This year marks my twentieth year living in Seattle and my twentieth year since being exposed to the Novena of Grace. Come walk with me as I reflect on my journey.
In 1999, I had just moved from the East Coast to the Pacific Northwest as a graduate student at Seattle University. My first Novena came within two months of moving to Seattle. It provided me exactly what I needed: nine days of grounding myself to my faith while forming a community and embracing the ritual of daily Mass.
A few years later in 2003, I remember attending the Novena of Grace as a young professional. Seattle had become my home. As I attended the Novena, I remember bringing my prayers to God. I brought my questions and my hopes and my searching. I was coming to God feeling restless. I was yearning to see more of my future. My favorite of the Novena has always been the music - songs that always seem to touch my heart.
In 2007 I came to the Novena both in gratitude and in transition. I was extremely grateful to have been married the previous summer and now I was expecting my first child. I joined the Novena family thankful and humbled for the life that I was living. I think I floated through the Novena with joy for what I had and for what was coming.
I started the 2012 Novena full of sorrow and tears. While I knew God was with me, I had been reminded the year before that having a deep faith and love for God does not shelter us from the storm. Death had shattered my soul. I needed the embrace of the Novena to be able to come into the ritual without thinking or questioning, to be able to bring my whole self as broken and hurting as I was. I needed the Novena to be able to release the pain and tears. I remember the prayers for those who were suffering and for loved ones. Petitioners begged God to intervene and change the outcome. For me, I was begging God to help me do the painful soul work that I needed to do to allow myself to soar again.
2015 was a blur of a Novena for me. I know I attended at least twice, and that with two young children, coffee was my new best friend. I brought my children, like I do every year. I remember worrying if they would be too loud, did I have enough snacks, and praying that there would be no meltdowns during the Mass. At the end of Mass, the three of us went up for the blessing with relics. To hear my little boy state his intention melted my heart. At the age of eight, he understood the beauty and mystery of openly petitioning Saint Francis Xavier.
And here I am in 2019 preparing myself for my twentieth Novena of Grace with the theme God Walking With Us. Just as I have changed over the years, so has the Novena of Grace. This year there will be contemplative prayer in the evening while maintaining the rituals that I love such as the presenters with their enriching reflections, the prayer petitions, and the blessing with the relics. God always walks with us no matter where we find ourselves in life. As I prepare for the opening day March 12th, I am open. I am not sure how I will be transformed but I do know that like in the previous years, God and the Ignatian community will walk with me for nine days.
Sara Cotto was born in El Salvador and raised in Chesterfield, Virginia. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in private practice through Seattle Life Counseling.