Sunset blazed orange and gold across the pale blue rim of the western sky as Amparo paused at the edge of the plaza. She adjusted her white lace shawl to cover her black hair before she ascended the stone steps leading to the portals of the whitewashed church. Waves of heat rising from the stonework shimmered in the air like silken veils barring the way between her and sanctuary. Her feet, girdled by leather sandals, felt shriveled and gritty, as though they were baked by the afternoon air. The oppression of the day’s oven-like temperature would soon abate with the coming of the night, but what could relieve the oppression in her heart?
O mi papá. What have I done? Have I truly kept your soul in Purgatory? It must not be! Holy Virgin, show me how to send my papá to heaven!
The girl climbed the steps, passed through the large open doors of the church and stopped in the welcome cool of the hall to dip her finger into the waiting font of holy water. The moisture caressed her finger as she made the sign of the cross, whispering the words that accompanied the action. She moved forward between the rows of wooden pews into the church, trying to gather peace to her from under the vaulted ceiling above her head. She put out her left hand and grasped the back of the nearest pew, sank to her right knee before the Host, then arose and slipped into a pew on her right.
Her knees found depressions in the hard leather cushion of the kneeler as she bowed her head, pulled her mother’s rosary from her pocket, and whispered the “Our Father.” At the end of her prayer, as the hush of the place surrounded her, her soul cried out: Blessed Mary, my papá was so good, so kind to all. Surely his soul will have ascended to Heaven by now? Oh, Holy Mother, can my little wish to stay in Santa Fe be so evil?
Half a dozen people knelt in the half-light of the church, although evening mass would not be celebrated for another hour. Amparo leaned back into the pew, worn smooth by the sliding action of hundreds of worshipers over the years. She pulled the ends of her shawl tightly across her chest, as though she was attempting to draw a cloak of privacy around herself.
After a while, her hands began to twitch from tension, and she stretched them out in front of her, opening them wide. Her beads clicked against the missal box attached to the back of the pew, and her hand closed on the nearest book. She drew it toward her, enfolded it against her breast. Her head bowed, she sank forward onto her knees once more.
Then the idea came, the offering she must make, the sacrifice she must suffer to show God her intention.
Amparo rose and placed the missal back in the box. She moved quickly across the center aisle and into the left-hand row of pews, heading toward the side aisle. Her sandaled feet slip slapped on the bare stone walkway as she moved past the confession boxes toward the front of the church where a small chapel branched off to the left.
She stopped before a large wrought iron stand containing both lit and unlit vigil candles, and dropped a small coin into the offering box before she lighted the wick of a candle on the front row. As its light flickered heavenward she slipped into the side chapel to kneel at a rail before which a metal latticework grille protected the painted plaster statue of the Virgin Mother.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee,” she said, gazing up at the haunting sadness on the face of the Madonna and wondering if the same sadness was reflected on her own. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”
Amparo looked at her hands, tightly woven around the rosary and resting on the rail. Then she looked upon the Lady’s face once more. The moment had come. The vow must be spoken.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, I have no money to buy an indulgence so that my dear papá may ascend from Purgatory into Heaven,” she whispered. “To show Our Lord how much I love Him, to show my complete devotion, dearest Lady, I offer up a vow. It is this: I will obey the woman in her plan. I will go to the Territory of Colorado, and I will marry the stranger.”
Amparo paused to take a shuddering breath. Then she continued. “This is my intention, the desire of my heart, to please Our Lord Jesus enough that He will take my papá to His bosom.” Her head bowed until it touched her thumbs, and she waited for a moment, hearing the pounding of her pulse in her ears. “Blessed Virgin, let your prayers ascend to God that He may hear my petition.”
Amparo stretched out her arms in supplication to the figure of Our Lady, and she remained in that position, listening to the rustle of the wax candles burning behind her, to the click of rosary beads being told among the pews.
It seemed a very long time later that her soul found strength enough to raise her body from her knees.
Blessed Mother, I must go now. There is much to do. The woman says it is arranged that I leave in two days. Do not forget me, Blessed Virgin! Do not forget my petition, and my sacrifice!
Amparo crept with slow steps from the church, harboring a small joy in one corner of her heart because she was leaving obedience as a sacrifice upon the altar. The rest of her heart was full of unease at the thought of going into a world of strangers, like the one awaiting her in Colorado.
Young, devout Amparo believes that the Virgin Mary has influence with God, and will intercede on her behalf because of her sacrifice. Have you ever bargained with God? Do you think it gained you the boon or blessing you asked for? Can we live better lives every day to demonstrate obedience to the holy principles we believe in?