While attending the 2006 Medical Ethics Seminar for physician alumni at the University of Notre Dame, I took advantage of a cool, clear Saturday night to walk off some energy built up during a full day of stimulating discussions with old and new friends. The campus gives a different appearance throughout the day and night, and on this night it was exceptionally quiet; most students were away from campus for spring break.
For many Notre Dame alumni, a walk inevitably take one to the Grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, located down a small hill set behind the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and the Main Building (the Golden Dome). Regardless of time or season, one almost always encounters several people, students and campus visitors, in prayerful silence at the Grotto. This Saturday at about 11:30 p.m., I saw no one until I approached the racks of votive candles set deep inside the Grotto.
When friends hear one is returning to Notre Dame, there is a frequent request to “light a candle for me at the Grotto.” As I approached the table of unlit candles, I was startled to see a young man of student age standing alone next to a rack of candles. He held a lighted taper in his shaking hand, and the tears running down his cheeks reflected the glow of the burning candles. No words were said. Our eyes did not meet. After lighting our candles, we knelt a few feet apart and silently remembered those for whom we had come to pray. I wondered what pain burned in this young man’s heart.
Amazingly, far in the distance I began to hear male voices reciting the “Hail Mary.” I wondered if this was my imagination or reality. The voices slowly grew louder. After a few moments the young man and I stood simultaneously, as if on cue, and turned toward each other. For the first time, our eyes met. Drawn to his sorrow, I placed my arm around his shoulder and said, “I don’t know what pain you have in your heart, but I am sorry.” He hugged me firmly and said, “Thank you so very much.”
Now the voices were much louder, but respectful: “Hail Mary, full of grace . . .” Turning around and taking a couple of steps away from the kneeler, I saw that the source was a group of about 30 men walking into the Grotto. Who were they, late Saturday night, spring break? They surrounded and enveloped the young man as they faced Mary on the hillside. Their leader intoned, “And the first Sorrowful Mystery is . . . “
Father Michael Craig, a priest in our parish several years ago, always finished his homilies with the admonition to “look for Jesus in the crowd.” Mother Teresa reminded Dr. Paul Wright, Notre Dame Class of 1972, of the verses in Matthew 25, suggesting we do for Jesus when we reach out to the needy we encounter in our daily lives in Calcutta, Youngstown or the Grotto. Who was this young man? Was he Jesus to me? Was I Jesus to him? Who were the men reciting the rosary? Who received the most healing that night in the Grotto?
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Dr. McCauley and his wife have five children, including Erin, Notre Dame Class of 1993. He has been a practicing ob/gyn in Silver Spring, Maryland, for 30 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.