Today's blog is dedicated to our precious parish angel, Anita, whose name means "Grace." She was hit by a car last Sunday while riding her beloved blue bike, and will be buried today. Anita had a way of making everyone feel special, and her entire life was a prayer. She spent her days moving between the Adoration Chapel, Our Lady of the Lake Church and the cemetery, praying for the living and the dead. Heaven has won a holy saint. We have lost a friend. Rest in peace, sweet Anita. You will remain in our hearts forever.
The first time Grace walked into the Adoration Chapel that sits beside Our Lady of the Lake Church, I was taken aback by her disheveled appearance and the dirt that was evident on her body and clothing. But what really got my attention was how Grace prayed, out loud and filter-free as she knelt before the stunning five-foot gold mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that adorns the front wall of the chapel.
“Mary, you are so beautiful and I’m so ugly,” she mumbled, seemingly unaware that I and the other adorers in the small chapel could hear her most intimate prayers. “I love you so much, Mary,” she continued. “I don’t have any friends, but you are my friend, Mary…I love you so much.”
My heart raced as I peered unintentionally into Grace’s soul, feeling like a voyeur, wanting to cover my ears. But she continued on, unfazed by those around her. “I’ll be back to visit you this afternoon, Mary. You are so beautiful. I love you so much.”
Off she went out the chapel door, making her way through the church’s large front entrance, then up the aisle to Our Lady’s altar to speak to Mary again, up close and personal.
I watched that same scene play itself out again and again over the last few years, as Grace became a fixture both in the Adoration Chapel and the church. Her daily prayers in adoration became a litany of sorts, always including the familiar refrains: “You’re so beautiful, Mary,” and “I love you so much.”
A while back, I noticed that Grace was staying in church for Mass, and I could see that she was feeling more at home among our little community of daily Mass-goers who befriended her. One day, I knew it was my turn to get to know Grace, and I walked up and introduced myself. Standing outside the chapel beside her ever-present blue bike, we carried on a conversation for all of ten minutes, and we became fast friends.
I learned that she lived with her elderly father and that she had two grown children of her own—a son and a daughter. She beamed about the fact that they are good kids, that they both have good jobs and that they come to visit her on the weekends. She told me her life has not been easy, as most of it was spent in the now shuttered Southeast Hospital for the Mentally Ill. She moved there as a teen when she “started hearing voices,” and remained until the hospital closed its doors a couple of years ago.
I shared that I was a newlywed—that I had been widowed a few years earlier and had met my new husband, Mark, in the Adoration Chapel. I told her about my five children, and asked her to pray for their various struggles. We exchanged a few more of life’s particulars, then I watched her take off on her bike and ride the two blocks to the lakefront to drink her Coke beside Lake Pontchartrain’s murky waters.
Grace and I spoke almost daily after that, but never without her telling me “You look so beautiful today! I love your shirt!” before she asked, “How are your children?”
Recently, as I sat in the chapel praying, Grace came in. Kneeling in front of the mosaic of Our Lady she began to pray out loud in her customary style. But this time around, what came out of Grace’s mouth nearly knocked me over.
“Thank you Mary for my friends, Mark and Judy,” she began. “They are so cute together. I pray that you bless them and give them a happy life,” she went on. “I love you so much, Mary. Please bless my friends, Mark and Judy, and give them a happy life.”
As she prayed, my eyes watered full as I blinked back tears over the holy litanies of God’s beloved daughter, Grace. She considered me a friend; and I had grown to love her, too. I could faintly hear the voice of the Lord echoing right back to her: “You are beautiful, my beloved. There is no blemish in you” (Song of Songs 4:7).