by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Last week, I wrote about my experience this past June during a flight delay at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
I related that, after the cancellation of my flight, I was standing in a long line at a service center. There, a man in front began screaming profanities because of his exasperation with the situation. He had evidently spent the better part of the day in the airport and he feared that he was going to be spending the night there as well. Everyone in the line could sympathize with his frustration. Yet, the way that he chose to vent his anger was embarrassing and, frankly, a bit scary.
A woman, who stood a few people ahead of me in the line, invited me to switch places with her. I was touched by her kindness and thanked her for her kind offer, but encouraged her to stay where she was. She told me that she was not Catholic, but an Orthodox Christian. She obviously was a woman of deep faith. She had a great respect for the Catholic Church and the priesthood. She kept insisting that we switch places in line.
As a result of our conversation, the man in front of me, who a few moments before had exploded in anger, was now aware that a Catholic bishop had been standing behind him all this time. He began to blush. He introduced himself to me. He told me that his father was a very good Catholic. This was a way of signaling that he was probably not very faithful in his own practice of the faith.
He actually called his father on his cell phone and told him that he was standing next to the archbishop of Kansas City. He told his dad that he needed to go to confession. His whole demeanor had completely changed. He was joking and laughing. It was obvious that he was now painfully aware of how foolish his previous behavior had been. His plight had not changed, but his attitude had been transformed.
I encouraged the man, who only a few moments before had been so angry I was afraid even to attempt to engage him in a conversation, to follow his father’s example and get more engaged with the church. He acknowledged that he really needed and wanted to do so. He thanked me for taking time to talk with him.
Also in the line was a young woman with a baby in a stroller. She entered into the conversation. She told me that she had flown from Tel Aviv, Israel. She was trying to get to St. Louis to be in the wedding party of her cousin. She wanted me to know how touched she, as a young Jewish woman, had been by Pope Benedict’s recent visit to the Holy Land. Suddenly, I was in the midst of this beautiful, mini-interfaith exchange.
The kind gesture of the woman who wanted to advance me in line had sparked a whole series of conversations. We had become a little community, trying to help and encourage each other to make the best of an adverse situation.
It occurred to me that if all of our flights had gone according to plan, we would not be having these conversations. It made me aware of the power of a random act of kindness by one person to change a frustrating circumstance into a moment of grace.
Though I had not succumbed to screaming profanities like the man in front of me, I had been very frustrated with the inconvenience of my situation. Now, it became clear to me that God was using this small adversity to provide me with the inspiration of the kindness and generosity of the Orthodox woman, as well as several opportunities in a small way to minister to my fellow travelers.
It has been my experience that God seems to have a preference for using life’s interruptions oftentimes as moments of special grace. If your plans get interrupted this week, I encourage you to be open and alert to how God may be trying to touch you with his grace in the most unexpected ways.