1 Samuel 16: 1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John:1-41
A couple of years ago, I wrote a brief commentary on a chance happening in my own life. I sent it to two newspapers but did not hear back from them. I thought you might enjoy it:
I am a white man who shopped recently and reluctantly in an unfamiliar supermarket. I came upon a handsomely dressed black man who appeared to be as bewildered as I was. Without thinking, I dashed over to him and, not identifying myself, placed my hand on his shoulder and said, “You look as uncomfortable here as I am.” He smiled broadly and responded, “I don’t belong here. I’m a terrible shopper and can’t wait to go home.” And then he added, “By the way, did I telegraph my feelings so clearly to you?”
I said, “The minute I laid eyes on you, all I could see was a little kid desperate because he had lost his mother in the crowd.”
At that we both laughed, shook hands and said goodbye, assuming that we’d never meet again. But we parted with the happy memory of a chance moment of humor, compassion, and mutual respect that, I was certain, would remain with both of us forever.
(If what you are about to read strikes you as fictional, please understand that I know well one of the persons closest to it and I can testify that every word is literally true.)
After the Rosary and Benediction closing his monthly visit to a home for elderly persons run by a community of Sisters, the priest remained in the chapel praying before his departure. He could not help but notice that in front of a statue of Saint Joseph there was an empty beer can. Upon inquiry, he learned that at a party the Sisters were giving for their residents the following week they wanted to have beer available, especially for the men but they could not afford it.
The priest looked at her with both amusement and disapproval of what looked to him like superstition. He went home as usual, a long journey by train, during which time he read from his prayer book, giving thanks for another day filled with good people and the unfailing presence of the Spirit of God. Every once in a while he’d lower the book to his lap, raise his head and chuckle at the image of the empty beer can in front of a sacred statue.
Across the aisle and one seat back, unknown to him a man had been noticing him laughing to himself as he lifted his eyes from the prayer book. Finally, the stranger simply had to satisfy his curiosity. He tapped the priest on the shoulder and said good-naturedly, “Hey, Father, are prayers all that funny?” The priest turned to him and explained the incident he found to be so amusing. The stranger said, “Maybe a lot more amusing than you realize, Father, I happen to be the president of a local brewery, and if you’ll give me the Sisters’ address I’ll be pleased to send over a shipment of beer for their party tomorrow.”
More skeptical than gullible after hearing such a story, I thought about it over and over and asked myself why we pray for anything like peace in the world or someone’s successful surgery – or beer for a party! — and recalled that Jesus, in what we call the “Our Father”, taught us to pray for even our daily bread.
Maybe prayer, in whatever form it takes, is basically the intention of a person to become ever more aligned with the Creator God in a life of love and goodness and truth. Maybe God works through us even when we are not aware that we have become instruments of grace that flows into the lives of others and into our own lives as well.
There’s more to life than just “getting by” or surviving. We are creatures of a lavishly generous God whose nature is to share with us the riches of the universe. God offers us, not mere existence, but full and satisfying life – life with colorful trimmings and dimensions we may never have imagined.
Our prayers are never in vain, never wasted, because they are directed to God, who is love, and to Jesus, who said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”