One of the great gifts of being Catholic is not being confused or overwhelmed when saints and Bible characters step off the pages into your life at the moments when you need them most. You are free to rejoice in the realization that you have a relationship with the Church Triumphant. Ironically, I think Martin Luther was the first person I experienced this with, and his passion for grace, love of Scripture, devotion to truth, perseverance, and reverence at the Real Presence of Christ at Communion were instrumental in leading me to the Church of England (in a similar vein- I have an Episcopalian friend who's been known to request prayer from good St.Martin on All Saint's day). Next was the Apostle Thomas, as I stood at his tomb in India, at a point in my life when I had been nearly destroyed by doubt and fear. He showed me that doubt could be restored; by grace, the man who has become a near universal symbol of doubt and unbelief had enough faith to travel to India, to pour out his life to give others the chance to believe. During the confusion and stress of preparing to start grad school, the Virgin Mother was my reminder that unexpected complications to one's life can be gifts, that one does not have to have a detailed plan in order to respond to God's request, that grace is quite often disruptive,but nonetheless good.
This year, during Holy Week, it was Veronica's turn. In some ways, she's always been there. It's a story from childhood - Jesus is on his way to Jairus's dying daughter, and out of nowhere comes a desperate woman, in faith that simply touching the hem of his garment will heal her. He feels power go out of him, and to the disciple's irritation, stops to acknowledge her. In high school I read something by Beth Moore focusing on her unclean status, and the loneliness and isolation this caused in her life, and Christ's grace in restoring her to community. Jr. Prom fell near Easter, and our group gathered at the home of a friend of mine who's mother is a remarkable woman and devout Roman Catholic. She made it a point to show us her Veronica cloth, briefly saying "she wiped his face with her veil and his image remained upon the cloth"...and my reaction was a strange mixture of confusion and pity that an intelligent educated woman could believe such a thing, especially since it wasn't scriptural.
Veronica. Pushing through the crowds, trying to get to Christ. She didn't want to intrude, she understood that there were more important matters at hand, that she wasn't supposed to be there, and yet she was desperate for something only Jesus could give. Bold, timid, unclean, she made her way unnoticed to the Messiah. She touches him, and is immediately healed. Then, to her horror, Jesus begins to look for her. Despite her hope to go unnoticed, to simply gather up some crumbs of grace, she is singled out. She's terrified, but Jesus calls her daughter. He commends her faith and sends her on her way in peace.
They meet again on the road to Golgotha. This time, she is whole, but he is broken, bleeding for her sake. Again, this time with much more boldness, she pushes through the crowd to touch the Savior. She is here to offer kindness and thanksgiving. She wipes his face with her veil, and whether or not the image remains upon the cloth, it is certain his image has remained upon her life.
He has transformed her- from a woman who had been so broken by lost hope and the harsh judgment of society that she is afraid to seek goodness and healing for herself to a woman courageous enough to push through an angry mob and offer grace and kindness to the Lord.
I hate visiting churches. I've seen their ugly side too many times, my father's a minister. I went to a Christian college, I know just how spiteful Christians often are. I'm fully aware that I'm a scientist, a graduate student, a single woman in her mid-twenties, that my political views often fall far left of the churches I attend. I don't belong, and churches are quite good at sending off a "why the heck are you here?" vibe that I pick up and take far too seriously.
Why do I bother to fight my church phobia and the expectations of the church? Because even though I don't belong there...I am desperate to meet Christ in the Eucharist. And I will do my best to slip quietly, unnoticed through the hostile crowds, to the altar where the Bread is placed in my hand.