The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.
I was going home in the spring of 1980 after a three-year stint in the United States Army, making my way along the rural back roads of North Florida. Just south of Cross City, I came upon a billboard that seemed totally out of place deep in the Bible Belt, where Catholics made up less than two percent of the local population. On the large billboard was an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding out a rosary. Underneath were the words, “Pray for the Conversion of Russia.”
Later that week I mentioned the billboard to Father Pat Foley, the pastor of our small Catholic parish. He laughed. “Oh, Pearl had that put up, and it’s created quite a stir.” When I asked to meet Pearl, he suggested that I take the Eucharist to her at a local nursing home.
The halls of the nursing home were filled with old souls, some crying out in pain. I expected Pearl to be one of them, but when I arrived at her door, I found a young woman in her twenties. She was propped up in bed holding a crucifix in her arms, with a candle burning on her bedside table. Pearl smiled and invited me in. My new friend received the Eucharist with great devotion, then closed her eyes and made her thanksgiving while I stood nearby. It was an image right off a holy card.
For the next five months I continued to visit Pearl, until I left to attend college in southern Indiana. Several times each week I brought Pearl Holy Communion, then we would talk. Pearl had grown up in Michigan and moved to Florida after high school. She had been wild in her late teens and early twenties, she said, until life dealt her an unfortunate blow—terminal cancer. Now she lay abandoned in a nursing home; her husband rarely visited her, her family was far away. Although she had every earthly reason to be, she was neither sad nor dejected. In fact, she was the most joyful person I had ever known. What was her secret?
Pearl held up the crucifix she always cradled near her. “It’s the power of the cross,” she replied. Her sickness had helped her to rediscover the faith of her childhood; she had experienced the power of uniting her own suffering with the Passion and death of the Lord. She had relinquished her own plans and opened herself up to God’s plan for her, even if it meant a short life on earth.
This book is the fruit of those meetings I had with Pearl almost twenty-five years ago. By her example, she taught me how to live in the power of the cross. That power enabled her to reach out and encourage others—the billboard was only one example of that. Pearl reminded me that, even when we are young, life almost never goes the way we expect. However, when we recognize the cross of Christ in those unexpected moments, we begin to find the answers to life’s most pressing questions. More
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