(For the Spanish translation, please visit: Version en español)
On December 11th, 2016, I posted something on my Facebook page that kept me busy with correspondence for weeks. It’s been shared and re-shared thousands of times on social media and I’ve heard from people from all around the world. (Update: this blog has received over 240,000 hits from 170 countries – but where it really took off was social media where it went so crazy viral that I can no longer keep track). Initially, I did not share any thoughts about it. I simply shared the photo with minimal explanation. However, since this image was entrusted to me, I feel a responsibility to say a few things. First, let me rehash the story:
It was a Sunday, and due to my poor shower time management (1 shower for 6 people), we experienced a “shower production bottleneck” and couldn’t get everyone through in time to make our customary 11:00 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral. So I bailed out and hit the 11:45 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Basilica at Notre Dame. Afterwards, it was snowing that wet and heavy snow. On my way to the parking lot, I instinctively stopped at the Grotto where I was touched by the presence of one lone student kneeling devoutly in prayer. I decided to take a photo because this guy – he looked like some kind of athlete – didn’t move the whole time. Snow was piling up on him. As soon as I took the photo, my iPhone suddenly shut down despite the fact that I had a 42% charge. It was 1:50 p.m.
Nine hours later, when everyone was in bed, I had forgotten all about taking this photo and I went to free up some memory from my phone by deleting things. As I sat at our dining room table, I was astonished to see this image of a vertical cloud directly above the student. When I took the picture, I can assure you that there was nothing there.
During the following days, I’ve been quite busy answering questions and enjoying the great beauty of Our Lady at work. After receiving ten individual messages from friends and strangers telling me that they were spontaneously moved to tears by the photo, I quit counting. Let’s just say that the number is now a whole lot more than ten.
A day after I posted the original photo above (which has not been altered in any way), my older sister’s high school classmate lifted the image off her page and enhanced it by Photoshop. Because I knew people were going to ask, I asked him to tell me exactly what he did to it. This is his reply: “About a minute’s worth of Photoshop. Highlighted the area and turned the brightness and contrast down on the background to see it better. That’s a remarkable image that you took. It’s making the internet rounds and strengthening Faith everywhere! “
You might see this photo as simply a beautiful photo of a person praying at the Grotto. You might see it as something more. You might think that it has a natural cause. You might think that the cause is supernatural.
What do I think?
Well, first let me explain some context. I’ve had an ongoing relationship with the Blessed Mother for a very long time. Were it not for her, I think I would have abandoned Christ a long time ago. She comforted me as a young man when I was in the midst of extreme emotional pain and utter despair. Then for a while as I was struggling to develop a mature faith, she kept intervening to bring me back to her Son, Jesus. Every time, she always seemed to say, “Do whatever He tells you!” So I’ve tried my best to follow her advice for the past 30 years or so. Most of this has all been very ordinary without any signs and wonders. I do admit that I’ve had a handful of extraordinary experiences, but then again, what praying, committed person of faith has not? Since she saved me from abandoning Christ which easily would have been the greatest mistake of my life, I’ve grown to be quite devoted to her. Still, I automatically looked for reasonable natural explanation for this photo. It doesn’t look like a flash of light to me. It certainly was not snow falling off of the rocks (wrong kind of snow – plus I’d have seen it).
I think this photo is probably a result of Our Lady somehow arranging ordinary natural elements (maybe a snowflake falling a few feet in front of the camera) with astonishing timing to remind the world that she is with us, prayer is real, and everything is going to be alright.
Let’s say it was a snowflake falling. What are the chances that a snowflake falling hundreds of feet from the sky would appear in the exact position necessary to form a “cloud” over the praying student? What are the odds that the camera shutter would open and close during the only millisecond possible to create such an image. How did I choose to stand at precisely the right angle to capture all this? Why did the snowflake seem to perfectly highlight the rocks in such a way that thousands of people think they see the image of a mother with child? But most of all, why are so many, many people crying when they look at it?
This is how Our Lady works. She uses natural things to touch her children deeply: elements, situations, “coincidences”, etc. In this way, she ALWAYS leads us back to her Son, Jesus. Please stop for a moment and consider the implications for your own life if indeed Our Lady is behind this photo. If she is, then she intended for you to be reading these words right now. If this is the case, then this whole thing is not some strange and distant event. This is personal. It is not an accident. She is calling to you.
As Jesus hung dying on a cross, during the moments of His greatest physical, spiritual and emotional agony, it was only Our Lady, a couple of her friends, and the apostle John that remained with Him. The apostles, of course, are considered by Catholics to be the first bishops. All validly ordained Catholic bishops since then derive their authority in an unbroken line from one of the twelve. Notably, John was the ONLY apostle with the courage to stay with Jesus to the bitter end. Then somehow, despite His unimaginable suffering, Jesus had the presence of mind to notice his mother and John keeping vigil. The following is an eyewitness account of what happened as told by John himself,
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.‘ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (Jn 19:26-27)
We Catholics have always believed that from that moment on, Jesus’ mother officially became the mother of all of us. He bound His mother to the Church and the Church to His mother.
Whatever you believe about the above photos is fine by me. One can certainly have faith without paying any heed whatsoever to these images. If they enhance your faith, great. If they are a distraction, then just ignore them. Everyone is on his or her own journey. It’s up to you to seek the truth and love what’s good.
Regardless of you what you think, I hope that at least you have enjoyed the beauty that I just happened to witness. Please know that I take it as my responsibility to pray for every person who is the least bit interested in this photo. By reading this far, you can be assured that I’ve already prayed for you. Please pray for me too. In fact, let’s all pray for each other.
God Bless! – BK