Even as I was boarding the plane in New York, I still didn’t have a clear picture of what I was supposed to do. I knew it was a Catholic radio station reaching tens of thousands of listeners with the message of the Gospel. I knew it was an apostolate of Regnum Christi, and that I would be welcome as a Legionary. But on specific details regarding Guadalupe Radio, I came up empty. Except that they were having this huge convention. In Spanish. In Los Angeles. For women. So why was I going again? The signal was coming in a little fuzzy.
Br Daniel, Br Emmanuel, and I had just completed a 3-day retreat and were now celebrating February 2nd—the feast of the Presentation of the Lord—with cross-country travel to sunny California. An electrical problem shut down the movie screens on the plane, so we traveled in quiet expectation. Br Daniel thumbed through his rosary beads. Mary was already with us, though I scarcely discerned it yet. She was guiding us swiftly to her daughters in Los Angeles; soon her influence would be inescapably clear. As the plane cut through the clouds, I started writing her a prayer.
Heavenly Princess, Mary mine, you obtain all that you desire, for your soft words are the unshakable decrees of the heavenly courts. God the Father dotes on you, his prettiest girl, as docile as you are drawing. Yes, I come to you, most sweet mother, for you draw me even as you rush down to help me. Deadly sweet I name you, for the evil one knows the lethal powers of your holy charms before the Blessed Trinity. Open your lips and implore the angels God has placed at your command, O Mighty Queen of Heaven; send them down to aid us here below who have no Mary before our eyes as they do.
“Welcome to the city of angels,” droned the overhead recording in the Los Angeles airport. “I’m taking Saint Michael for my angel this week,” I quipped, well aware of the spiritual dangers of a big city. I think the archangel took me seriously. He knew I was entering a war zone: The Devil, the deceiver and accuser of souls, versus the infinite mercy of Jesus Christ dispensed through his priests.
The Legionary priests—about ten of them—were at their confessionals by 8am the next day as the Convention began. As we parked the car, I followed close behind Fr Peter Devereux, trying to glean some information from. He told me that the radio station was 87.7FM. I didn’t even know that. “How many women will be at the Convention?” “Today, maybe seven or eight thousand.” That was enough to think about for the moment.
We climbed the stairs to the atrium and reception area. We arrived at our booth; Regnum Christi members had already decorated it with flyers and pictures of the Legionaries of Christ. We felt welcomed; we had friends here; the spirit of mission that characterizes Regnum Christi was palpable. We brothers reminded ourselves of our mission: speak to mothers and ask if their sons are interested in a priestly vocation.
It was the morning of Saturday, the day traditionally devoted to Mary. We went to the chapel to start the day with prayer; all I could think of was my beautiful mother who loved me, so I pulled out my prayer to Mary from the plane and finished writing it. When I finished praying, I knew I had to go out there with my “hola” and my “gracias” and start meeting people. I soon noticed the theme of the Convention written on t-shirts and signs: “Mujeres de Fe.” And then I met one of these “women of faith.”
“It’s great to see such young priests,” she said, her enthusiasm undiminished when we explained that technically we weren’t priests yet—all the priests were hearing confessions, as you remember. “Please pray for me and my family,” she said, and naturally I said I would. “My husband got deported years ago, when my daughter was only one year old.” Ouch, I thought. That’s not a problem I or anyone I know has to deal with. “And now he’s living with another woman,” she concluded. No rancor, no bitterness that I could see. Just a smile and a petition for prayers. A woman of faith.
With my first conversations, my Spanish quickly revived. I didn’t need it too much though, because I mostly listened. Or posed for photos. I think a tall white American religious man is somewhat of a curiosity for short dark Hispanic lay women, so the photos were taken. Whatever, I thought. As long as they let me talk to them about Jesus…and Legionary vocations! Not that I was so courageous in going out to meet them; but they made a point of coming to talk to us. The black suit with a white collar was enough for them to seek us out—in faith—and confide to us their problems, like another woman I engaged in conversation. Domestic violence from her husband was the dark thread in her story. Her three daughters care nothing for the Catholic faith, and easy to see why, since their abusive father had been very active in the parish, even serving as lector at Mass. But this woman of faith had now come to the Convention to draw strength from the sacraments, from the Church, from Jesus.
How do you deal with stories like that? Stories more terrible than anything you’ve experienced in your life, your own fortunate, privileged, protected, blessed-by-God life? I guess I tried to respond with gratitude for my life and gratitude for this Convention and the help it offers these women through conferences on the faith, the virtues, healing, and mercy, through prayer, the Eucharist, and confession. I tried to respond also by trying my best to show Christ to these women, not all of whom were as broken or hurt as she was, but who all need Christ ever closer in their lives. And the greatest witnesses of a Christ-filled life were right behind me, sitting at our booth passionately promoting the Legion of Christ.
“What’s your name?” I asked one of the mothers volunteering. “Me llamo Belén,” she said. Belén means “Bethlehem.” Mexicans love the name Mary and any and every thing that has to do with her, such as the place where she gave birth to Jesus. They have no problem naming their daughters after the mysteries associated with her life, like “Asunción” y “Inmaculada,” the places where she appeared, like “Guadalupe” or “Fátima,” or her qualities such as Mercy (“Mercedes”) or Dolores (“Sorrows”). Another of the women volunteering was named simply María. Then there was Yvonne, who smiled as she made a comment to the effect that of course mothers want all their boys to be priests. Or Adrianna, who has been working with Guadalupe Radio for decades. Belén and the other volunteers were marvelous examples to me of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that come from the Holy Spirit. They treated us as their adopted sons in the Lord, helping us in our mission, looking into our eyes with gentle complacency as they listened and spoke to us in turn. And God bless them, they also made sure we had something to eat!
We passed down the aisle during a praise and worship concert between conferences. The purple stage lights were roving over the crowd. The speakers were blasting out the music at bone-shaking decibels. Thousands of women were cheering the singer and Jesus. We were led backstage to a private buffet for lunch. A bishop from Rome sat at the table. What am I doing here? I thought. Well, life with Jesus is always an adventure. I shrugged my shoulders and served myself some corn.
I sat beside Gail Gore, communications director for the Legion in the US, and we talked as we ate. She impressed me with her enthusiasm. She told me she barely understood any Spanish. (Everything at the Convention was in Spanish.) She enlisted friends to help her understand the conferences, conducted interviews, and even went to “Google translate” for help. I think she probably understood a lot just by reading the joy on people’s faces. She seemed more excited than I was. “There are thousands of people here listening to the Gospel message,” she said. “We’ve got to share with our Regnum Christi family the awesome work we’re doing at this event.” I nodded my head in agreement, but she was unsatisfied. “Get excited, brother! Try to think about what this means.” –here she grinned—“and if you can, have an article on the Convention to me by Tuesday morning.”
Excited I became in very short order. The Holy Mass was beginning. I took my seat in the very back of the conference hall; the conference was for the women, not for me, right? I didn’t want to attract any attention, but being 6’4” in a crowd whose average height is 5’4” does hamper inconspicuousness. The acolytes processed in, the bishop led us in the opening rights, and the readings were read. In the homily, Mary made her glorious entrance into the conference. The mother of Jesus was ally in his mission, comforter and companion in his cross, believer in his Resurrection, queen of his Church. She is the model and friend of all Christians. She is the woman of faith par excellence.
In the adoration and benediction that followed, my heart was set in motion on a path that I have understood only with difficulty. A great gratitude for this grand encounter fills my heart. At the same time, the experience is overwhelming, too much, but in a good way. The love of the Lord is always too much to process. Jesus, your tenderness is too much for me! The Eucharist struck at my interior, making me recognize that I need the Holy Spirit to invade my soul, even as he invaded the heart of the pink-haired lady in the black leather jacket weeping in the row in front of me. I began to feel that I needed the Holy Spirit more than anything, that I must be more attentive to his motions. The bishop then led us in a consecration to Mary. The Blessed Mother was pursuing her son at a women’s convention! The manly response was deep in my heart.
Jesus, you gave Mary to me at the cross. I give myself to her now while you witness.
If I had a crown I would set it on her head.
If I had a jewel I would put it on her hand.
If I had a sword I would offer it to her service.
If I had a scepter I would lay it on her knee.
I have only a kiss, and I place it on her cheek
At the conclusion of the liturgy, we walked toward our car never to meet most of these women again. “Parachute in, parachute out,” we joked, thinking of our flash-bang presence to Guadalupe Radio after an ignorant arrival. The weekend finished as fast as it began, but its wrinkles are written on my soul. On the car ride home, we prayed a rosary to mother Mary, thanking God we went to the Guadalupe Radio Convention. In Spanish. In Los Angeles. For women of faith.