Domine Ut Videam
Tonight, when my mother and I were driving by the old Catholic church here in Hollister, my mother told me that my great-grandmother, Mamá Tula (Julia Mottu), taught her to say the following prayer when she passed by a church:
Adorote, gran Tesoro,
Que mirarte no merezco,
Desde aquí, Señor, te adoro,
Y mi corazón te ofrezco.
(I adore Thee, great Treasure,
And I do not deserve to gaze upon Thee,
From here, Lord, I adore Thee
And offer Thee my heart.)
Mamá Tula was the last of the old guard in the Catholic Church around here. She would sit at Mass in her wheel chair, head covered with the large black veil of a widow, and a large badge of the Guadalupanos, a pious Marian group of the Mexican community, on her lapel. She had given eighteen children to my great-grandfather, Rufino, and at the time of her death in 1996, she had 63 grandchildren, 73 great-grandchildren, and a smattering of great-great-grandchildren. (That’s what happens when you marry at the age of fifteen.) She had to raise many of her children by herself since her husband died relatively young. She had a hard life as well, but her legacy is more than sealed by the progeny that budded forth from her. I had the benefit to sit at her feet as a young child (something that most of her great-grandchildren could not do), so from her I probably picked up a lot of Roman Catholicism from her by sheer osmosis….
She, however, is not the subject of this post. Her friend is. In the 1960’s, Mamá Tula was part of the local Legion of Mary chapter here in Hollister, and she would bring along my mother with her. (This, of course, was before I was even a twinkle in my mother’s eye.) There, she and my mother befriended a blind middle aged woman, very devout and unmarried. Her name was Genevieve McKool. She was born in South Dakota of Lebanese immigrant parents. She had served in the Second World War as a nurse and shortly thereafter began to lose her eyesight. Resigned perfectly to the will of God, she would live the next sixty years of her life in darkness. She formed the heart and soul of the Legion of Mary in Hollister for over forty years.
My mother re-joined the Legion of Mary in 1992, and by then I was a pious young teenager looking for a place where I could exercise my newly-found devotion. It was there I met Genevieve. By this time, Genevieve was eighty years old, still living by herself, and still walking to church everyday using her cane as a guide. She and my mother remembered each other, and they quickly picked up where they left off. I would go to the Legion of Mary meeting with my mother, and would accompany my mother and Genevieve on visits to the local hospital and nursing homes. It was there that the Christian upbringing I received was sealed into my mind forever, made real and sincere in my heart, even if now sometimes I turn away from the path of the Lord. It is there that I understood the depth of the Cross, its pain and its love. I saw compassion and the hand of Jesus working in the shriveled hands of an eighty year old blind woman.
Many of the people she visited were younger than her, lonely and forgotten by their children and the world. I remember one sad case, a man by the name of Guadalupe. He had no family and he sat all day in a dank nursing home unable to speak and waiting to die. There were many who were in visible agony and many who felt abandoned by loved ones who in some cases lived only in the next town over. Part of me was indignant; another part of me was intensely saddened that people could do such things to the people who gave them birth. I guess this is all part of the abnormal adolescence I had: should thirteen year olds be seeing and thinking about these things? Maybe this made me grow up too fast.
Genevieve had no such indignation, only love and a heart that inclined toward the misery of others. Guided by my mother, she would go from room to room in the nursery home, rosary in hand, and talk with the people there. When they were lonely, she counseled them to pray. When they were sad, she told them to commend themselves to the Blessed Mother. And when all else failed, she would stretch forth her soft, frail hand and give a stroke of comfort to those who had been forgotten and help them as much as she could to get through this vale of tears.
I remember one incident in particular that for me has been one of the most significant theophanies in my own life, one greater than seeing the sunrise over the desert, the vastness of the pampa at my feet, or the elevation of the Host at a Pontifical High Mass. There was an old Italian woman lying in agony in a room of the nursing home. We came in and Genevieve tried to talk to her, but the woman could no longer speak. Tears started to roll down the emaciated woman’s face, and she began to heave in pain. Genevieve could not see the terrible sight I was seeing, but she could hear it and she felt it in her soul. I looked at Genevieve and on her wrinkled face, I saw the same look of compassion that Jesus must have had when they brought him the sick and the suffering. She felt for the hands of the agonizing woman and took them in hers. She said nothing, but only held her hands for a while and prayed. In those pair of old hand, I saw God, and I thank Him everyday that He allowed me to see such love.
Genevieve led a simple life. She walked around Hollister using her cane and was helped in her errands by people like my mother who would lend her an occasional hand. Other than that, she led an independent life as she had always done. She even used to bake for the Legion of Mary meetings held in Salinas between the various praesidia. She was also constantly learning, either through reading books in Braille or listening to audio cassettes. And of course, she had a prayer routine that would put most monks to shame.
Genevieve did not see the Second Vatican Council and what it did to the Church. She was already blind when it happened, but sometimes she was very grieved by what she heard. I would often see her leaving church very sad, and she would often explain to me how much she missed things as they had been. When we heard that there was a traditional Latin Mass once a month in Santa Clara, my mother, Genevieve and I would make the pilgrimage up in order to attend it. She never put her veil away either. In her own humble way, she was the first traditionalist I ever met, but she never had any of the bitterness that I would have and that many seem to mistake as zeal. She was always a Christian first.
She was also one of the only people who took me seriously when I said that I wanted to be a priest. The priests of the parish thought that I was an overly pious pest who needed to get out and be a “normal kid”. No one else seemed to be able to give me much guidance in my budding vocation. No doubt, Genevieve prayed much for me, and still does, and she was happy that at least one young person understood that maybe the old ways were not so bad after all.
Nevertheless, through my own pride and negligence, I began to fall away from the Church little by little. There was a lot of intellectual pride involved, as well as confusion about the crisis in the Church and my own sins that I could not overcome. Genevieve and I began to drift away slowly, until one day, at sixteen, I left the Church altogether, and ceased to believe in God.
In spite of my atheism, there was still deep down a profound sense that what I was doing was wrong, and it most came to the light one day when I ran into Genevieve on the street. I was walking home from school, and I saw her, cane in hand, coming toward me. I hesitated as to whether or not I should say anything, even a simple “Hello”. As she came closer, I merely stepped out of the way and said nothing. I have never been so ashamed in my life. It would be the last time I would ever see her alive.
Years passed, and finally at the age of twenty, I decided to re-enter the Church. When I came back to Hollister for vacation, the first thing I wanted to do was to go see Genevieve and tell her that I had left the Church but that I was back now. My mother said that she was by then living in a nursing home herself. I intended to go visit her, but for some reason, I just kept putting it off throughout my week-long vacation in Hollister. One night, however, after I had made a firm resolution to visit her the next day, my mother showed me that week’s issue of the local paper and in it was found Genevieve’s obituary. She had died three days before I arrived in Hollister.
Later that night, my grandparents, my mother, and I prayed the rosary together as we do every night, but I began to weep bitterly. At the end, I told my mother, “Genevieve was the one who could see, and I was the one who was blind.” Her death healed the blindness of my heart, and for the next seven years I would go on a wild-spiritual goose chase, the story of which can be found throughout this blog.
Tonight, however, I am wondering what Genevieve is thinking about what has happened to me as she sits up there in our Father’s house. I know she is praying for me, but now I wonder whether she might be a little disappointed in me, or is she happy that I am finally settling for life, simple life, and not trying to live the life I read about it in all of those books? As I prayed the rosary tonight with my family, I didn’t pray that I would be a great saint, or a priest who saves hundreds of souls, or a monk who has the gift of pure prayer, or even a prelate who will turn the Church around from the mess that it is in. I prayed that the woman I have a crush on might find happiness regardless of whether or not she returns my affection. I prayed that I might be strong enough to do what I have to do in order to help out my poor family and make it so that they suffer a little less. But most of all, I just thanked God that I could kneel before Him and adore Him in all of His Majesty and love. That is what it means to be a human being. I ask nothing for myself other than to be a simple man who loves and is loved. Maybe that was Genevieve’s prayer too, and it continues to be her prayer as she looks down on me from up there in Heaven.
“ Lord, that I might see……”