This past Saturday we were on our way to Mass for the first time since Sunday evening. Sheets of ice covered the roads all week after a Sunday night snowstorm and Saturday was the first morning we dared to brave the back roads to get to daily Mass.
As we pulled out the complex, we knew we had to stop for gas and we had just enough time to throw in a few gallons and still make it on time. One of the other missionaries had just finished pumping the gas when we heard someone start to talk to him. I couldn’t catch the entire conversation, but I got the gist. The man was asking us for a ride to work as he didn’t have a car and the buses weren’t yet running because of the ice. I heard the other missionary hesitate and tell this man that he already had other people in the car and wouldn’t be able to as we were on our way to church.
My first reaction was probably the most common. I had immediately pictured this man getting into our car, pulling a knife or gun and stealing our only car and the little money we had. I’m not going to lie; I was scared, but there was something about that last part that got to me.
“I’m sorry we can’t help, we’re on our way to church.”
My heart sank.
I couldn’t help but think about the situation as we pulled away. If its not the Church that gives rides to the poor when they are down and out, who is it? What did this man think of us as we used a religious excuse to not lend our hand in service? What would he think of the Christian Church? What did it mean for me that I judged this man’s heart as deceitful and criminal without thought of welcoming Christ in the stranger, without thought that this was Christ?
“Whatsoever you do for these least brothers of mine, you do for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
I wrestled with this as we drove on to worship a homeless man. I knew I should at least say something about it and start the conversation, but the car was dead silent and my courage was nowhere to be found.
We were just in time for Mass when we arrived, but the parking lot was empty and all the doors were locked. As we circled the church I realized two things:
1. You should check daily Mass schedule changes when a city is shut down from icy roads.
2. The Lord was giving me a second chance.
As we walked back to the car I asked the others if we could go give Jesus a ride to work. We hopped in and I shared what I had been to scared to offer: how, beyond my worldly concerns of safety, I was sure that it was Jesus asking us for a ride at the gas station.
Everyone agreed that we should try to find this man, and the one missionary sister with us (the other was worried about the ice and doing a holy hour at home) shared that she was concerned for her safety. She explained her worry about her safety as a female in the situation and we agreed that it would be totally fine to drop her off at home first.
After dropping our sister off we returned to the gas station, but the man was nowhere in sight. We went inside and asked the clerk, but he hadn’t seen the man. Not yet defeated, we hopped back in the car and circle the area to see if he had started walking. Again, no success.
I felt defeated when I got home and began my holy hour. I couldn’t help but wonder what this man thought of our Church, whose believers would use a religious excuse to deny him help. I prayed for him: that he had found a ride, that he wouldn’t be turned from Christ by our counter-witness, that he would forgive us.
I prayed for myself too. I prayed for a conversion in how I looked at strangers. I wanted so badly to have loved that man like Jesus would have, with a compassionate, dangerous love. As I weighed my shame in my head, the Lord did something incredible. He told me that He was proud of me as He led me back to His Word.
“A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son go out into the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his Father’s will? ‘The first,’ [the chief priests] answered. Amen, amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt 21: 28-31)
I had come back to do His will. Yes, I had denied Him. I had denied Christ. But I had come back to serve. Any guilt was not of Him. Instead of guilt, I was grateful for the grace to respond to His invitation, even if late. What was more, He left me with a greater desire for my own conversion.
Do I wish I had done it differently? So much so. But I know the Lord blessed me with an opportunity to learn to seek Him in every soul I meet, not just the safe ones.