Sunday, February 21, 2016

What Do You Want, Lord?

But the serpent said to the woman, “you will not die.” – Gn 3:4

The devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command
this stone to become bread.”
– Lk 4:3

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” – Jn 2:5

And a voice came out of the cloud saying, “This
is my Son, my Chosen, listen to Him!”
– Lk 9:35

I heard earlier this week that Fr. John Riccardo’s father had died.  The well-known former-CEO of Chrysler would obviously have a huge funeral, and so I did not plan to attend it.  Rather, I’d do what I often do for friends; I’d have some masses said for Fr. John’s dad.

I filled out a mass card and on Friday addressed it to Fr. John, informing him of the prayers being said by some monks for his father.  I drove to the mail drop box in town, and as I was about to drop the envelope into the mail slot …. I stopped.

I thought:  “This is silly.  Fr. John’s parish office is only a block from here!”  And so I drove to the office, went in, and handed the card to the secretary, but before I could leave she asked me: “Have you seen the movie, ‘Risen?’”  “No,” I responded, and she went on to tell me that the parish had bought out a local theatre for Saturday night and tickets were only $8 each.  (And my mind freaked out: I don’t particularly like going to movies; Saturday is my adoration night; who would I go with anyway?), as I said: “Sure, I’d love to take a couple of tickets.”  Later Friday evening I asked a friend to join me at the movie, but she said she wasn’t interested, and so I thought that, well, maybe I’ll just end up tossing the tickets.

Then Saturday morning I arrived early for my usual breakfast with an old friend.  There was a young waitress in the restaurant I hadn’t seen before, and after getting my coffee she saw me reading my morning prayers and asked if I were reading the Bible.  She then went on to say that she hadn’t been to church in a while: “I went to Catholic elementary school, but I don’t know what I believe or don’t believe anymore.”  That seemed like quite a bit to drop on a stranger, but I offered: “Well, the local parish has a Theology on Tap night at a local bar, where people get together to talk about spiritual matters, maybe that could answer some of your questions.”  “Yeh, I might do that,” she said, and she went away to wait on another customer.  But a few minutes later she was back again, standing by my table, and again speaking of her spiritual voids.  And then I recalled the tickets in my wallet:  “Do you like movies?”  She responded with an enthusiastic yes, and so I gave her the tickets to Risen, refusing her offer to pay for them.  She smiled widely and thanked me profusely, as she went off to wait on other customers.

There was a shift change, and another waitress took over for her.  She was gone.

“Fr. John’s father died, ……. She thanked me profusely.”  How did we go from one to the other?  Will the young woman hear some whispers of the Holy Spirit from our conversation or perhaps the movie?  Will this chain of events, from a tragedy to perhaps some good, carry on beyond my knowledge?  One thing I do know:  this is not something I had planned.  Did God?

The opening Scripture quotes of this posting had the devil saying: “Listen to me,” and then we read of those who loved Jesus saying: “Listen to Him.”  How do we know who to listen to?  How do we know who is asking?

The last night of our parish mission week had Sr. Ann Shields speaking on mercy.  (She is a great speaker, and we are blessed to have her as a member of our parish.)  Sr. Ann told the true story of how one cold rainy night she was pumping gas, and water came pouring down on her from a leak in the roof over her pump.  “I stood there pumping gas, getting wetter, getting colder, and getting madder,” she said.  I was steamed!!  So when my tank finally was full I stormed toward the service station office, put my hand on the door to yank it open …. When suddenly I heard a voice in my head: Remember who you are, it said.”  Sr. Ann said she paused, and then walked into the station and turned to the man behind the counter.  “And before I said a word, he leaned over the counter and softly said: Who are you?

Sr. Ann said she was shocked, and began to blubber: “Well, I’m Sr. Ann Shields; I work across the street at Renewal Ministries, and ….”  And then the man related to her how he had seen her outside in the bad weather, and suddenly recalled that things were pretty bad in his life, and he needed to get to church and pray.

Sr. Ann said that she was all bundled up that night, no sister’s garb or cross showing, “yet somehow I reminded him to seek God.  What do you think would have happened if I had come storming into that station, angry, ranting and raving?”  And then her voice went very soft: “God uses us,” she said, “in ways we don’t plan or understand, if we let Him.  The key is humility, being willing to let go of our plans, so He can use us for His.”  We don’t have to make any great plans to serve God.  We may not see any great results of our efforts.  It may even appear our prayers are not being answered.  The key is humility.  As St. Paul prayed: “Not my will, Lord, but Thy will be done.”  As Samuel said: “Speak Lord, Your servant is listening.”  We need to remember who we are.

My little action was only getting a condolence card for Fr. John, and well, who knows what that decision will result in.  Sr. Ann’s decision was to control her anger; who knows what that resulted in? 

God knows.

Were either of our actions an answer to some particular prayer we said?  No.  Were our actions a part of some big plan of ours?  No.  Did our prayer life, our studying of Jesus’ life up to this point condition us to know and act somewhat as Jesus would have?  I think so.  Did our soul hear His small still voice, and listen?

“What do You want, Lord,” is a question we all want to ask, and want answered.  But perhaps the bigger question is:  “Are we listening?”

Teach me to look at myself with Your eyes
-- Divine Intimacy, P295


  1. Hi Tom. Fran here,
    Too bad you didn't go to the movie, because I've heard it's pretty good. I didn't see it. I'm not a movie go-er either (I have to say, I only went to the Passion of the Christ because of all the wow reviews by fellow Catholics, and I didn't like it much. I get what Mel Gibson was trying to do, but after seeing some of his other movies, like The Patriot (and I can't remember the other one I saw that was of this genre, but it wasn't Braveheart) after seeing the Passion of the Christ I came away with the conclusion that it was just another Mel Gibson blood and gore movie. Because of that I'm not sure I trust even other Catholics who tell me about a "great" movie.)

    I hope that waitress went to the movie, and who knows, maybe she saw a priest or bumped into someone there who is the next step for her to find her way back to God. We can only hope and pray.

    I truly believe your experience and Sr. Shields' experience are God using a willing disciple to rescue His sheep (or send info to a faithful servant.) I think it happens like it does so that 1) we don't mess up what God is trying to do for the recipient by overthinking what to say or do; 2) Our pride is bypassed because we can see we really had very little part in the "plan" except as a messenger-boy. I expect we get full credit for our love of neighbor (charity) in heaven because of our willingness to be an instrument in His hand.; and 3) we can appreciate that God gives EVERYBODY a chance to know Him, and when they die, they will never be able to say "but I never knew you wanted me to come to You, Lord." Because these things are meant to make the recipient stop and think. God is tapping them on the shoulder, so to speak whispering "come home" to them through us. Will they listen? It's none of our business. It's between Him and them. Our part is to deliver the message. Once that's done, we move on.

    (Had to post as Anonymous. My OpenID acct won't work.) (Cont. in next post)

  2. (cont. from previous post. From Fran)
    Many years ago, in the 1980's, I went on a trip to Rome, Assisi and Medjugorje sponsored by the University of Stubenville and led by Sr. Ann Shields. There were a couple of priests on the trip who were our Spiritual Directors, and so she really didn't do any talks or reflections. When you mentioned her name I remembered her with fondness, though I was just one of 40 or so people on a trip many years ago. Our Lord had brought the trip to my attention in a really unusual way, and I found I had the time and finances to go right at that time. So, I have not only been the messenger, but also the recipient of God's whisper through someone else, and have been blessed by the vocation of Sr. Ann myself. (I signed up mostly because of Assisi, because I just HAD to go where Francis lived. But that's another story.)

    Lastly, I want to share something that happened to my brother. He believes in God and prays, but stopped going to church 20 years ago.
    A few years back he lost his job because of a plant closing. He was sending out resumes all over the place, and one company called, basically asked him a few questions over the phone, asked him to fax a resume and called him back in 10 minutes and hired him,. It was a a job below his skill level in a door factory, but he took it for the time being to have money coming in since he had a family to support, and while he looked for a more suitable job. He had been there a couple of months, and he told me, he would often think, "Why am I here?" because of the odd way he got the job.
    One day an argument broke out among two other employees, one that escalated beyond reason. One of the arguers was a gang member, and in his rage said to the other, I'm calling my home boys. YOU ARE A DEAD MAN!
    My brother was horrified. He knew these guys were not playing, and these were not just idle words. A little while later, the gang member guy went out for a smoke break, and my brother followed him outside. He said, hey Joe (I don't remember the guy's name.), do you pray? The guy says, What? My brother repeats, Do you pray? The guy says, Yes, I pray. My brother says, I think you ought to pray right now, to think about what's happening here. And so Joe kneels down right there on the ground, crosses himself, and says a prayer in Spanish, then bows his head and closes his eyes for a few minutes. Then he got up, just looked at my brother, and my brother gave him a sort of friendly slap on the shoulder, and went inside.
    A couple of hours later, when work was getting out, a white car with three or four guys inside pulled up in front of the business. Joe went out and spoke to them for a few minutes, and then they drove off. Nothing ever came of it. Within a couple of weeks, my brother secured another position more suitable to his skills, and left there.

    Although I wish my brother were attending Mass and receiving the sacraments, I can't argue with the fact God used Him that day to intervene in a powerful way. Any of us could be called on to be a "peacemaker" at any time, or to minister to our fellow man. I can't help but believe my brother did God's will that day, and your story reminded me of that. I expect helping save a soul is the real goal, and that's true for all these incidents.

    God bless, Tom.

  3. Fran, I agree with your summary points of why things work that way --- so we don't get in the way. As for your brother, like many of our friends, he has a foundation of faith. It's not for us to bring everything to fruition, God has a role also. I will pray for him.

    Relative to that waitress, one thing I didn't note was her asking me how God talks to me, and I said most often through people I meet, or things I read, and I am confident I am hearing Him. And she asked me what I was reading, and I showed her. The first words in the Brievary were from Psalm 105: "Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name, make known his deeds among the peoples." And she smiled and said: "I see what you mean."