By Marie Shull
Special to The Witness
How does God speak to you, and what kind of message has he laid upon your heart to share with others? I learned this lesson well almost two years ago while working as a catechist to teenage girls during the Advent season.
My students were preparing for their annual Advent reconciliation, and, sadly, like many people, they were apprehensive about going. They were afraid that the priest might recognize their voice or remember their faces after confessing their sins and never look at them the same way again. Or they were also considering withholding some of their sins because they were too ashamed of what they had done and thought in some way they might scandalize the priest.
If we’re honest, I think all of us have entertained these thoughts at some point during our faith walk believing the lies of the devil that somehow we are defined by our past or our weaknesses rather than seeing ourselves as truly loved by our Father in heaven.
My heart ached for these young women, so I fervently prayed for a couple of weeks that their hearts and minds would be softened to the truth about what reconciliation really means and what it can do for your soul. Knowing that my students responded well to personal stories and visual images, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would provide me with a special plan so that they would have a truly wonderful confession experience like no other.
God had placed it on my heart to buy all of them a simple white snowflake ornament that would fit in the palm of their hand that they could take with them into the confessional. He then wanted me to give them the analogy that our brokenness, sinfulness and sorrow that we carry are like the rain that falls from a cold, gray winter sky. It is an ugly mess; however, when we are open to God’s grace and we repent of our sins, his forgiveness will transform our lives and make us white as snow! I was more than excited about this special message that God had given to me, because I knew that it would resonate well with my students.
I was a woman on a mission to find these snowflake ornaments. I looked all over the stores in my surrounding area to find some snowflakes, but, sadly, I couldn’t find anything. I began to doubt and thought maybe I hadn’t heard God correctly in the situation. I continued to pray and search and finally on the day that I had class I attended Mass that morning. I poured my heart out to God about not being able to find the snowflakes, and I asked him again what he wanted me to do.
I very clearly heard him tell me to go to my local drugstore, and there I would find the snowflakes. I laughed and questioned him, telling him that I had already been there with no success. Again, he told me to go, and when I finally did, there in the entryway of the store were small Christmas trees adorned with the ornaments I was looking for!
I was overwhelmed with gratitude and quickly collected six snowflakes, but there was one little problem. I still needed two more since I had eight students. I went to the register to ask the cashier if they carried anymore in the store. She looked confused for a moment and then told me that they didn’t sell these snowflakes in the store. They were instead donated by an employee on staff. She said that perhaps she had some more at home and then proceeded to find the woman who donated the snowflakes and sent her out to see me.
Her name was Tina, and when she asked me what I needed the snowflakes for I explained to her the whole symbolism of the snowflake and reconciliation. She stared at me for a moment, and her eyes filled with tears saying what a beautiful message this was for the youth.
She just happened to have an hour lunch break that day, and she drove back to her hometown 20 miles away for two more snowflakes she had stored away in her attic so that I could have a full set of eight for my students!
Later that night when I met with my students before reconciliation, I joyfully gave them each a beautiful little snowflake. I shared with them the symbolism of the snowflake and the journey that God had taken me on in order to find them. Many of them too began to cry as the Holy Spirit flooded their hearts and minds on how very much God loves them.
One by one I watched each of them enter the confessional, some of them even face-to-face with a priest. And as they all returned to their pew, I saw their faces radiate with peace and joy, many of them saying that it was the best experience that they’ve ever had and that they were no longer afraid. Thank you, Jesus!
So, what will be your snowflake story this season? God the Father gave us Jesus for Christmas; now let Jesus give you the ultimate gift of forgiveness. Give it all to him: your pain, sickness, sorrow, addictions and shame, and let him make you white as snow!
A statue of Mary and Jesus is shrouded in snow Jan. 21 outside St. Thomas More Church in Brighton, N.Y. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)