It was a dream come true. I was to be the only performing artist to sing live for the "Way of the Cross" during World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. My great hero, Pope John Paul II would be there, praying, watching and listening along with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims on site and over a billion throughout the world. For a singing evangelist and missionary, it didn't get better than that. I prepared for months, practicing, fasting and praying with an intense focus on the Passion of Our Lord.
When the evening of the "Way of the Cross" finally arrived, I was ready. And as the now famous re-enactment of "Our Lord's Passion" approached its climax, I waited with bated breath. It felt as though my entire life had been preparing me for this moment. They chauffeured me through the crowds to "my station" and I eagerly climbed the steps to wait backstage for my cue. I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, a stage director emerged from the darkness. Her words hit me like a sledgehammer. "The microphone is broken." Completely stunned, and reeling from the blow, I heard someone say, "Kneel on the floor and pray; it will be marvelous!" "Marvelous?" So I did just that. I knelt on the stage floor and prayed as a prerecorded choral version of my solo caressed the city streets of Toronto and echoed throughout the world.
Suffering, disappointment, diminishment and loss are all part of life. Suffering comes at us when we least expect. It hits us where we feel the most vulnerable. And it makes us feel very alone. Yet there is something intensely universal about suffering. Suffering unites us in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the human family, and our meeting point is the Cross of Jesus Christ: the act of love in which He died for us. "In that act of love on the Cross Jesus embraced all the pain, betrayal, torture, abandonment, disappointment, heartache, loss, and loneliness of every person who has ever lived, is living now, and is yet to be born." We are not alone in our suffering. He is with us. He is with us. And He turns it all around. If we give Him permission. Rmns 8:28
My recompense for the broken microphone was an invitation to meet Pope John Paul II and sing to him face to face. My first "encounter" with JPII took place during the first year of his pontificate. I was visiting Rome on pilgrimage as a soloist with my church choir. From my vantage point in St. Peter's Square I could hardly see him, but the power emanating from his youthful presence, bursting with health and energy, was electrifying. The pope I met during my "encounter" in Toronto 24 years later was quite different. Before me was a broken old man, stooped over from years of carrying an unbearably heavy cross, and drooling from the side of his mouth as he bravely endured the devastating effects of Parkinson's disease. Little did I know that this was the moment the Lord had been preparing me for. This was the performance He had in mind. This was the "Way of the Cross" He had chosen me to sing for. This was "my station", and before me stood Christ crucified. Emanating forth from his broken body was a holiness and power of love that I'd never seen before and have never seen since. I sang to him and he blessed me. It was a very firm blessing. Then he gently caressed my cheek. It changed me. It changed my life. Forever.
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico during a time of great suffering, unbelief and child sacrifice, which leaves terrible devastation in its wake. She broke through, and the people opened their hearts to Christ, and He turned things around. I asked Jesus for a miracle today in honor of His Mother's special feast day; in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I encourage you to do the same, and keep asking. Ask for miracles, and expect them. Like the importunate widow in Luke 18:1-8, "Let's keep bothering the Father until He gives us what we want, or something even better." And in times of suffering, let's sing in the Reign and welcome the Kingdom of God in our midst!