The facilitator welcomed everyone with a warm smile, “We need to talk about the workshop rules before we go any further.” She pointed her finger and stared at each individual in our circle. “This is a safe inclusive space for everyone. Everyone,” she emphasized. “No politics and no religion are to be discussed. Do you understand.”
I nodded yes with the others, but it felt like I got a longer stare. My hand nervously went to my throat where it rested over the small crucifix hanging around my neck. It suddenly felt like I was wearing a religious neon sign.
During a break, I returned to my room and sat on the bed talking to myself. Mary, she said no religion so you must remove your crucifix. It’s offending her and the other participants. It’s religious so take it off.
I felt sick to my stomach but as I reached up to unhook the clasp of the chain, my arms dropped in sudden fear, Jesus, I cannot deny you before others or you will deny me.
The words from Matthew (12:8-10) filled my heart. At the same time, I also recognized it was the devil tempting me to say like Peter did during the Passion, “No, I don’t know him.”
A mixture of sorrow, gratitude and relief washed over me as I realized the Holy Spirit helped me remain steadfast. I am sorry, Jesus. I blessed myself and my room with holy water from a small bottle in my purse, then I went back into the workshop wearing my crucifix.
An Unexpected Gift
There was no intent on my part to evangelize at a secular writing workshop; however, I was the one caught off guard and evangelized by the Holy Spirit. I had bought the crucifix the night of my mother’s funeral three years earlier. Weary from the funeral and grief, I agreed to accompany an aunt to a store.
“You get what you need and I’ll wait for you here,” I said leaning against the jewelry counter. A lovely necklace style crucifix caught my attention and I remembered my mother’s words from happier days, “Mary, you shouldn’t just wear a cross around your neck, but a crucifix with the corpus. It tells others you are Catholic.”
With her words in my heart, I decided it would make someone a nice gift. The necklace crucifix sat in a closet where I keep gifts and when I looked at it, I wondered who was meant to receive it. One day I looked at it and realized it was for ME! I scolded myself for being so blind, but in joy and feeling close to my deceased mother, I slipped it on a thin chain and put it around my neck.
Direction from the Holy Spirit
The writing workshop was intense and taught me a lot in a short amount of time; however, the greatest unexpected gift was my newfound awareness of the Holy Spirit at work in my life. As a young girl receiving Confirmation, I memorized the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of God). Now as a much older woman, I experienced each gift personally at the workshop as super weapons!
Later I learned my discernment was correct when the workshop facilitator said, “We all know who you are with that huge honking cross hanging around your neck.”
I remember finding the comment both judgmental and presumptuous. But my mother was correct; a crucifix tells others even from a distance, I am Catholic. I now ask the Holy Spirit for daily guidance and I wear the small crucifix necklace purchased the night of my mother’s funeral. But in prayer, I also put on the armor of God,
“Put on all the armor that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks.” (Ephesians 6:11).
Mary Bell is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. This October, she and her husband will be married for 50 years. Both are parishioners at Sts. Cyril and Methodius in East Helena, Montana, where they volunteer. Mary is a retired marketing coordinator and technical/proposal writer. During her career, she wrote articles for various professional trade publications. She also has experience as a past photo editor and a staff writer at Montana Magazine/American and World Geographic Publishing. As a volunteer, she writes on occasion for her diocesan newsletter, and as a freelance writer.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.