I stared at the prayer booklet before me, shaking my head in a negative sway. No way, I told myself. There is no way I could possibly do this Novena. It was going to be a full one- year promise and I am the type of person who, after undertaking any sort of project, cannot do it halfway. It’s either all or nothing. Maybe that’s why He wants you to do this, a little voice whispered in my soul. I sighed and opened the book again: The Pieta.
In this observance, there are fifteen Prayers of St. Bridget to be said, along with fifteen Our Fathers and fifteen Hail Mary’s each day. I glanced casually at the prayers months earlier, when a close friend gave me the book as a gift. Stubbornly, I had refused to read them even once when I realized the commitment it was going to take on my part. What about all those other prayers, I asked myself? What about the daily Rosary and special Parish novenas? How would I ever find time? My hands are already full, I silently whined. I sighed again and read the promises of Christ to whoever would complete all 16,425 prayers to honor the wounds He suffered in His passion. They are beautiful and tempting. But I resolved that if I was to do this novena, His promises were not going to be a factor. I would have to do this out of pure love, no strings attached.
Finding the Time
So began my special little covenant with Jesus. As I started reading the prayers, I cringed with horror at the graphic descriptions of the suffering of Our Lord. The words explicitly brought His Passion before my eyes and I was filled with a tremendous sorrow. After completing the first set of prayers, I was so upset by the images they produced, I could not fathom continuing this sort of self torture for another 364 days. But by then it was too late. A promise had been made and being the stubborn soul that I am, I was not going to break it!
It was difficult at first figuring out a special time of day I could say the prayers and quickly found there were too many distractions at home. So I decided to start going to the church early to complete the prayers before daily Mass. Yet it was impossible for personal prayer to compete with the group Rosary that is said daily at my parish. Go earlier, the little voice said. If you don’t finish, stay later… I mumbled something about how badly this was going to mess up my well ordered daily routine, but complied.
Then the strangest thing started happening to me during all that extra time spent before the Tabernacle. I started wanting to stay longer, go more frequently. Even if I had already completed my prayers for that day, I found myself drawn back to that quiet place where I could just empty my soul and be alone with Our Lord. I began to learn about the faith of others too, for many times I wasn’t alone. I was surprised to see nearly every day around noon, a young businessman who stopped in for fifteen minutes or so, probably on his lunch hour. Then there was the older gentleman who faithfully came in the afternoons around 4:00 and sat quietly in the back of the church for nearly an hour on occasion. Another man from a local hospital usually dropped in just after 5:00, knelt for a short moment and then left. I was deeply touched by the faith of these people who didn’t use their jobs as an excuse for not spending time with Jesus. I was ashamed that I didn’t do this, years before when I was working outside the home. I certainly could have taken the time. I just never did.
He Knew You Would
And then there was Susan. One particularly hectic December day filled with last minute Christmas shopping and running errands, I happened to drive by the church late in the afternoon. I suddenly decided I wanted some quiet time to escape from all the noise and confusion in my life and just be alone with Him for a while. It was unusual for me to stop that late in the day, but, in all the rushing around that afternoon, I realized I still hadn’t started my special prayers and I knew it would be more difficult once I got home. As I stepped into the church, I noticed a young woman sitting in the spot where I normally sat in the back pew, so I went instead to the front and knelt down.
I had just begun the first Our Father, when I heard a muffled sob from behind me. I turned and asked the woman if she was all right and she nodded a tearful “yes,” but clearly she wasn’t. I hesitated a moment, not wanting to invade her privacy, but something urged me get up and go to the back of the church with her. I knelt beside the pew and told her I didn’t know why she was crying, but that whatever it was, I would pray for her. Her eyes grew wide and tears began spilling down her cheeks, as she looked at me in total helplessness. Instinctively, I put my arms around her and said a silent prayer that Jesus would take away her pain, whatever it was.
She cried aloud then as I hugged her shaking body. After she calmed down a bit, she exclaimed, “I always knew there were angels on this earth.” I smiled and assured her I wasn’t any angel. “See, real flesh and blood,” I laughed, pinching my skin. But she looked at me solemnly and said. “You don’t understand. My father is in the hospital and here it is Christmas, and I was hurting inside so badly. I decided to come here and pray and I asked God to just put His arms around me and help me, and then you came in and did exactly that.”
Then it was my turn to cry. How did He do that? Why did He use me to comfort this woman? “Because He knew you would,” the soft voice answered. I do believe that God puts each of us in the right place at the right time. It just depends on whether we choose to extend ourselves or not. At that particular moment in my day, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to be around others. I had some serious praying to do and not a lot of time to do it. But it is tough to be selfish when you are experiencing God’s grace.
I talked to her for a long time that afternoon and learned she wasn’t Catholic. Not even a Christian. I did learn however that no matter what your religious denomination may be, we all have a need for human kindness. And an even deeper need for God’s healing love.
As I drove home that night I reflected on the special lesson He had taught me. It was Christmas time after all. And while everyone else was eagerly awaiting the joyful Christmas celebration, singing carols, attending parties and reveling in Advent prayer, I was meditating on His brutal and tortuous Passion – and sharing in the pain of real human suffering. It was like the sorrow of Lent blending with the joy of Christmas and it touched my heart in a way no other prayers had ever done before.
As the Lenten season began, for the first time in my life, I approached it with courage. A year earlier, I couldn’t begin to meditate on the Stations of the Cross without weeping. Good Friday had always seemed like the culmination of a funeral that had been going on for forty days in my soul. But after praying St. Bridget’s prayers for so long, I began to view Lent as an everyday experience in my life. I began to understand more clearly the profound depth of Christ’s love for every person on this earth; good or bad. My heart ached for those who refused His love and leapt for joy when I met a truly devout soul. I lost myself deeply in the Passionate prayers, sometimes to the point of emotional exhaustion. Yet with each passing day, I gained a deep inner peace and a strange sense of awareness of even the slightest transgressions that might offend Him. And I found it easier to avoid them. I had come to accept the inevitable suffering I would undergo daily, produced by the images of His Agony. More importantly was the realization that the sins of this world were much like the seemingly never-ending duration of the Novena. The pain didn’t end on Calvary for Christ, nor did it end in the prayers for me.
But then, that was the lesson for me to learn in this year-long commitment. It was a lesson of both anguish and love; of learning to be selfless, just as Christ was for us. It was a lesson of learning to love Him more deeply than I ever imagined possible and learning to love even perfect strangers.
I met a friend recently that I hadn’t seen in a long time and she confided in me that she was suffering spiritually. There was a yearning in her heart and a hunger in her lost and saddened eyes. She told me she wanted so much to draw herself closer to Our Lord, but didn’t really know how to begin. I took a deep breath and told her I would share with her a truly great treasure. It would take self-discipline and a great deal of resolution on her part, but I would personally guarantee the results. I then handed her a copy of St. Bridget’s prayers.
© 2016. Debi Vinnedge. All rights reserved.
(Copies of The Pieta may be obtained through MLOR Publishing, (616) 731-4490)
Debi Vinnedge is the Executive Director of Children of God for Life, a non-profit, pro-life organization focused on the bioethic issues of human cloning, embryonic and fetal tissue research. In addition she serves as a member of the Board at Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute and her organization is an official member of the American Life League Associates program.
Ms Vinnedge is a nationally recognized author and speaker and has provided written testimony for Congressional hearings on embryonic stem cell research. She introduced the Fair Labeling and Informed Consent Act to members of the US House and Senate, legislation that protects religious rights, moral conscience and requires informed consent on medical products using aborted fetal or embryonic materials.
She has appeared on both local and national television programs and has been a guest speaker on major national television and radio broadcasts, including Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes,Vatican Radio, Ave Maria Radio, EWTN, Human Life International and Living His Life Abundantly. Her work has been featured in leading Catholic publications such as Our Sunday Visitor, New Covenant Magazine, EWTN Question and Answers, EWTN’s Ethics in Healthcare, American Life League’s Celebrate Life, the National Catholic Register, Human Life International Reports and numerous diocesan newsletters and periodicals, including the Vatican’s Medicini e Morale.
Ms Vinnedge is considered the foremost authority on the use of aborted fetal cell lines in medical products and vaccines. Her organization’s Campaign for Ethical Vaccines has gained the backing of over 638,000 supporters nationwide including numerous medical professionals, pro-life organizations, religious and political groups.
The organization has provided assistance and educational materials to over 2 dozen foreign countries.
Ms. Vinnedge has been married 41 years with 2 children and 5 grandchildren and resides in Largo, FL. She was the recipient of the Catholic Medical Association’s 2014 Evangelium Vitae award for her work at Children of God for Life.
Photography: See our Photographers page.