Life is filled with so many different moments. Moments of joy. Moments of pain. Moments of love and beauty. Moments of loneliness and struggle. Some of the most memorable and spiritually profound “moments” of mine, have been through my encounters with strangers I met through the faith. I truly believe that God works through each of us and communicates His love for us through the simple, everyday encounters with others. There have been many times in adoration where random strangers have embraced me, spoken truths to me and revealed God’s love to me. One encounter that is forever imprinted on my heart is meeting Thomas during my time in adoration.
It was over five years ago when I first met Thomas in a tiny adoration chapel in Steubenville, Ohio. I was alone in the chapel for my Holy Hour when Thomas and his elderly father walked in together. Thomas was probably in his early 40’s and he had Down Syndrome. I remember looking up from my book as they both walked in and knelt down before Jesus. I watched them for a moment, thinking how beautiful it was to see them there together, kneeling before our Lord with such reverence. As Thomas knelt down, I could see him gazing intently upon Jesus in the monstrance and a huge smile spread across his face. It was pure joy. He then turned around and looked directly at me, smiled at me and then turned back to Jesus and smiled at him. I could feel the delight he had from being in the presence of our Lord.
Thomas’s father sat a few chairs down from me, while Thomas came and sat in the chair right next to me. In that empty chapel, he could’ve sat anywhere, and I knew as soon as he sat down that he had chosen that seat for a reason. I smiled and introduced myself and asked what his name was. “Thomas,” he said. I told him that it was so beautiful that he came to visit Jesus with his father. His face lit up as he told me how his father picks him up from his care home and they come visit Jesus together.
I was about to pray a rosary and I felt the need to ask him if he wanted to pray it with me. He smiled and then gave me a big hug. I asked him if he had any prayer intentions that we could offer our rosary for. I will never forget his response. He said he isn’t very nice to some of the people at his care home sometimes, and that he can be “grumpy” to them and he wanted to ask Jesus to “help me to forgive myself.” I was stunned by the depth of his intention: “Help me to forgive myself.” This stranger, who had instantaneously become my friend, knew nothing about me. He knew nothing about my journey or the shame that I had been so accustomed to carrying around with me. He had no idea that his simple prayer had been my constant prayer.
For a couple years leading up to my encounter with Thomas, I had been battling so much shame and self-condemnation for my past sins. I had been struggling so badly with forgiving myself and trusting in Jesus’ mercy for me. I knew in my heart that my sins had been washed away through the grace of my confessions, but I still had difficulty forgiving myself. Here was my new friend Thomas, who because of his Down Syndrome had probably never committed any serious sins that he would be culpable for, and yet he managed to put into words my exact struggle, my exact prayer. I was so moved by his heartfelt intention, and I knew exactly why Jesus had placed Thomas in the chair next to me. I needed to be reminded of my need to let go and forgive myself.
I smiled at him and I said, “I struggle with forgiving myself too Thomas. But I think Jesus wants us to forgive ourselves. Maybe we could pray for each other and ask Jesus to help us both learn how to forgive ourselves.” With a huge grin he hugged me again. In that tiny chapel, we sat there and prayed the rosary together. Two strangers, just praying for the grace to forgive ourselves. To this day, my encounter with Thomas holds a special place in my heart. I feel like he was sent to me that night to remind me of Jesus’ love for me. I felt like he was my reminder that it was time for me to move on and make peace with myself. It was time to let go of the past and walk in the freedom of Christ’s mercy. Thomas’ innocence, his vulnerability, his child-like joy helped heal me a little more that night. I have always had a deep love for people with Down Syndrome, and I believe they have eyes to see the world in a special way that the rest of us are so often are blind to. We have so much to learn from them, and that night Thomas reminded me of my own need for self-forgiveness.
From time to time I’ll reflect on these experiences and remind myself to never underestimate the ways that God may bring healing through the simplest of encounters. If we keep praying, keep bringing ourselves before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, He will respond to us. It might be in the peace that calms our restless hearts or a deep awareness that we are being held and loved by our Father, or through the embrace, words or unexpected encounters with our brothers and sisters. Look for these moments. Find Jesus’ message to you in these moments. We need to remember to ask Jesus to help open our eyes to these encounters so we don’t miss the moments where He speaks to us, loves us and reminds us of His goodness through our everyday interactions.
2018 Drewe DeJesus
Photo by Drewe