from the National Shrine in Stockbridge. The six of us, kneeling before one of the most beautiful crucifixes I’ve ever seen, chanted the Divine Mercy Chaplet together in unison with the Marian fathers. As I retraced my steps across the empty parking lot, my heart was again filled with incredible joy and gratitude to God for the unexpected and simple ways that he works.

Over the past few weeks, it has been the simpler things, the ordinary encounters, that become so profoundly meaningful: meeting a parishioner in the parking lot, a generous soul bringing food to the rectory, or a car parade of loving parishioners thanking Father John Kelly for 34 years of priestly service. In the midst of this solitude and isolation, my heart has been opened to the beauty and joy found in the ordinary and seemingly trivial happenstance moments of life. It is truly awesome how God reveals himself to us in these ways. And so, in the spirit of Daniel, I say “Ordinary happenstance encounters and a warm smile, bless the Lord.”

Lewandowski, who is from St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville, just completed his first year of pre-theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020