In my last article, I wrote about my Rome semester. Obviously, my journey through the Eternal City contained lots of different experiences, both good and bad, and trying to describe all of them would be impossible. However, I would like to highlight one in particular now, because it held a significance beyond what happened at the time.
To give a bit of background to my story, ever since I was six years old, I had wanted to go to Lourdes and bathe in the water there, in hopes of obtaining healing for my physical disability. When I mentioned this to a friend, who was also disabled and who had never been to Lourdes, she remarked “It might be a spiritual healing.” My first reaction was along the lines of “Hmmm… how about that? As long as I get to Lourdes,” and aside from my being at least partly open to this new idea, it seemed to have little other significance.
A Church With a Strange Name
Naturally, once my semester abroad began, I had a joy-filled plan to take advantage of one of our free weekends and go to Lourdes. Unfortunately, one thing led to another and it didn’t work out. I did, however, have a different surprise in store. After my arrival, I asked my brother, who had gone to Rome a few years back, if there was anywhere in the city he might particularly recommend my seeing. He tossed around a few places the first time, and then later mentioned some church that I hadn’t heard of, “Santa Maria in Via.” Though it seemed somewhat odd to me, as I had never known any church to have such an indeterminately named patroness (“Via” means only “road”), and it obviously was not one of the better known churches that others were visiting, I thought that, since my brother recommended it, it might be worth a look.
Visiting Our Lady on an Impulse
A matter of weeks later, it was nearing the end of the semester and my two friends and I were deciding on a few places that we definitely wanted to see before we left. If I remember correctly, on a shared impulse we decided Santa Maria in Via would be one of them, and thus on a sunny day we headed off to find this unfamilar church. The entrance to it was rather unremarkable, indeed, almost hidden. Larger than the name “Santa Maria in Via” was the dedication to and picture of Our Lady “del Pozzo,” whatever that meant. We walked in, and as I recall, my first impression was of a pretty, dimly lit little church. To my immediate right was a side altar (common in Rome, for those of you who do not know), where a lot of people, I believe more than in the rest of the church, were praying before the same image of Our Lady that was at the entrance. As I looked toward the altar, I caught a glimpse of something very odd for a church – little paper cups. Lacking another explanation I decided that they must be used for Mass in some way and continued looking around. As my camera charger had been missing for months, one of my friends was very willing to loan me her smart phone, so for the next couple of minutes I happily snapped photos.
Then, my other friend came up to me and whispered, “Cecily, did you see that sign?” referring to a multilanguage explanatory notice outside the side altar.
“No, I didn’t. What about it?” I answered, thinking it probably would not be extremely remarkable.
“It says that is a picture of Our Lady that came to life, and when it did a fountain sprang up, and you can drink from it.”
My Wish Fulfilled – Almost
Ah! Here was that which I so desperately wanted – well, not quite, but certainly near enough to it – and it explained the cups, too. Of course I quietly walked up to the front of the little altar where the cups were, as an Italian man stiffly filled more of them from a faucet and lay them out. I will never forget how those cups looked, filled with water like that for which I had so longed. Despite the joy, I was also confronted with perplexity. Could I just take a cup? And was I supposed to just drink it up there or walk to the back with it? I stood there indecisively, wanting to ask the man, but then I remembered that a whole bunch of people were facing toward me and trying to pray. I picked a cup up with the intent of drinking it, but as I stood there holding it I remembered that there was a particular spiritual healing for which I wanted to ask Our Lord, if physical was out of the question. Still concerned for the worshippers who were blocked by me, I changed my mind, quickly prayed something like, “Lord, through this water may I receive whatever healing You wish to give me,” and thought to myself, “Here goes nothing,” and swallowed it standing there. It tasted like ordinary water, somewhat to my surprise, but I knew well that it was not.
After giving a small donation and taking a few more pictures, my friends and I left, while also picking up holy cards that explained that Our Lady “del Pozzo” meant Our Lady of the Well. I have no words for how amazing I felt after drinking that water, beyond that I wanted to faint with happiness.
From What Did I Need Healing?
Though I could tell soon enough that the spiritual healing Our Lord wished for me was not the one which I would have requested, I found that He did indeed heal me of something. To explain this, I must go back to the summer of 2013, my first summer home from college. Just adjusting from freshman year would have been extremely difficult, simply because going to college meant I no longer had the same place in the family that I had left the previous August. But, the difficulty was worsened by the fact that I had become close to a few of the senior class, and having to say goodbye to them by itself would have been the hardest cross I had borne in years, as I had no emotional experience with a crisis like that. The closest thing to which I can compare it was the condition of being thrown down a deep black hole, made all the worse because I was the only one who could see it. Furthermore, I did not see God’s presence in my life anywhere. Finally, with the last addition of unwanted, difficult responsibilities, I now have no qualms about calling that summer the darkest time of my life so far.
I Questioned God
However, horrible as that experience was, nothing in this life, even an agony such as that, lasts forever. Yet, in the fall, when I went back to school and my burden was lightened, I was suffering from the residual pain of memories and angry at God. “Where were You when I needed You the most?” was one sentiment I threw at Him. If I recall correctly, He did not respond at first – after all, who can expect to win an argument with God? Then, as the days passed but the memories continued to hurt, I had a feeling that He wanted me to know He would not test me like that again; just a feeling, nothing more and nothing less. I suppose I would say I believed it, though it also seemed like little consolation at the time.
God Proved Himself
Now, two years later, in 2015, as my Rome semester came to a close, I became concerned that I might experience something close to a repeat of that summer. Not only was I leaving an extraordinary place that I might never see again, but I had also gained a friend who lived in Rome, and had no expectation of seeing her any time after I left. With the uncertainty of it all, I did cry leading up to the last day. However, as that final Roman morning dawned and my roommates and I were scrambling to get out the door on time, I realized that not only would this goodbye be much easier, but I was shocked at how much. God had fulfilled a wish I never even fully articulated.
As our taxi zoomed through the streets to the airport, I felt like I wanted to yell out words I had seen on the cover of a book, “Fantastic! He loves me!” I told my friend with the smart phone my story in brief, and, unable to hold back tears, sobbed out, “He kept His promise! He kept His promise!” So did I realize what healing He gave me.
If there is a common thread throughout all of my story, it is that God never gave me exactly what I wanted. I asked Him for an answer to my suffering, but He did not tell me. Instead He merely told me He would not inflict it on me again. He knew my desire to bathe in the waters of Lourdes, and He did not permit it. He knew my wish for a specific kind of healing, and He did not give it. Instead, He chose to give me other water, and a different, perhaps even greater healing. If there is a moral to this, it is the time-honored lesson that His ways are not our ways, and, more importantly, that He lives up to His word. Though I am certainly no theologian, if anyone reading this is doubting Him in some way, I suggest giving Him another chance – He may surprise you!