Wetness oozed from above and below me as my worn-out galoshes sloshed across a narrow footbridge. All I could see directly in front of me was a veil of coniferous trees, standing guard around its precious interior. As I drew closer, I began to see its treasure: a simple stone chapel tucked among the trees, as if it was kneeling to crouch amidst its careful protection. The inside was lined with wood, leading to the most prominent areas: a suspended Crucifix and golden tabernacle. Jesus was the true treasure, just as the little habited statuary figure in the back prefers.
Before October 1st, I hadn’t been to Juneau, Alaska, even in my dreams. A simple invitation from a friend changed that into a sweet reality.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who wasn’t afraid to dream big (like promising to shower the entire world with roses after her death), happened to make it to Alaska way before I did. Bishop Cremont, the first Bishop of Alaska, happened to know Thérèse’s family and her inspiring sanctity and decided to unofficially place Alaska under her patronage five years before she was even canonized. Once she was canonized on May 17, 1925, he was able to officially declare her the Queen and Patroness of Alaska.
She was the statuary presence not only in the back of the chapel there, but also directly outside of it and throughout the grounds. This was the Shrine of St. Thérèse, a labor of love by local Juneauites in the late 1930s to honor their patroness. After years of work, the first Mass was said in the chapel on October 28, 1941, on Shrine Island.
When I agreed to buy two-for-one plane tickets to Alaska on a whim in July, I had no way of knowing where I’d be interiorly three months later. By the time I arrived, my heart was starving for consolation. Instead of being met with the “warm fuzzies” of the interior life, I was met with a face-full of soggy wind and the Cross. But that was exactly what I needed.
Jesus didn’t bring me on retreat to escape reality but to enter into it more fully. He took me away to face not only the pain that I was experiencing but also the cause of it. There was so much I wanted to control and change in myself and others that it was impeding my intercessory prayer. No matter how many stones I could throw into the ocean with their hypothetically written names on them, I could not fully surrender my loved ones to Jesus.
While staring at Jesus at the foot of His Cross, He showed me that He wanted to shift my focus from the people I was bringing to Him to He Himself on the Cross. He was the one who suffered for each person’s afflictions and humbled Himself to become, in a sense, just as starving for consolation as I was. When I began to think of the people I was to pray for and their wounds and intentions, He diverted my attention to His wounds and His intentions for the world. What was it like for Him to have thorns wedged into His skull? He truly knows the pains of mental illness. What was it like for Him to have His side split with a lance? He truly knows the pain of self-giving and self-sacrificial love in marriage.
Our Mother Mary shows us that silent presence with Jesus in the face of His most difficult suffering is enough to cover all the petitions of her children.
St. Thérèse, as a cloistered Carmelite nun, stayed in the confines of a single convent for the duration of her short life. She entered into that same mystical union with Jesus by comforting Him with the Blessed Virgin Mary and offering that for the intentions of the world.
It is much easier to surrender our loved ones to Jesus when we focus on Jesus Himself. As we console His wounds and His Heart, He begins to transform our eyes and our very hearts to see like Him and to love like Him. This form of intercessory prayer not only gives Jesus the reign to shower the graces our loved ones need but also transforms us in the process. Inquiring about Jesus’ pain and being with Him in it brings intimacy because we get to see His interior. Gently, He begins to bring light to our own wounds and to healing and repentance.
By facing the reality of the Cross, we are also given the opportunity to enter into the reality of the Resurrection in our lives. We get to experience the ways Jesus redeems all of our suffering and how He uses it to bring us to the Kingdom He inherited for us: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:24-25).
In dying with Jesus, we rise with Him; this is the Good News of the Gospel! I invite you to allow yourself to enter into His Life, Death, and Resurrection as a form of intercession for your loved ones. Here are some practical ways to do this:
- Pick a small section of one of the Gospel depictions of Jesus’ Passion (Luke 22, Mark 14-15, Matthew 26-27, John 18-19). Visualize the scene and take note of what character you resonate with and how Jesus interacts with you, if at all. Seek to understand His experience in the scene and ask what He specifically wants to speak to in your life. Consider offering the graces for the intentions of a loved one.
- Pick a Crucifix you’re drawn to and meditate on Christ’s wounds. Consider offering the graces for the intentions of a loved one.
- Pray the Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, or even Lectio Divina as one of your loved ones. You can do this by stating your intention to offer all the graces received by that prayer for that person.
- Pray, “Jesus, I surrender [name of loved one] to You, take care of him/her,” whenever you encounter a temptation to ruminate on them or to grasp for control.
- Pray with the passage of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13) or Resurrection (John 20), or meditate on Heaven. Consider offering the graces for the intentions of a loved one and for their transfiguration and entrance into Heaven.