Last night, I turned left from North Avenue onto Wolf Road in Northlake, Illinois. Absent delays, my wife and I would be on time for the 7 p.m. Mass at St John Vianney Church.
It was at that moment that the unexpected loomed before me. Police cruisers guarded the driveways to the church parking lot. A pair of burly cops prevented people from entering the church. Lights flashed from squad cars and fire vehicles. A line of people stretched for several blocks.
The authorities seemed to have blocked all access to my place of worship.
But I was thrilled. A miracle!
Our parish was hosting the relics of St Maria Goretti. And so many people showed up that the fire chief was limiting how many could enter the church.
Having more people than the church could accommodate is not a problem we ever had before. In fact, we typically have plenty of room for visitors.
To me, seeing my parish overflowing with the faithful was, well, a miracle. And perhaps there was a second miracle last night; those waiting in line showed joy and patience. Like me, they seemed to be excited that such a huge crowd appeared – even if it meant a long wait to venerate the relics of a remarkable saint.
If you don’t know the story of Maria Goretti, I recommend doing a little research. The headline version: 11-year-old girl defends her virtue from evil-intending neighbor, who stabs her to death, but she forgives him with her last breaths and he goes to prison, has a massive conversion, is released and goes into religious life and, perhaps, will one day be a saint as well.
Maria’s story is about forgiveness. I believe the crowds last night show how many souls need and want forgiveness. I’m also reminded how important to ask forgiveness from those I’ve hurt – and to forgive those who have hurt me.