In the previous chapters, I established the foundation for my conversion story and the journey associated with it. I told you the substance of the story and my purpose in writing it. Before I move to the next section, I think it is worthwhile to tell you the recent circumstances that led me to make this decision. This is a very important part of my story, and you will understand why this is so as you read the rest of the book.
It starts in 2007, when I ventured with my family and a friend of ours to the church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Chicago. Our business in going there is not particularly relevant, but what we discovered there is. We entered the church and immediately felt the strong presence of our Catholic faith. We met the priest in charge who informed us that Cardinal Archbishop George recently designated the church as the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He did this to encourage devotion throughout the archdiocese for the Divine Mercy, a private revelation of great significance Our Lord gave to a humble, early 20th century Polish nun whom Pope St. John Paul II later canonized at the start of the new millennium. In addition, the priest told us quite a story about how this designation by the Cardinal happened. In short, the Blessed Virgin Mary requested that this priest give her the church for this purpose, and the Cardinal Archbishop agreed.
Traveling through Chicago a year later, I found myself with a couple of hours of downtime. I felt a compelling tug on my inner soul to use that time to visit the church of St. Stanislaus Kostka. I walked inside around five o’clock in the evening. Barely a soul sat inside. As I walked into the sanctuary, I saw the most Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar next to a beautiful statue of the Queen of Heaven that appeared to gaze at the Eucharist. At the same moment, all around me and throughout the sanctuary, I felt a tremendously powerful presence of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin. I will never forget this. It was a foretaste of what was to come in a couple of months. I sat in the sanctuary praying in the real presence of Our Lord for more than an hour during which Our Lady’s spirit imbued my own. Over the next several weeks, I visited St. Stanislaus as often as possible. Something inside of me spoke to my heart. This was Mary’s church. She desired the world to know and love her Son through this sanctuary. The church never held more than a handful of people when I visited.
Only one month later, I discovered that a Polish artist sculpted a large icon in honor of the Blessed Virgin and the newly designated Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Chicago. The Archdiocese prepared to install it in the sanctuary under the title of The Iconic Monstrance of Our Lady of the Sign, Ark of Mercy. Breathtaking, imposing, and regal, the icon likely was the largest monstrance in the world. A symbolic representation of Our Lady, the Queen of heaven and earth, it sat over nine feet high and held the Real Presence of Our Lord in a Eucharistic host measuring twelve inches in diameter. The Cardinal prepared to unveil and dedicate the icon for the archdiocese and asked the public to attend. My heart leapt out of my chest. My powerful experience with the Blessed Virgin Mary’s spirit in the church over the previous few months prepared me for this blessing. I quickly made reservations for my family.
On the day they were to unveil the icon, we drove to the church trying to be as early as possible, allowing for limited parking space and all the other difficulties one can expect when attending a major event with a significant member of the church hierarchy. Without discouragement, I turned the corner, seeing that we were, in fact, not nearly early enough to park close to the church, for many others had the same idea and sought to overcome the same difficulties we did by coming earlier still. I began to think we would need to seek a secure spot for parking much further down the street, probably blocks away. Suddenly, a car pulled out of a spot just ten or fifteen feet in front of us. We glided in feeling quite happy and satisfied that all went well and that we secured a great victory upon our arrival.
Once inside, we sensed the air of something big, something very special. I almost did not recognize the church with all of the people. It was as if attending a party at the home of a poor widow woman whom many thought had no friends. The service started roughly on time as the Cardinal welcomed everyone present while approaching the altar in the procession. A huge curtain made of velvety material hung behind the altar. It was impossible to penetrate with the eye no matter how much light shone on it. The icon was behind it, and we waited anxiously to see it.
At the appropriate time during the Mass, the priest we met came forward to speak of this marvelous icon and to introduce the artist through whose talented hands God gave us the icon. This artist uses his gifts for great profit to God. That is how you deal with the terrible, pain-soaked parable I mentioned above. You honor God by using your gifts for his glory and the edification of your fellow man. This artist is the living embodiment of the positive side of that parable.
Finally, the priest drew back the curtain, removing the veil, whereby we witnessed an astonishingly beautiful, inspiring, heart-warming image of the Virgin Mary. Golden angels knelt on either side of her, and below her heart, in her bosom, a glass case held the Eucharist for all of us to adore. She sat over an image of the moon with a crown of twelve stars on her head as depicted in the book of Revelation. Carved at the bottom of the icon was a representation of the Ark of the Covenant. Our Lady shone beautifully as the Ark of the New Covenant, holding the fulfillment of the Law, the Word who made all things, in her womb. The image of Our Lady appeared with sublime grace and in such apocalyptic beauty, that I felt as if time stopped, synchronizing us with the heavens. We stayed for at least an hour after the service to adore Christ in the Eucharist, marveling at the beauty of this icon.
As we left I knelt to genuflect, thinking, for no particular reason, about the child Jesus, who, found in the temple discussing religion with the spiritual leaders of his time, followed his parents home and, according to sacred scripture, grew in wisdom and knowledge. (Luke 2: 51-52) I felt Our Lady’s words in my heart, “Now it is time to go and grow in wisdom and knowledge.”
The following Sunday we chose to attend Mass at the sanctuary; though, it is almost fifty miles from our home. As soon as I walked through the door and set my eyes on that heavenly icon, a thought struck me: Our Lady was asking me to come to see her Son in this sanctuary, despite the long travel time, at least once a week. She wanted me to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and to imbue myself in her spirit.
Over the next few months, Our Lady did, in fact, guide me and inspire me in the ways of wisdom and knowledge. She drew me to books on which to meditate in union with her. She is the finest teacher of the spiritual life ever created by God. I will give you an example of what I mean.
One evening, a year or so before my first visit to St. Stanislaus, I sat in adoration of the most Blessed Sacrament at a Franciscan chapel near my home. As I prayed, I thought of this story in sacred scripture about the boy Jesus found in the temple who then followed his parents home to grow in wisdom and knowledge. Apparently, this story nurtured itself in my soul for quite some time, and I had a thought. Since the Lord created his own mother and then sat at her feet lovingly day after day for more than a couple of decades to learn and listen about the scriptures and the spiritual life, would she not be the most remarkable teacher other than the Lord himself? If I had so great a love for the Lord’s mother that I wished her to teach me, would the Lord would find this disagreeable? He himself followed this very same path in order to grow in wisdom and knowledge in obedience to his parents. Our Holy Mother taught the Lord.
I asked the Blessed Virgin Mary that night if she would teach me in the same manner that she taught her Son when they lived as the holy family and the first domestic church. I know she answered my prayer, for I happened to have a copy of my catechism with me, and I felt compelled to open it. Where did I find myself when the pages found their resting place, and the book sat quietly on my lap? The pages opened at the Ten Commandments. Of course, I thought. Our Lady, the Mother of Our Lord, certainly taught the child the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses in his early youth. This made perfect sense and struck me as a very fine answer to my prayer. I do not doubt her guidance. In thanksgiving, I studied each of the commandments for the next few weeks. I am convinced objectively that she guides me; yet, do not confuse this with my awkward and sometimes faulty subjective interpretations. In other words, she is my teacher, but do not blame her if my grades are poor.
Through the Blessed Virgin’s motherly care, the tumblers to the lock over my heart finally fell, opening the door. Mary’s mediation of grace initiated in my soul the beginnings of what one would call the language of the heart. I very much needed the language of the heart to write. Still, I lacked one thing, the courage I previously mentioned. Hearing the tumblers fall, seeing the door crack open, and sensing the language of my heart, I nevertheless lacked courage. I will tell you next how and through whom I gained that courage.