by Jill Ragar Esfeld
It’s been more than a year now since I was shopping with my neighbor Paul, and together we had one of those “wow” moments when you recognize the Holy Spirit working in your life.
It began one afternoon when Paul yelled at me over my back fence: “Jill, I need your help!”
The last time this happened, I dug Paul’s car out of a snowdrift. I ended up with a nice bottle of wine, so I was eager to respond.
It turned out Paul had a newborn niece, the daughter of a brother who had married into a Catholic family.
Paul, a cradle Protestant, was asked to be godfather, and he was so touched by the honor that it threw him into a panic.
He wanted to find the perfect Catholic gift for his godchild.
“I don’t know what to get,” he said. “You have to help me!”
That’s how the two of us ended up at Trinity House in Overland Park, Kansas. And I will tell you there is no greater test of Catholic literacy than shopping with a Protestant in a Catholic store.
I found myself explaining everything from saints and scapulas to novenas and rosaries.
Paul picked up a colorful one-decade rosary fashioned like a baby toy with large puffy beads.
We decided it would be a nice tradition to start his niece off with this baby’s rosary and then, on each special occasion in her life, to get her a more age-appropriate version.
Paul loved the idea but wanted to do something more for his goddaughter’s baptism.
I suggested he get her a statue of Mary to go with the rosary. So, off we went to the Mary-statue section of the store.
Even I was a little overwhelmed by the display. I tried to explain as many of Mary’s titles as I could — Our Lady of Grace, Sorrows, Fatima, Good Counsel.
Like most Catholics, I have my favorites and so I grabbed our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Mother of Perpetual Help and offered them to Paul.
He looked them over but didn’t feel they were quite right.
I suggested our Lady of Fatima — she didn’t do anything for him either.
They were all beautiful statues, and I was surprised a Protestant would be so picky. But then Paul glanced up at a top shelf, to Our Lady of Lourdes, and said he felt drawn to her.
He took the statue down, looked her over lovingly, and told me his family had French heritage. Maybe that’s why he felt she belonged with his niece.
I have to admit I didn’t know much about Our Lady of Lourdes, so I tried to steer him in another direction. I told him Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal had French ties, too.
Paul held the statue in a vice grip and said he couldn’t explain it, but he really felt Our Lady of Lourdes was the Mary for his niece.
I wasn’t going to argue with a Protestant who felt a connection to Mary, so off we went to the holy-card section in search of information on Our Lady of Lourdes.
There was rack after rack of saints, patrons, prayers and petitions, but we could find nothing about Our Lady of Lourdes. There were cards representing the visionary Saint Bernadette, but not the Mary she witnessed.
I could see Paul wasn’t going to give up, so I went to the front desk and recruited an employee to help in our search.
Thankfully, he found a lovely card telling the story of Our Lady of Lourdes and handed it to Paul.
As Paul studied the card, it was clear he was arrested by something he read.
He gave me a startled look and said, “This is crazy.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is Feb. 11,” he said.
I said, “So?”
And he said, “That’s my niece’s birthday.”
And, so we stood in the middle of Trinity House, the Catholic, the Protestant, and the helpful employee, staring at each other in awe of the Holy Spirit.
“I guess it was meant to be,” I said.