Photo: Felix Carroll
He won't go to school until he watches Chaplet broadcast
Max Boehme climbed up the stone steps and entered the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy with the same degree of excitement that most kids have when they arrive at Disneyland.
"He could not wait to be here," said his mother, Emily.
With a wide smile and eyes beaming, he took it all in — the statuary, the stained glass, the image of The Divine Mercy, people praying, all the details he's seen on television each morning.
For the past two years, Max, 15, has refused to go to school until he watches the early morning broadcast on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, which was recorded at the National Shrine. He memorized the prayer. He wanted to see the Shrine in person and to pray the Chaplet with the Marians, which is done daily at the 3 o'clock hour.
So, in early May, Max and his mother, who live in Duxbury, Mass., took a trip to the Shrine, joined by Max's grandmother, Nancy Bursaw, of Acton, Mass.
Two things make Max different from most of the thousands of annual Shrine visitors. The first is that he has autism, a brain disorder that affects his ability to learn, speak, and relate to people. The second is that he's been raised an evangelical Christian, not a Catholic. Emily happens to be the daughter of Charles Colson, the famous Christian commentator, author, radio host, and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Still, Max's love for the Chaplet, a prayer given to St. Faustina that pleads God's mercy on the world, has been a welcome surprise in the Boehme home.
"One of the things that I have valued so much about Max's appreciation for the Chaplet is just watching this child who is so pure and without judgment, who doesn't see denominations, but rather a common denominator: a love for God," says Emily.
It's a lesson for all Christians, said Emily — to embrace our many similarities rather than dwell on differences.
But why is it that Max finds such comfort in the Chaplet? On one level, like many people with autism, Max craves repetition and familiarity, his mother said. The Chaplet, a meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ, is intended to be repetitious. The fact that it's broadcast daily puts Max at ease.
But on another level, Emily is certain that the Holy Spirit moves in Max. If Max is drawn to the Chaplet, she said, it must be the will of God.
The Lord made it clear to St. Faustina that the Chaplet is for the whole world. He attached extraordinary promises to its recitation. "Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death," He said (Diary, 687).
"Our pastor once said that despite all of Max's communication challenges, the Holy Spirit speaks Max's language," says Emily.
That language, she said, can be characterized as one of child-like faith.
His faith was clearly visible during his Shrine visit. Each day at the Shrine, following the Chaplet, pilgrims are invited to come up near the altar to kiss the relic of St. Faustina. When Max saw people lining up, he joined them without hesitation.
"He had no idea why everyone was walking forward," says Emily, "but he wanted to be a part of it. It reminds me of the kind of childlike faith God wants from us: to walk forward in the unknown trusting that He will show us what to do when we get there."
But Emily's most precious memory of the visit was Max's encounter with a group of nuns who were visiting Eden Hill. When the Mass was over, Max and Emily walked past them to the front of the church. Several of the nuns reached out for Max, to hold his hand for a moment or to stroke his shoulder.
"I saw the loving smiles on the faces of these nuns as one after another reached out to touch him," Emily recalls. "They were extending more than acceptance for someone disabled. They were sharing the love of Jesus. I saw Christ's love encompassing my child through these beautiful women. I saw a glimpse of heaven."
Later, when Emily and Max were alone in the Shrine, Emily said she attempted to pray that Max would be healed. But she couldn't quite bring herself to make such a request.
"I was so overwhelmed by the love his disability and his pure faith have revealed in others that all I could do was to praise God for how He has used Max," said Emily. "He is like a matchstick — when pressed against the harsh surface of the world, it ignites a flame of passion and light. Perhaps the healing that takes place is in the hearts of those of us around Max."
Max's grandmother says Max "teaches others with more visible gifts to be most humble."
"We will always remember the expressions of love that radiated from everyone associated with the Shrine," she said.