One of Those MomentsOctober 16th, 2013
One of the joys of my position is the opportunity to gain the wisdom of people from across the archdiocese at various meetings and conferences. So, just recently I presented on “Sacramental Adult Faith Formation” at a session of the Northern Area Catechetical Congress at Piqua.
The point of the session was to encourage participants to recognize the sacramental qualities of adult faith formation as work done by and for the Church in the name of Jesus. We brainstormed how the various components/characteristics of adult formation – such as hospitality, service, witnessing, knowledge, and transformation – are signs of this sacramental quality. Even when (or especially when) a session takes a very different path than originally planned, the potential for the sacramental is always present.
So, of course, the very next day, God sent me a personal invitation to intentionally “put legs on” this idea. A local woman, “Zoe,” who suffers from mental illness, had recently been banned from one of our regional churches due to blatant panhandling during Mass. Sunday she instead showed up at the end of Mass at one of the other parishes. Since she asked for food, the ushers escorted her into the room where I was preparing for our first “Coffee with Christ,” our version of adult Sunday school. She was given coffee and muffins, but then showed no inclination to leave. Several stood around, wondering what to do, shrugging their shoulders. “Oh God,” I begged, “It’s been a long, tough week already. PLEASE don’t dump this on my shoulders this morning, too!”
But, after one of the ushers urged her to silence if she would stay, stay she did. And when I asked for a volunteer to read the gospel, hers was the first hand up. She read it beautifully, although in what to the rest of us might have seemed a strangely modulated voice, and then a notebook and pen came out of somewhere and pages of notes on our conversation went into her notebook. She intently watched the Robert Barron video we moved onto, and although she didn’t contribute to the discussion, the notes kept coming, and I caught her intently watching me throughout the hour. At the end of our session, she disappeared out the front doors of the church.
Whew! We said. That was tricky! Do you think she’s Catholic? “But it went well, didn’t it?” we congratulated ourselves. I kept replaying, however, my own words of the day before on how difficult hospitality, inclusivity, and conversion, could be, and usually beyond our own well-laid plans. Surely this was one of those moments.
After clearing up what was left and removing equipment to its proper locations, I left the church. And there encountered Zoe, patiently standing at the edge of the sidewalk. “Do you need a ride somewhere?” I asked. In reply she shook her head, and reaching out to grab and squeeze my hand, she looked me straight in the eye. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Christ was in her face. I wept.