Just this past April I was in Minneapolis for a workshop for the new ACT Aspire test. We finished up early on Friday, so I decided to go check out the Mall of America since I had never seen it. I took the Metro system to the mall that was only a couple of blocks away from where we were staying. The workshop had been a bit of a mental grind, but the rooms were fantastic and the food was to die for. The ACT crew paid for it all, including the transportation, and even put some extra cash in our pockets for all the hard work we had done. I was able to catch my first NBA game live, and I got to see the ballpark that the Twins play in. I even sent my students a picture of how tough I had it while they worked on the assignments I had left for them.
Okay, okay, so I didn't have it that rough. In fact, there was a moment on that train I took to the Mall I still think about often. I haven't told anybody about it until now. A young lady and her friend hopped on the train shortly after I got on. I watched as one of them made phone call after phone call. Something began to tug at my heart as I couldn't help but hear the terror in her voice. She was asking for money. And I have always struggled with this whole idea of giving people money sitting on their you-know-what with a sign or needing cash due to mistakes they made in their own lives. I always figured any change or dollars I give them would go towards their next high or drunk or enable them to continue to make the same mistakes again and again. But I could hear a voice, this time, nudging me to hand over the ten dollar bill I had in my pocket. Her child needed diapers; she needed to get to work. After the third phone call, she covered up by pulling the hoodie over her head and wept. Even her friend was at a loss for words or actions. Still, that voice was in my head urging me to take action. To comfort another human being. To go against everything I had done in the past when faced with this situation.
What would Jesus do? the voice asked.
I could only guess, but I know what I did… nothing. I sat there. I did not allow that nudge, that voice, that urging to take over. Instead, I practice my will, not His. The few minutes I had to act seemed to last a lifetime. I knew what the right action was but still did nothing. The usual cynic that comforted me in these situations did not appear once she exited the train. Instead, I felt empty. A missed opportunity. I knew the money I was asked by Jesus to give her would have made the world a better place. That small ripple in the lake that would have created rings reaching far beyond me, a young woman, and her child. I thought of how she would have been able to provide, even for just that one day, for her child, and how that child would have felt the love of her mother minus that day's worries and fears and isolation.
But I blew it.
And then I hung my head down and asked God to forgive me. I promised right then and there never to neglect that feeling I had that day. It was all I could do. When I got home, the next day I went out and bought a large box of diapers and donated it to Catholic Social Services. I couldn’t find the size I figured was most needed, but since I wanted to make sure I did something right away I picked up what the store had at the time. Come to find out the size I brought in was exactly what they had been needing. God is good.
It was what I came up with on the plane ride home. I knew I needed to make some gesture for ignoring the will of God. I prayed that God would put someone in that young ladies life that would do what I failed to do.
And then, I swore on my knees, that if ever I felt as I did that day on the train, I would act on it. I moved forward knowing that if I stayed stuck in what I didn’t do, that I would miss the next chance in life to do what I needed or I was asked to do.
This past Wednesday I had my interview with the Tribunal office for my annulment. The last piece, or so I thought, to clean up so I can enter the church. I left early hoping to get some chapel time at Terra Sancta where the diocese is located. I wanted some alone time to ask Jesus to guide me to just tell my story and leave out any motive to try and tweak it in a way that I think the Catholic Church wants me to say it… so I can get what I want. Yes, I have a tendency to try and please others, and in my past, it was ALL for my own gain. I flew off the exit and saw a man sitting on the side of the road with a sign asking for help. He was a Vietnam Veteran. The feeling I had on the train came rushing back. I hadn’t even thought about that day in months. The cynic went to work with questions like: Why doesn’t he just get a job? Or Is he really a veteran, or is he just looking for a free ride?
But the feeling was there. Would I ignore it this time?
I passed him telling myself I needed to get to the Tribunal office. But you have time! the voice reminded me. I started to think about all the veterans out there that are incapable of working because of what they endured so I could go about my life free to choose my own path. The number twenty-two came to mind. That’s how many veterans kill themselves each day. This time, I acted. By the time I was finished I had just enough time to make it for my appointment.
I rushed into my interview with a clean feeling inside.
It did not go as planned. I walked out heartbroken with a burning desire to rip the Go Bold, Go Catholic bumper sticker off my truck. I was so angry I planned on quitting my job since I work for those Catholics. Feelings stirred up in me I thought I had dealt with many years ago. You see, I was told that a priest would not baptize me when I was an infant because my father was divorced. I carried that anger for those evil Catholics for years. And I told everyone how bad they are and said some things I have spent the past decade or so trying to reconcile. There were no plans to join; that is just God having a sense of humor. Or better yet, calling me home as I saw it. And still do. But having another priest block my way into the church brought back all those resentments and pain and fear and negative thoughts.
He was sharing with me the truth, perhaps void of any compassion or love, but it was the truth nevertheless. I met with my priest who did the most important thing; he apologized for the step that was missed. It didn’t make everything perfect, but it did mean so much to me. I was also able to see it from the perspective of the Tribunal priests.
But I was heartbroken. I could have used a bit of a pep talk at the time that I did not get from the priest sitting in front of me. I felt as if I had entered a church purgatory. You see, I can’t go back to a Protestant church after all I have learned. And I was being told I cannot be a Catholic based on the information given to me at the time. Purgatory, plain and simple. The Eucharist I was yearning for was now out of reach.
Needless to say, it was a rough day. I have walked through it because of people in my life. I made a phone call and was able to talk with a friend. I talked with many others that helped me through it as well.
But the love and support of my wife were beyond measure. Tammy, you are my “everything.”
So my journey continues: I am just a little bit better at listening to the voice of God, a little stronger in my resolve to join the church, and much better at not overreacting. Yes, the bumper sticker is still there.
So, until next time… when I will finally discuss some of what I found during RCIA... God Bless… and be good to each other!