May 27, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Young confirmand’s actions provide unexpected grace

(Listen to the archbishop read this column)

(Editor’s note: While Archbishop Buechlein continues to recover from a stroke, we offer some reprints of his various columns for your enrichment. The following column is from the Nov. 16, 2007, issue of The Criterion.)

I am often amazed by unexpected grace that comes our way through unexpected people. Here is a story that is not that uncommon in my experience.

Shane doesn’t know it, but he set me straight after confirmation one Sunday. We had had a beautiful celebration of the sacrament of confirmation. Earlier, as we were about to process into church, a sponsor said to me, “Shane isn’t here yet. I’m his sponsor. I’m praying to St. Anthony.”

I wondered to myself whether Shane really wanted to be confirmed.

During the Liturgy of the Word, I noticed him come into church, check in with his catechist and find his place. He seemed to be calm, cool and collected.

As we processed out after Mass, I ran into Shane holding Nicholas, whom he introduced to me as his little brother. I could see that Shane and Nicholas really love each other. Later, taking a picture, it was remarked that Shane and Nicholas are inseparable. Maybe Nicholas was part of the reason that Shane had been running late.

At the back of church, some parishioners were waiting to fuss at me because it had just been announced that their priest was being transferred to another parish. I had gotten the same from parishioners the evening before at another church because their priest was being transferred.

I have come to expect the fussing, and I truly understand peoples’ feelings of disappointment when priests are moved but, nonetheless, sometimes I begin to feel sorry for myself as well. I try not to act on that disappointment, but that is sometimes a challenge.

While I was removing my vestments in the rectory, a little fellow named Aaron came to the door and asked if he could call his baby sitter to pick him up. I was impressed that he had come to church on his own, and that he was quite capable of calling his baby sitter, small as he was. He had the phone number that his mother must have written on a scrap of paper.

I went on to the reception for the newly confirmed and, after the usual round of picture-taking and chatting with parents and sponsors, I headed back to the rectory. To be truthful, I didn’t want to run into more disappointed folks.

Aaron was back at the door and Shane reappeared, too. Both wanted to use the phone. Aaron’s baby sitter wasn’t answering the phone and while I saw panic setting in, Shane moved in and took over.

First, he told Aaron not to cry because he was going to be all right. Secondly, he said, “The archbishop and I will take care of you.”

I offered to take Aaron home, but we found out his mom was working and the house was locked. While I went to get some cookies and a soft drink for Aaron, Shane found out where his mother worked and began tracking down the phone number.

After several efforts to get through a computer answering system, and being put on hold, Shane said, “Archbishop, do you think you can handle this? My family and everybody is waiting to take me to eat.” This, from a kid.

As I took over the phone to find Aaron’s mom, I heard Shane whisper to him, “You’ll be OK. This is a church. They’re nice and [pointing to me] you can trust him.”

After awhile, we found Aaron’s mom. We got him taken care of, and I went on home.

Driving home, I was happy to realize that I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself anymore. It occurred to me that Shane and Nicholas and Aaron had something to do with that, especially Shane.

Now, I don’t know Shane. For all I know, he may get into a lot of mischief at home and at school. But from what I saw of him that Sunday morning, I know that he is a good person who cares about other people and acts on it.

He must be a fine older brother, not only in his own family, but to any kid in need. I saw him take care of Aaron without a second thought. I still don’t know why he was late for confirmation but, with his kind of heart, the gifts of the Holy Spirit received in the sacrament can do wonders!

Once more, I learned that being available to others and the many ways that grace appears to us is a fine antidote to self-preoccupation. I love being surprised by the goodness of our youth and children. It happens pretty often.

And I sometimes wonder how these young ones are faring now that they are grown up and on their own.

I pray and trust that the gifts of the sacraments of the Church support them along the way. †

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