When I was in college I asked my grandfather Roland Savoie, what was the strangest unexplained experience he ever had. He thought for a moment and shared a mysterious story from when he was about seven years old. At that time he and his older brother Buster shared a bedroom with their two single beds arranged in parallel. One night he was awakened by Buster talking to someone. Young Roland looked up to see Jesus standing at the foot of their beds and he let out a cry of surprise. Buster tried to comfort Roland by telling him “don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid”. Nevertheless, Roland was still overwhelmed and retreated under the blankets. He was adamant it to me that the experience was no dream and that he was awake.
Thirty years later I had largely forgotten my grandfather’s mysterious recollection until my uncle dug up an old photo of my grandfather and his siblings as children .
Since then I have been reflecting on how could this usual story be an accurate recollection of a real event. I have spent enough time with my grandfather to know he wasn’t lying to me. He was a well-grounded, practical man who wasn’t given to hallucinations and grand delusions. It also seemed unlikely this was a vivid dream that that he would erroneously believe was a real experience. Yet, as my one of my aunts reminded me, Jesus just doesn’t appear to someone without them becoming a well-known saint.
Buster, who was later known as Brother Donald as a Brother of the Sacred Heart, taught mathematics at Sacred Heart Academy in Central Falls Rhode Island.
He was a quiet, thoughtful man with a brilliant mind and although he was devout, he was not known as a famous saint.
I was stumped. I believed that my grandfather told me what he believed was the truth but it was so far out of the normal rational experience that it was hard to accept.
When I stepped into church this morning for Mass and glanced over to the Tabernacle it dawned on me why I was puzzled. I was getting the wrong answer because I asking the wrong question. Roland and Brother Donald’s experience only seemed unexplainable because I was too focused the “vision” and not on the underlying reality on the presence of Jesus himself. The truth is, we all have experienced the full presence of Jesus, body and blood, soul and divinity every time we participate in the Mass or sit in church for Eucharistic Adoration.
In front of the Tabernacle, our experience of the physical presence of Jesus is just as real, just as miraculous and just as blessed as those of the Saints. To see Jesus with our eyes may only be for saints but personally experiencing the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is for all of us, saints and sinners all.
What I believe what my grandfather saw that night was a glimpse of a deep relationship of love between his brother and Jesus. What Jesus personally told a young Brother Donald is a mystery and ultimately it wasn’t for us anyway. What we do know is that not long after Buster left home to join the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.
My grandfather Roland also received what he needed too: A startling glimpse of the great love between his brother and Jesus and a mysterious recollection to bring him comfort as he got older.
As for me, I realized that for thirty years I have been a time capsule carrying this story with me, almost forgotten only to be unlocked by an old photo. Now that I am older and have had the time to reflect on it, I realize that this mystery was not some new revelation but an invitation to come to a deeper understanding of what I have known along: That Jesus, in His great love for us, has not left us orphans. Rather then leaving us, He awaits for us in the Tabernacle of every church.
Post Script: There was a transcending connection between my brother Davy who died of ALS and Brother Donald. Davy was the spitting image of Brother Donald. They both suffered terribly from illness and they both died at the age of 48.
My mother observed that when Davy was bedridden with ALS that after he had his breakfast and the aide cleaned him he would always ask our mother to close his door. She would often ask him why. His answer was always the same: “I want to pray”. She often wondered why he needed the door closed.
For more on my brother Davy and ALS see: https://augustinesalley.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/als-and-a-rosary-miracle/