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From the Hospital to the Grocery Store to the Gas Station to the Coffee Shop...

"...The Church is coming closer," a woman tells Father John. The story of their encounter.

This morning I went to work with all the thoughts and analysis I typically have--considerations that usually revolve around how to run a parish and what kinds of structures are necessary and what we can do to help people. An analysis that seems to start from real needs to be missionary and to provide for the people who have been entrusted to me. 

However, they often weigh me down. This morning, I recognized that what I really want is for every person to have the awareness of Christian maturity. To be able to follow the path of Christ in their life and in our community. PERIOD! That simple. It seemed to help quiet my mind.

On  page 41 of The Radiance in Your Eyes, I read, “I believe that children are the proof that we’re not made for projects, but for loving and being loved. Only in this way does the contingent situation make sense, and does the present not collapse.” This helps me understand what happened. My situation “made sense” because I finally looked at my work and others as they truly are...people filled with desire that can’t be satiated with projects but have the need to become aware that they are in the Father’s presence.

I can see that, while my situation wasn’t going to collapse, the relief I had was a sign that holding up my projects required energy and effort from me that really wasn’t needed. Therefore, I went to the office and conversed with the staff a bit and then got to work. Folders and filings and follow-ups. All with energy!

Then this woman stopped in to visit with me. I had met her a few weeks earlier at the gas station. I was grilling out one evening and the propane was empty. When I stopped to exchange the propane tank, the woman at the counter asked me if I was a Catholic priest. Her disposition made me curious, and after a few questions, she was unloading much of her life. I was quite stunned by how her heart was alive and she saw such a need for the Church, even though she was struggling to return.

She told me of many complications in her life, but I couldn’t help but see her enormous desire. Right in the midst of all her wounds, I could see that there was so much beauty. Even if she wasn’t able to have a tenderness toward herself, I sensed in me an affection for her that seemed of God. 

This woman showed up at the office this morning and sat down and said, “I don’t think I can go back to church yet.” It reminded me of the “insufficient attempts”--in five minutes she literally went through a description of her life that made me aware that all three of the attempts described in chapter two of are not adequate for her need. So I simply recognized there was a reason she had a desire to come and visit me...the Church! 

She said, that after a nervous breakdown in January, she had left her work and decided to work at a local grocery store.

"Then one day I quit," she continued, "and without knowing what I would do so, I ended up accepting a job at the gas station across the street...and that is where I met you. I needed some more hours, so I asked the barista between your office and the gas station if they needed help, but they did not. However, the other day when I went in, the owner asked if I was still interested in work, and she hired me. This morning when I woke up, I realized that I went from the hospital, to the grocery store, to the gas station, to the coffee shop. The Church is coming I decided to come and see you.” 

I was struck. In this moment, several things were clear. First, what happened when I filled up the propane was an encounter with the Incarnation--the flesh--of the Church. This was the work that Christ was doing now! Christ used her nothingness, starting with her nervous breakdown, to help her take a different and deeper path for her humanity. This is what is described on page 57 of The Radiance in Your Eyes: “What did that woman need in order to be ‘seized’ by Christ’s gaze? Only her humanity, bad off and wounded as it was, as it is for all of us, really.” 

Suddenly, I could see that it was true for me too. That morning I woke up with all my analyses and my projects. They were not terrible things to be eliminated, but it was exactly because of these “blocks” that I was in a position to need something radically different than a form or a project. I needed Him to be flesh in my midst. And so through this woman, I discovered again that I am a son and that my Father is present and caring for me.

Fr, John, Sioux Falls, South Dakota


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