The rain poured down playing hop scotch on the puddles along the road. Rachel jumped to the side of the path as another car zoomed by, sending a spray of muddy water on her white trousers. "I don't believe it," she cried in annoyance, brushing away the dirty water. A Toyota car slowed down and pulled up beside her. "Hi there," the driver called out, "Aren't you from Linden Vale? My name is Patricia Mulvey. I saw you coming out of the train station and heading towards the bus stop. Would you like a lift home?"
A delighted passenger dropped her weekend bag on the back seat before jumping into the front of the car, happy to be rescued from the torrential downpour. She fastened her seat belt, sat back with a sigh of relief and closed her eyes. As she sat there she became aware of a peace and warmth in the confines of the grey Corolla. "Home for a long weekend?" the young driver asked, moving out onto the empty road towards open countryside. "Yes, just four days. There are great flight offers now with Ryanair from London. Book a month in advance and you get a twenty euro return ticket." "Wow, why don't you take this car, work in a factory for a few days and I'll head to London!" Rachel laughed. She recognised the woman's face from shopping in her father's store but didn't know her personally. It was good to be home. Her thoughts returned to the plane journey to Dublin. Before arriving at the airport she had wondered would it bring back the memory of her last visit home – the memory of her boyfriend waiting to take her into his arms when she walked into the arrivals lounge. To her surprise no such emotions or memories returned. When she did arrive she only knew a deep peace in her heart and a closeness of the presence of the Lord as she walked through the airport. She was still amazed at this new awareness of God's grace at work in her heart and soul that signposted her life in a whole new direction.
It was the same peace she experienced again in the car when she turned to look at the driver. As she did so, her eyes fell on a little icon of the Sacred Heart on the dashboard. "You have devotion to the Sacred Heart?" Rachel asked with interest. "Sure do, couldn’t imagine life without Him." For a moment the young vivacious woman with her short dark curls and hazel eyes looked solemn and lost in thought. Her hands tightened on the steering wheel before that joy of life returned to her face. "What do you do in London?" she asked, quickly changing the subject. "Secretarial work, but only three days a week now as I recently got involved in a prayer group which organises Catholic conferences for evangelisation." Patricia gave a quick look towards her passenger as a car zoomed by. "Really, are you serious?" The question opened up a conversation that was going to lead to an unexpected day out for Rachel. All too soon they arrived into their hometown. Patricia was about to say something, then hesitated. "Please do say it?" Rachel prompted, sensing again that wonderful Spirit of God's presence. "This may sound a bit much, seeing as you are just home for a few days, but would you care to join me tomorrow on a pilgrimage to Knock Shrine. I have the day off. I really need a day of prayer but I would be glad to have a prayer companion travel with me. It’s about a two hour car journey. I could pick you up about eleven a.m?" "Sure, why not!"
Saturday arrived and the two pilgrims set out for Our Lady's Shrine, Knock. "I was thinking maybe we could have lunch in the hotel before we go into the Shrine?" Patricia suggested. "We'll have plenty of time for confessions before the three o’clock ceremonies begin." Rachel was amazed by the sudden change of events. Little did she think on a surprise weekend trip home she would be doing a pilgrimage. It was a long time since she had last been to Knock. While she waited for Patricia to park the car, she thought of the time she had spent in the beautiful apparition chapel over a decade previously. She walked over to the historic site once again and knelt down. Suddenly she felt as if she was drinking from a river of purest water that continued to pour into her heart and soul, running over a parched interior land. A few minutes passed when a gentle tap on the shoulder reminded her of Patricia’s return. It was time to go and have lunch before their afternoon of prayer began. As they walked across the grounds of the Shrine, Rachel suddenly felt a new curiosity about the beautiful Lady who had appeared to the astonished villagers in 1879, a curiosity that would lead her to prayer and to the friendship of Mary in the coming years. God had His plans and this visit to Knock was the first step towards a new life for the two pilgrims now on their way to lunch.
"How long have you been married?" Rachel asked as they waited for the lasagnes to arrive. "I have left my husband," Patricia answered without hesitation. "I lived on his farm but moved into a rented apartment in town only a week ago. I don't know why but I'd like to tell you about it, yet you are single and free I’m sure from all such worries or pain." Rachel remained silent. Her thoughts raced back to those moments in the rain when her pilgrim companion had pulled up in the car. This young woman who called out and smiled with a warmth which was easily felt. She thought of when she sat in the car and experienced the same warmth and peace from the good humoured woman who had grinned when she looked at the hanging raindrops clinging to Rachel’s long damp hair. This was the same woman that carried suffering love.
"Please do talk about it if you would like to?" Patricia nodded, rubbing her palms along her jeans in an unexpected nervous gesture. "I married Noel knowing that we would be living with his mother on their farm. Of course I had concerns about it as every newly married woman wants to be alone with her husband, especially at the beginning of their marriage. Noel worked early until late on the farmland.” Rachel knew what was going to unfold. Patricia continued. "So I arrived on the farm and was up with my husband very early every morning eager to help. I had no idea his mom did not want me there. When Noel went out to tend to the animals I prepared breakfast for the three of us. Whatever I did in the house, I was doing wrong.” She stopped as her voice broke with the weight of the emotion coming through. “When I cooked the breakfast, it wasn't cooked right. When I ironed the shirts, they were returned to the ironing board and left there. This was the least of what was happening. Then I discovered my husband was not being told the truth. This was the final warning for me as I came to recognize the workings of a strange possessiveness in the most frightening way. No one could see what was going on.” Rachel nodded as the picture became clear. "Then", Patricia continued, "Noel started going to the pub, saying he was only going out for one pint, but he would not return until the early hours of the morning falling in the doorway. When the subject came up about Noel and a drink problem, I was told by my mother-in-law I resented him having a drink or two after a hard day's work." Patricia looked directly at Rachel, her sad eyes now a mirror of visible suffering and humiliations. "How long did you endure this domination from his mother?" "For six months until I realised I was a victim of her psychological abuse, just like her son is. Every night I prayed seeking help and the answer came. I went to the Catholic Marriage Counselling Agency. Noel wouldn't go. After several conversations with a confidential and supportive team I found the answer in my own heart. I was to leave the farm, get my own place and wait and pray that my husband will join me where we can begin our married life together in our new home. I tried every way to talk with Noel’s mom but she is in denial with her own problems. So the day I left the farm was the day I became free. I cried when I walked into the apartment but I knew I had done the right thing. Noel's mom was furious and the rage that welled up in her when I was leaving, left me in no doubt I was getting out in time. My own mom was wonderful and helped me move my luggage. Now I wait for Noel. He has to make the same decision and in the pain I have in my heart, I give it to the Lord in the hope that it might be used for my husband. As to whether he will make the right decision, only time will tell.” A quick glance at her watch and Patricia exclaimed, “Heavens above! Its two thirty. Before we get confessions and go into the Basilica I need to purchase something in the gift shop. Will you come with me?"
Rachel looked on as the shop assistant wrapped the picture of the Sacred Heart. "This will be a lovely gift for a new home," she smiled at Patricia. "Be sure to have the new home blessed on the First Friday, that's a special day of devotion to the Sacred Heart." The Basilica stood a short distance from the shrine shop. It was packed with pilgrims when they walked in. The Mass had begun and the only empty seats were in the choir where they were directed to by a friendly steward.
After a homily full of encouragement on the virtue of hope, followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the visiting bishop invited all those present who were ill to come forward for the anointing of the sick. He reminded the pilgrims that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was only for those who had an illness. The pilgrim did not need to state the illness, but was invited to come forward for the anointing or to raise their hand where they were seated, if they were unable to walk up to the altar. Rachel opened her eyes to see Patricia stand up and walk up the aisle joining other pilgrims. When she returned, she knew she could not intrude on Patricia’s sacred moments of private conversation with the Lord. She did not know what illness her friend had; neither did she feel she should ask. In her own heart she already knew that she was in the company of a special soul and this was a day that would be remembered. At the end of Mass the pilgrims were invited to hold up any religious objects they had to be blessed.
All too soon the day was over and Patricia dropped Rachel off at her front door. "I will think of you when I'm back in London." Patricia nodded, that warm light in her eyes returning, which spoke of a beautiful friendship with her Creator. "We were meant to meet, that's for sure." They embraced each other knowing that their conversation and meeting was not by chance. Rachel also knew that such suffering love would spill over into the wounds of her husband’s heart leaving him with his own decisions to make. He had not betrayed his wife in unfaithfulness. He was a prisoner of his own mother’s emotional hold that held him in family chains. Only the truth would be the key that would unlock those chains for them to fall away. Patricia knew that and embraced the cross that carried a courageous love beyond her years.
The plane touched down in London. Rachel walked through the airport to see Anna and Paul waiting outside. They looked so happy in their mission life and work. It was good to see them. As the car moved into the city traffic Anna turned to her friend. “So how was the trip? Did you feel any regrets not getting engaged and not being together now?" "No, no regrets Anna, only peace. There are no regrets when we have made the right decisions!" "Well, that's just wonderful,” Anna breathed a sigh of relief. “We have a meeting tomorrow evening in your house if that's alright? We need to plan our work for the conference. Welcome back to the big city!”
Rachel cut three flowers in the garden and went back into the house. She turned right at the top of the staircase and walked into a small alcove where there was an altar to the Sacred Heart. It was the First Friday of June. She removed the faded flowers and put a vase of fresh water on the table. Then beneath the image of the Sacred Heart she placed a red rose in the vase. "This one Lord, is for Patricia and Noel. This one is in thanksgiving. And this rose is for my own intentions, in the hope that I will continue to be led by Your Spirit of Truth in the way of love.”