Last Monday, on my birthday, we had planned a little day-trip to D.C., including a visit to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. But after waking up with a little stomach bug that day, it didn't happen. So yesterday, we, at the very last minute, decided to head to the Basilica for Mass (which is absolutely gorgeous decorated for Christmas!), and I'm so glad we did.
Two-and-a-half years ago, in June of 2009, we stopped by the beautiful church so that could Ryan ask Our Lady to intercede on his behalf and ask God to make him a father. I had read somewhere that some couples had conceived after making similar pilgrimages, and I was willing to try anything. So we went and it was a great visit.
Since that time, I have never felt as if that was the prayer, the pilgrimage. I don't think it works that way. But I do think that all of our prayers are important. And I think it's a beautiful thing for a husband to make a special trip to ask Our Lady for that favor.
This time, we returned with our two babies, one who was a very tiny peanut in her mother's womb when that original prayer was made.
Ryan had made his request in front of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is located to the right of the altar. During the Christmas season, a beautiful nativity scene is in front of the image, and you could only see a tiny bit of her head peaking over the top.
So, more than two years later, I knelt with my babies in front of the nativity, and in front of Our Lady of Perpetual Help who was hiding in the background, and I thanked Our Lord and his mother for answering our prayers.
As we knelt, an usher came up next to us, grabbed two pieces of straw from the nativity floor, and handed them to me. I couldn't hear him well, but he said something about St. Francis, and that we would really want them. It was implied that they were for the children. I wasn't sure what that was about, but I quickly grabbed them from the kids' hands (or else they would have been long gone in seconds) and put them safely in my diaper bag.
Today, when Ryan returned home from work, he told me that when one of his co-workers heard we had visited the Basilica, she asked him if we had taken home any straw from the nativity. Apparently, legend has it (because Catholicism is great for legends, right? ;)) that if you put the hay in your wallet, you'll never want for money the whole year. You better believe that straw was in my wallet before Ryan finished the story! Ha!
During Mass, Clara was her usual feisty self, and the grand church offered a lot of space for walking her around, while still being able to listen to the priest. We walked from chapel to chapel, each one more beautiful than the next, and even Clara noticed. "So pretty!" she exclaimed, looking all around, at the larger-than-life statues, paintings, and mosaics.
And that's what she said as we entered my very favorite chapel (and possibly one of the most beautiful spaces I've ever been in), Our Lady of Guadalupe, at the exact moment of the consecration. As we walked towards the front, hand-in-hand, I felt as if I was in some way presenting her. I've always thought Our Lady of Guadalupe was special to Clara, since she is half Mexican. And to watch her look around in wonder, as the bells rang out.. it really took my breath away.
Ryan and I switched kids right before it was time for communion, and so I walked up holding Luke. After receiving the Eucharist, I was turning to head back to my seat when I felt some "activity" in Luke's diaper. I was laughing to myself, at what a fitting moment for him to do that, when I looked straight ahead and saw the Pieta. I have seen that image many, many times. I have even stood before Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's on several occasions. But never before did it strike me the way it did last night, as I saw it while carrying my own baby boy in my arms. For a split second, as I saw Our Mother holding her Son, laid limply across her arms, I felt what must have been a tiny fraction of Mary's suffering. I hugged my own son tight and choked back the tears.
We let the kids walk around after Mass and Ryan followed us with a camera. I forgot that the Basilica is really a tourist attraction, and so people with cameras were everywhere.
I love these pictures. I'm usually the one taking them, so I rarely see candids of me and the kids.
Notice the straw in her hand...
The beauty of Mass at the Basilica must have rubbed off on us, because we said our first official family Rosary tonight. We hope to make it a weekly tradition.
I am so grateful I could return to the basilica with my babies. Thank you, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Thank you, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thank you, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Thank you for your intercession. We are so blessed.