I attended Catholic schools from second through twelfth grade. My dad was from a large Irish Catholic family that attended Mass regularly and attended Catholic schools, and my mom was from an Italian Catholic family. But even though my parents grew up Catholic and I attended Catholic schools, my immediate family did not attend Mass regularly or observe other liturgical practices. We didn’t have meaningful conversations about our faith in my home. However, I did look to both of my grandmothers as examples of faith in action.
My fiancée and I had been living together during college. When we decided to marry and were discussing what type of wedding we should have, I remember him saying to me, 'We should get married in the Church.' I said, 'Wouldn’t it be hypocritical of us to marry in the Church? We are living together, not going to Mass, and not practicing in any way?' If you had asked me back then, I would have told you that I believed, but I did not have much faith or conviction.
Years later I was working downtown in property management. I had recently leased an apartment to a young law student and his girlfriend who were moving up from Florida. Shortly after they moved in, she came into the leasing office and asked me where the nearest Catholic church was.
I was taken aback by her question; I had been working in leasing for years and no one had ever asked me to help them find a church! She was young, living with her boyfriend, and she was asking me to help her find a Catholic church to attend? To say I was surprised would be an understatement. Like her, I too had lived with my boyfriend before marriage, but it didn’t really occur to me to attend Mass while we were living together. By the time this new resident asked me for directions, I could have probably counted on one hand the number of times I had been in church since my wedding day.
I gave her a list of several nearby parishes. She ended up attending St. Ambrose parish, which also happened to be the closest parish to my home. I thought, you know, if she can go in, I can go in. After that, my husband and I began attending St. Ambrose regularly. Seeing her in the pew Sunday after Sunday changed my perspective and gave me courage.
Fast forward to the winter of 1996. My husband and I had been trying to have a child for several years and I was at the point where I thought something must be seriously wrong. On Christmas Eve, I was feeling particularly low. I remember walking into the church that night and it was stunning. The entire church was lit by candlelight, the choir was singing hymns acapella, and people were quietly praying.
Before Mass began, I walked over to the St. Joseph’s altar, knelt, and began to pray to Jesus. I do not know why but I changed my prayer. It was as if I turned my prayer upside down. Instead of praying for a baby because I thought I should have one — you know, 'Please let me have a baby…Please let me get pregnant' — I just started with, ‘If it is your will to allow me to be a mother…If it is your will…I will accept your will, whatever it is.’
I remember feeling sorry for presuming that I should just be given a child because it was what I wanted. I just kept repeating, ‘If it is your will, I will accept your will.' I don’t know how long I was there, but while I was kneeling, I became super warm. I was still, but it was as if I was getting closer and closer to a fire warming me gradually. And there was communication. There were no words but there was communication. I knew there was a presence in that moment; I could feel it, I knew I was not at that kneeler alone. Even though I was in a church filled with several hundred people, it felt intimate. It was palpable, and I knew I was heard. I was not alone with my thoughts; I was alone with my Savior. I can’t say I understood what had happened, but I knew without a doubt that I was heard. I had never experienced anything like it before and it left me with a deep sense of calm, relief, and joy.
I got up to return to my pew and I did not walk away thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m going to have a baby now; I’ll get to be a mother.” What I knew was Jesus connected with me and I knew he was physically with me in that time of prayer. I knew it without doubt. I knew I was heard, and that everything would be OK and as it should be. I knew. I believed. I sat down next to my husband, and I was stunned. I remember grabbing his shirt sleeve and saying, “Something just happened, something really important just happened, I don’t know how to explain it. I was heard! I was heard!”
A couple of months later, and with my fertility specialist appointment still a few weeks away, I was at work and realized that I was late. I started counting and recounting the days. I took a pregnancy test when I got home, and it was positive. For the first time after many tests, it was positive! I called my OBGYN the next morning, she got me in quickly and I took another test to confirm. It was again positive. She calculated my due date, and told me it was December 24 — Christmas Eve.
I was gobsmacked!
On Christmas Eve 1997, we took our tiny, 11-day old daughter out of our home for the first time to midnight Mass at St. Ambrose.
Had I not had that experience on Christmas Eve of 1996, had my faith not been solidified in that palpable way, I would not have been able to sustain myself for what was to come. I would not have been able to walk through the illness and death of my maternal grandma or the devastation of my marriage falling apart. During the bleakest time of my life when I felt so broken, Jesus was with me, and I don’t say that in a flippant way.
Time and time again he has placed people in my path that have held me up when I didn’t think I could even stand. I was able to accept help and trust in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to prior to 1996. And time and time again he has placed me in other peoples’ paths, and I have been able to help them in a way that I didn’t even know at the time. He opened my eyes, ears, and heart that night in his presence. I know I am never alone. I have confidence in the presence of God and deep faith in knowing Jesus is on the face of the earth. I believe because he came for me one Christmas Eve.
Experience it for Yourself
Jesus is truly present. Jesus is always with you. Sit in his presence and open yourself up to his voice.