It was a Saturday afternoon in autumn. The children were waiting for catechism class to begin. But to their surprise, instead of the kind nun who usually taught them, another sister entered the room in the convent dedicated to teaching:
“Attention, children: Sr. Laura could not come today. She has a bad cold and needs to rest. Everyone should use this time to work on their exercises.”
The pupils were saddened with this news, partly because they felt pity for their beloved teacher, but also because they wanted to learn more about the subject of the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, in preparation for the great day of First Communion.
As the minutes ticked by, some of the students began to finish their assignments before the others. One of them was Manuela, a girl outstanding for her innocence and generosity. She wanted to use the remaining time to help her classmates:
“Does anyone need help?” she asked.
However, no one answered…
She got up and went from desk to desk, quietly offering her assistance, but she received only negative responses.
Manuela was not discouraged: she was determined to do some good deed! As there was still an hour and a half left before home time, she received permission to walk about the convent to see if she could be of use to anyone.
The first idea that came to mind was to spend dome time with Sr. Laura, and just then, by happy chance, she came upon the sister infirmarian:
“Our catechism teacher is sick; may I go and take care of her or at least keep her company? She might be feeling lonely.”
The nun saw the girl’s excellent intentions, but she had to explain:
“That is a very beautiful wish! I know how pleased Sr. Laura would be. But I cannot allow you to be close to her, because you could get sick too. May the Holy Virgin reward you! If you would like to write a message for her, I will gladly pass it along.”
Accepting the nun’s words, Manuela wrote an affectionate note and then continued to search for someone who needed help.
She then found the sister in charge of sewing. Seeing the nun embroidering a beautiful altar cloth, she happily volunteered:
“Good afternoon, Sister! Can I help you in any way?”
“Oh, bless you, my child! I only have one needle… Next time I will bring enough supplies for you to sew with me, would you like that?
Manuela agreed, and stood for a while, watching the skilful sister work. Then said good-bye and continued on her way. Descending a flight of stairs, she crossed paths with the repair man in charge of general maintenance. He was coming up the stairs carrying a toolbox in one hand and a ladder in the other. Without a second thought, she said eagerly:
“Oh, let me help you!”
However, the man only muttered crossly:
“No, no, don’t disturb me, little girl. You are not strong enough to carry this equipment. You will only get in the way.”
But Manuela replied:
“Please just let me carry your toolbox to the top of the stairs. Then I promise to leave you alone.”
With a sigh, he reluctantly handed it to her. Poor Manuela! She did not see that the latch was a little loose, and when she seized the handle, the box opened and all the tools poured out and tumbled down the stairs. Crosser than ever, the repair man shouted:
“I knew it! Didn’t I tell you that you would only get in the way? Go and play outside!”
Trembling, Manuela took his advice and fled to the garden.
A few minutes later, she spotted the gardener planting flowers. This time, she was certain that she had finally found the place where she could be truly helpful. She hurried to the flower bed and asked:
“May I help you to plant these pretty flowers?”
“Well, first of all, you’re not dressed for the job. Gardening requires suitable clothing. Secondly, it is not as easy as you think: You have to have a real feel for the earth, and an experienced hand with plants. You don’t really know anything about gardening, do you?”
Disappointed once more, Manuela decided to return to the classroom and wait for end of the lesson… But as she made her way back, she thought over everything that had happened that afternoon, and was suddenly overcome with sadness. She sat down on a bench and could not hold back the tears that streamed down her face.
As she cried, the autumn wind suddenly picked up, and snatched the coloured leaves from the trees in the garden, showering them down like snowflakes, all lit with the golden light of the afternoon sun. Watching the scene, Manuela began to forget her sorrow. Then she noticed a little piece of paper that swirled close to her and landed among the leaves.
“I will never manage to rake all these leaves away, but I can at least remove that piece of paper, which does not belong in the garden”, she thought. Picking it up, she saw it was a photograph of Saint Therese, under which was printed the following quote: “Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone?”
“Jesus is in the tabernacle…”, reflected Manuela. “Why didn’t I think of that? Here I am preparing for my First Holy Communion and the idea of visiting Him did not even cross my mind!” She immediately arose and, drying her tears, she went to the convent chapel.
It was a small but welcoming chapel, filled with an atmosphere of peace and recollection. She knelt down and prayed in silence, bringing all of her petitions to the foot of the altar. After a time, she sat on the pew and lowered her head, looking again at the photo of St. Therese, who had literally floated down from heaven to guide her to the Blessed Sacrament. Over and over again she read those words that had touched her so deeply. Then a soft noise interrupted her musings. Looking up to where the sound had come from, she saw that the tabernacle door was slightly ajar! “How strange… it wasn’t like that when I arrived”, she thought. Then she noticed the presence of someone beside her. She turned and…
“Manuela, I was waiting for you.”
It was Jesus, who opened His arms and drew her close to his Divine Heart!
“You were waiting for me?”
“Yes, my child. If you were the only sinner in the world, I would have become man just to redeem you. Nor would I have stopped there: I would have hidden myself under the appearance of bread and wine, to nourish you and be with you.”
“Can I be of any use to You, Lord?”
“Yes. Give me your love; it will never be useless to Me. On the contrary, it will please Me immensely!”
Manuela received another embrace from Our Lord and, the next instant, the vision disappeared. But that grace had marked her to the depths of her soul!
From then on, she would never miss an opportunity to visit the Blessed Sacrament, because she remembered that Christ would have come to earth if only to save her, and that we will always be useful to Him, as long as we give Him our heart, returning the love He has given us. ◊