You never know who you might meet. Sometimes I wish I could see my path plotted on a map in bright red like in the Indiana Jones movies – a dotted line showing everywhere I’ve been in my life. Then I want to cross-reference my path against the paths of others, to see who was where, and when. Can the new I-Pad do that?
My wife and I were with friends one evening and the talk turned to churches. First it was architecture: old-style churches versus modern “theater” churches built in the round. Small local parish churches versus monumental tourist attraction basilicas. Which led to a discussion of different parish cultures, like choirs in traditional robes singing from a loft in the back of the church, or guitars and keyboards up front.
Which led us eventually to talking pastors and homilies. I recounted one of my favorite homily stories. It was years ago, before kids, even before I met my wife. I was at a local parish that had a great young priest who was a fantastic homilist. He always started out with humor, and then once he got you laughing – when he knew you’d be listening – he’d hit you with the serious stuff.
Along with being really funny, he had a great cadence and sense of timing for building to a dramatic climax. He was in full force this particular Sunday. All eyes were fixed on him at the pulpit, the congregation hanging on every word, as he reached his crescendo.
“God is calling you,” he said, “if you will but listen . . . Listen, and you will hear God’s call . . .” he paused, the entire church perfectly still, everyone on the edge of their pew, when into that pregnant silence . . .
A cell phone rang out.
A murmur of shifting bodies rippled through the congregation.
Father held up his hand to regain everyone’s attention, and when all faces were again looking in his direction, he declared: “That was not a plant! I did not plan that!”
The whole church broke out in laughter.
In my retelling, as I got to the punch line, my wife sat up.
“Was that St. Pius the Tenth?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Father Dan Scheidt? The 5:30 summer mass?”
“I was at that mass!” she said. “I can’t believe it! Do you think we saw each other?”
“We must have,” I said. “The church isn’t that big.”
“It’s so weird!” she said. “We were both there, and didn’t even know each other!”
We cross paths with a lot of interesting people in life, often without ever knowing it. I think about that when I hear the words from Scripture: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” Heb 13, 2.
And even if the person you meet is not an angel, you never know what that person may become. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke tells us that the poor man laying in the street, hungry and covered with sores, may one day be in paradise walking with Abraham. Lk 16: 20. He may one day “shine like the sun”, Mt 13: 43, Eph 2: 10, Mt 18: 14, and be “incorruptible” and “glorious”. 1 Cor 15: 42-43. As C.S. Lewis put it in The Weight of Glory, you have never met an ordinary person, because: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry . . .”
It’s a strange thing to realize. It may seem intuitive when we consider ourselves, but what about the guy who cuts you off in traffic? The hordes waiting in line at the license branch when you just need to renew your plates? Or that demanding customer who calls when its 4:55 PM and you’re all packed-up and ready to head home from work?
Pope Benedict said: “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”
It’s good to remember when we feel like the dotted red lines from other people’s paths are cutting us off, clogging things up or blocking our way. Those moments may just be our chance to show hospitality or help the needy. And you really never can tell who you might be helping or who you’re meeting, what they will become, or when or where your paths might cross again. You might even find your own dotted line merging with theirs, if you join paths with one of them in marriage. And for those of us who are parents, that includes those whose own paths start with ours: our children, who our children are, and what they may become. It’s a call to treat others as the child of God each one is, starting with those in our own home.