Steven and I usually attend Saturday evening Mass. Only we couldn’t do that January twenty-first because we were on field trips that day.
Too tired to get up early Sunday morning, we slept in and opted for noon Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Brownsville, TX.
A beautiful sacred space with good music, enthusiastic parishioners, and an excellent homilist enveloped us as we occupied the right-hand center aisle seats on the third pew. Who could ask for anything more?
Then, after Mass, I approached one of the Extraordinary Ministers to ask when church would close.
The young woman smiled Mona Lisa style and softly responded. “Take your photos. I have the key. I’ll wait until you’re done.”
Without knowing, I’d gone up to the parish secretary, Sandra Castillo, a beautiful young woman, patient and generous with her time. I was beyond grateful, so I got busy.
Before we left, we met her sister, Anita; and they met Steven. I told Sandra that I’d email to let her know when I’d uploaded the photos onto my blog, but half of the photos were too dark to salvage.
Still unaccustomed to the settings on my new Coolpix, I’d forgotten to set the flash. The altar and the alcove appeared so dark that, even with adjustments, the photos were useless.
The only solution? Attend five o’clock Mass the following weekend.
What a difference between the two Masses!
Music at noon had been louder, more upbeat, with younger families and teens in attendance, while evening Mass featured a pianist-cellist duo whose music was somewhat nostalgic with older family members in mind.
Moreover, the ambiance was relaxed and inviting, conducive to spontaneity.
As I photographed the statues in the alcove before Mass, a young mother with a tall candle embraced like a beloved child, waited just a few feet behind me. Sensing her, I instinctively turned and stepped aside.
I was a mix of regretful thoughtlessness for impeding the woman’s time before the saints and awe at her unanticipated response. Instead of greeting me with frowned disdain, she touched my heart with her warm, modest smile, ojo a ojo, as we unintentionally rubbed arms passing each other by.
In those fleeting moments I wanted to say “excuse me,” but she’d immersed herself in prayerful intimacy before I could say anything. So I added my sentiments in silence, thanked God for the blessing, took my photos, and walked back to where Steven sat.
During the sign of peace I reached over to shake hands with a young man at the end of the pew in front of ours and, on making eye contact, was immediately whisked away to another place in time.
“Rey?!!” I asked incredulously.
The young man smiled knowingly. “You haven’t changed at all!”
Rey Ramirez and his cousin, Norma, had both been my sixth-grade students the year my oldest, William, had been in a different classroom. Collectively a really excellent crop of kids, I was overjoyed that some had remained friends over the years despite life’s changes and intermittent communications.
“The two altar servers are my kids,” Rey beamed, unable to contain his pride and joy.
Oh, my gosh, how the years had passed. What a gift to see him again!
After Mass I was drawn back to the alcove for several minutes. Standing within the stillness of my spirituality but very much aware of others moving about, I noticed an upbeat teenager approaching with intent.
“This is a wonderful church!” I enthused as she neared the candle holders.
“I’ve attended Our Lady of Good Counsel for fifteen years…. I can’t imagine belonging anywhere else. I love it here!” the young woman declared.
Her faith, light and soulful, flowed effortlessly, reminiscent of the natural water source that St. Teresa of Avila described in The Interior Castle (Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc., 1979, pp. 33-34).
God’s favored her, I thought. Does she have any idea how special she is?
Then, bidding each other well, I walked away as her candle lighting ritual began.
In the meantime, Steven had been chatting with the woman who’d rushed me before Communion to exchange a heartfelt handshake.
She looked somewhat familiar, but did I know her? I’d made that mistake before.
When I reached them, the smiling woman introduced herself.
Rose Rivas, I later learned, is the cellist’s wife. She was so effusive that we conversed until we somehow intuited, based on the sacristan’s concerned looks and the times he walked past us, that he needed to lock up for the night.
“You have to come back!” Rose insisted, her heart on her sleeve.
“We will,” I smiled. “The church is very welcoming, Father’s homilies hit the spot, and I love the cello. Being here feels just right.”
And we said our goodbyes.
Twelve and five
Looking back on our time at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Sandra’s graciousness left a lovely, indelible imprint; but our overall impression encompassed not just priest and parishioners, but environment as well.
I gravitate toward statues, stained-glass windows, and the stations of the cross. I enjoy interactions between light and dark areas, subliminal reflections of our daily lives, within sacred spaces. And I cherish impromptu moments— a demure smile, a shared anecdote, a silent prayer— among would-be strangers, if not for our Catholic (Christian) faith. So, based on these appealing attributes, we felt very much at ease within this vibrant church community. And, oh, the memories gleaned!
We arrived early for Mass both times since my blog requires weekly photographs of the altar for the “meditations” page. This gave us unhurried quiet time to experience the comings, doings, and goings all around. Heaven forbid that we should sit and gawk, though! Mom would never have put up with that! We would’ve gotten coscorrones; hard, twisted pinches on the arm; and/or, heaven forbid, La Mirada!
Twelve o’clock Mass was energized, not at all “for lazy folks” (quite the inference eons ago). Everyone was wide-awake and glad to be there. Lively proactive engagement for sure! But, unlike St. Paul’s where parishioners linger endlessly after Mass, Our Lady of Good Counsel emptied quickly. Maybe because the midday meal harkened the hungry soul? Maybe because, as I’ve tried to explain to Steven, the culture is different? Maybe because work, familial obligations, and other factors were at play?
Five o’clock Mass was different, though. The music was calming; the atmosphere, serene. The lighting was softer, more contemplative; the evening, aglow with gratitude.
All week long I’d awaited Saturday with joyful expectation, but never could I have imagined the surprises that God had in store. By returning to Our Lady of Good Counsel, we delighted not just in the ladies and Rey, but also in his two precious children and Norma’s parents before we left church that evening. God is sooo good!
God of heavenly wisdom, you have given us Mary, mother of Jesus, to be our guide and counselor. Grant that we may always seek her motherly help in this life and so enjoy her blessed presence in the life to come.
O Mother of Good Counsel, patroness of the National Council of Catholic Women, intercede for us that we may be wise, courageous, and loving leaders of the church. Help us, dear Mother, to know the mind of Jesus, your son.
May the Holy Spirit fill us with the reverence for God’s creation and compassion for all God’s children. May our labors of love on earth enhance the reign of God, and may God’s gifts of faith and living hope prepare us for the fullness of the world to come. Amen.
Most glorious virgin, selected by the eternal councils as mother of the eternal word made human, treasury of divine grace and advocate of sinners, I, the most unworthy of Christians, have recourse to you. [Be] my guide and counselor in this valley of tears. Obtain for me, by the precious blood of your divine Son, the pardon of my sins, the salvation of my soul, and the means necessary to secure it. Obtain the triumph of the truth taught by the holy Church over those who would reject it and the spread of the reign of Jesus Christ over all the world. Amen.
We turn to you, our Mother of Good Counsel, as we seek to imitate your faith-filled life. May we be led by the same wisdom which God sent forth from heaven to guide you along unfamiliar paths and through challenging decisions.
Keep us united in mind and heart as we go forward in joyful hope toward the grace-filled freedom that Augustine recommends.
O Virgin Mother of Good Counsel, hear our prayer as we look to you for guidance. Pray for us to our loving and merciful Father, to your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit, giver of all wisdom, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
February 5, 2017
If we wish to make any progress in the service of God, we must begin every day of our life with new eagerness. We must keep ourselves in the presence of God as much as possible and have no other view or end in all our actions but the divine honor (St. Charles Borromeo).
February 8, 2017
“The best thing for us is not what we consider best, but what the Lord wants of us!”
(St. Josephine Bakhita).
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in the quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow (Mary Jean Irion).
February 9, 2017
“‘Great’ holiness consists in carrying out the ‘little duties’ of each moment”
(St. Josemaría Escrivá).
February 12, 2017
Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather, it is “timing.” [Patience] waits on the right time to act, for the right principles, and in the right way (Venerable Fulton J. Sheen).
February 25, 2017
Do everything for love. Thus there will be no little things: Everything will be big. Perseverance in little things for love is heroism (St. Josemaría Escrivá).
Links of interest… About saints... Finding hope & healing in prayer… Importance of lighting candles (prayers)… Josemaría Escrivá: about / home / Opus Dei / quotes… Mary: beloved of the Trinity / celebrating May / corner / devotion / gate of heaven / litany / meditations / mother (of the church) / Our Lady of Hope / page / prayers (miracles – more – novena – queen of angels) / untier of knots… Mother of Good Counsel: about (book – more) / feast (more) / history of the apparition / mater boni consilii / miraculous fresco (image) / story… Our Lady of Good Counsel Church: about / facebook / website… Pray for us in these times of confusion, O Mother of Good Counsel… Prayers for valor & virtue / litany / novena… Surprises: God’s (more) – gracious rescue…
WP posts… Angels keeping watch… Building community… Christ’s sacred heart… Faces of Mary… Faith and prayer… God’s lovely gifts… Guadalupe Church… Lourdes novenas… Marian devotions… Mary’s miraculous medal… Mary’s seven joys… May flowers… My Franciscan Crown… Our Lady… Our Lady’s church… Pink divinity… Repeated prayers… San Juan Diego… Seven dwelling places