By Pamela McCabe
Near the end of high school, I wasn’t sure what faith really was. Did I believe in God? I wasn’t sure. I had been raised that way as a Protestant, yet I couldn’t even define what faith was or how it felt.
Come college, I finally decided to be a religion major with a focus on spiritual art. I was absolutely moved by the true love and devotion shown within this art, and it made me wonder…why had I never felt this way? Why have I never felt so moved and so blessed I had to show the world? I decided it had to be because I didn’t believe in God (although that simply wasn’t true). When I was sad or stressed I began to pray and stopped myself saying, “I don’t believe in that anymore.”
Honestly, I was a wreck; I felt trapped in my own anxiety and stress. It wasn’t until I evaluated how my boyfriend dealt with his problems that I realized he attributed his love, understanding, and harmony to his faith. I still wasn’t sure what faith exactly meant, but I knew that I wanted to try believing in God again.
So I welcomed God back. I tried to love God the way I had always been taught, but I still felt nothing. I knew Spiritual Drought was possible and I knew first hand it was frustrating, but I wanted nothing more than to feel God and His love. By what might have been divine intervention, my boyfriend’s family invited me on their trip to Europe. His parents had created an entire itinerary of holy sites to visit and places to venerate God, apologizing that almost every stop was Catholic. I didn’t mind, God was God…Jesus was Jesus…art was art.
We started in Spain, then Croatia, and finally Bosnia, visiting beautiful, extravagant holy sites all along the way. With every visit to a church I became more confused. I saw a big family of eight sit together praying, laughing, and loving...Was this faith? Part of it, yes, it was. I realized faith has two parts in my mind and in my heart. Part of faith was your connection to others. This beautiful connection made by this family through their love for God moved my heart. It even made me think, “I want to raise a family like that one day.” The second part of what makes up ‘faith’ still eluded me, but I continued my endeavor to figure it out.
In the end we reached Medjugorje, Bosnia, where we spent a week learning about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary as well as other beautiful miracles. We visited St. James church, the Risen Christ statue, and Apparition Hill. For those who don’t know of Apparition Hill, it is where the first apparition of the Blessed Mother appeared to six children in 1981. As a Presbyterian at the time, I didn’t fully understand the Virgin Mary’s love and guidance; however, my boyfriend and his family were trying hard to guide me towards the answers I sought for.
While climbing the mountainside of Krizevec (Cross Mountain), we stopped momentarily to pray decades of the rosary on the way up until we came upon a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace. It was sweltering hot, we were sweaty and tired from the climb, but seeing her was like a breath of fresh air. We sat down in quiet contemplation of our trek, our prayers, and the Blessed Mother. I sat next to my boyfriend’s mother and all I could say is, “She’s beautiful.” My mind was completely blank, overcome by an amount of awe I had never experienced. She smiled at me and said, “We owe everything to her, she is our way to heaven and she will guide us in our faith. She is our mother and she always knows what we need.”
Tears began streaming down my face as I looked at Mary, pure white, shining in the sun, with beautiful flowers at her feet. My boyfriend’s mother left to pray and in her place my boyfriend took her place. He held my hand as I quietly sobbed and thanked him for inviting me on this trip; it was exactly what I needed to feel whole. In that moment, I knew what faith was. Seeing the devotion of the people praying to such a beautiful figure such as Mary and living through the difficulty of climbing and praying in the hot summer sun to express love and devotion showed me what faith really was. Never had I known the Blessed Mother before this moment, but from that point on, I believed…I knew. That was the moment I was absolutely God struck, the moment I felt the beauty of devotion and faith.
On the way down Apparition Hill, I was happy. I was in bliss. At the bottom we entered a small shop where many religious objects were held. I skimmed the shelves and saw a beautiful glass bead rosary; each bead was black glass with a small white flower in the center. I showed my boyfriend’s mom who agreed it was beautiful with a smile. On our way out, she handed me a small bag. When I opened it, I saw the beautiful rosary…my first rosary.
It wasn’t until I told my boyfriend that I wanted to convert that he admitted to me that when his mother left to pray to Mary on top of Apparition Hill, she was praying for my conversion. Faith is a little different for everyone. There is no one definition when it comes to personal devotion and love for God. I push to ask, what is faith to you? I found my devotion through the beauty of religious art, the grace of the Blessed Mother, and the love that surrounds Christian community. It was then I felt whole and fully happy.