Sunday, September 23, 2012

Encounter with Marnie

Leaving the Cathedral this afternoon after Lauds, Mass, and a nice, if emotional, precatechumenate gathering to grab a spot of lunch, I was waved down on the Cathedral plaza by a woman I did not know, not even by sight. I rolled down the passenger side window of my car and asked her how I could be of assistance. She wanted to know who I was, what my role at the Cathedral was, etc. I told her that I was one of the deacons at the Cathedral. She asked, "What's a deacon?" I explained that I was one of the members of the clergy assigned to serve here and that my "job" was to teach, assist with worship, and help people as I am able. This opened a flood-gate of problems, which began with, "I was born and raised Jewish, but three years ago I became a Christian and my life went to shit."

Just for the record, these kinds of encounters are not unusual where I serve, which is an urban parish in the heart of the city. From time-to-time a particular encounter stands out, like this one. She and I spoke for a few minutes with her standing next to my car. I finally parked, got out, and proceeded to sit and chat with her on the back porch of the diocesan Pastoral Center, which is located just across the plaza from the Cathedral church where I serve. Needless to say, for the next hour and-a-half she told me all her troubles, difficulties, and set backs that resulted in her being in a place of destitution and desolation. I was able to give her some assistance, a good referral, and what I hope was some practical guidance. Thankfully, most of her physical needs were currently being met.

In these kinds of encounters it is difficult to discern what is true from what is false, greatly exaggerated, or understated. The way I have learned to approach it, this doesn't much matter, at least not up-front. Suffice it to say that after she became a Christian she quickly became involved with a series of people who were all too eager to take advantage of her in various ways. Hence, one of the things that I told her was she needed to affiliate with a group of believers among whom structures of accountability exist. I also told her that even this was not 100% guarantee, but decreased the probability of bad things by orders of magnitude. I also spoke to her about the need for relational boundaries and that the success of someone guiding you spiritually is best gauged by decreasing need and dependency, not increasing dependency.

I am convinced that these encounters are not accidental. Nonetheless, when I walk away from them I always wonder why, in the context of my life and God's larger scheme of things, they happened. It's not the kind of question that really has an answer. One thing I know was reinforced for me through this encounter was how limited I am. Another, more important thing, was how much it means to another person just to sit and listen with concern and speak very little. She was wondering if she had made God angry and was being punished, which seems (understandably) to be a recurrent theme with people in dire situations. I said that was important for her not inflict what she imagined to be God's punishment on herself. I also taught her a new word, "axiomatic," which I used when I told her that God's love for her is axiomatic, which I explained just means that it is a given no matter the circumstances, and that, unlike us, God isn't fickle, moody, or manipulative. I tried to explain that God's love is not something she ever need worry about, no matter how "bad" she feels she has been.

After we parted and after I ate lunch, I read this from John O'Donohue's book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom: "Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of an invisible grace." I am convinced that my encounter today, while clearly on the turbulent side, was graced.

She and I are supposed to meet later this week. I have no idea if she will be there (I tend to doubt it), but that is up to her. It was also no accident that the reading for Evening Prayer today, from Week I of the Psalter, was,
Praised be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of consolation! he comforts us in all our afflictions and thus enables us to comfort those who are in trouble, with the same consolation we have received from him (2 Cor. 1:3-4)


  1. Scott:
    Well done, good and faithful servant.

    Deacon Bob

  2. Ah, well, thanks. I certainly hope I did and said the right things.

    It's funny in these situations because it's never easy to know what to do. For someone like you who is trained and gifted to do just this I am sure it comes easier. I always pray to have some positive effect. Marnie was interesting, well-spoken, fairly attractive, someone you'd see and not necessarily think, "There's a troubled person." There was a lot to her story. We'll see what happens next.

  3. Scott,

    What a holy moment you encountered. Thank you for sharing this. I remember one of the things that they hammered into us in lay formation was that listening was such a very important ministry in whatever area of Church you find yourself. It is that presence for the other person which can be a healing encounter which makes God's love present. It's a first step, and I hope that Marnie saw God's love in your open ear and your affirmation that God's love needs to be simply taken for granted because it is always present irregardless of our own sinfulness or feelings.

    As I'm sure you know, one of Blessed JPII's theme's of his papal ministry was, "Be not afraid". I think there is a lot of fear for someone who is afflicted. Fear of being unloved, fear of rejection, fear of alienation from others. I pray that you were able to peel back some of that fear, so that she could see a glimpse of God's light.

  4. Deacon Scott,

    did Marnie follow up with you?

  5. No. I have not seen her since that day.


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