Sunday, January 15, 2017

Finding Your Place

A few months back Chris and I had a memorable encounter with a young man named Taylor King.  We first encountered Taylor as we were leaving the Grotto parking lot to begin our "route".  He was a little agitated and asked us, "Hey, is mass going on right now?"  We said 'Yes' and then we went our separate ways.  I thought that Taylor looked like an unlikely candidate for Sunday mass given his neck tattoos and disheveled appearance, but I shrugged it off and looked forward to slipping into a spirit of prayer on our walk.

Chris and I walked our long loop and were eager to hop back in the car and call it a day.  But God had other plans.  We bumped into Taylor again just outside the Grotto, but this time he was with a friend.  Taylor's face was strained, almost tearful, and he wanted to ask us a question.  "If you have an experience of God, and still have doubts, does that make God mad?  Will God be upset with me?"  We quickly assured him that God is very patient, and that doubts and questions are a normal and even healthy part of growing in the faith.  I stressed that the most important thing is to speak honestly and plainly to God, rather than be coy or play games.  It was evident that Taylor was in the throes of something, and so I was eager to find out what it was.

I asked, "Did you have an experience of God?  Like a supernatural encounter?"

He barely nodded and stammered out a "Yeah".  It was clear by his alternating looks of shock, confusion and joyful gratitude that Taylor had experienced a Burning Bush moment.  He struggled to put his encounter with the Good God into words (who doesn't!?!), but all that mattered was the Author of Beauty and Truth and Love had deigned to lean down from Heaven to call him into a new life.  Chris and I confirmed Taylor's experiences with our own conversion stories, but all the while his friend grew restless.  Taylor's friend was embarrassed by all the "God talk" and kept trying to deflate the moment with sarcastic asides.  Taylor repeatedly brushed him off, saying "Don't listen to him.  He's a snake."  Taylor said it with simple conviction but without malice.  As a young Protestant pastor friend joked to me, "Taylor was given clarity."  Yes, Taylor had clarity, and things were what they were, and his friend really was a snake (In fact, the friend was trying to hock a very large Russian ruble banknote of Catherine the Great issued before the Russian Revolution.  We assume he stole it.).

As the conversation winded down, Chris gave Taylor his rosary.  Taylor tried to reciprocate by giving Chris a necklace with a precious memento of his dead mother, but we protested that idea.  Finally, I offered Taylor one of our meditation cards. With that same matter-of-fact clarity Taylor replied, "Oh, I already got one.  Man, I balled my eyes out after reading that.  I just sat in the church balling."  Then he reached in his pocket and produced one of our crumpled cards.  Chris and I looked at each other dumbfounded.  By what crazy act of providence had Taylor acquired one of our "I Thirst" meditations?!?  God never ceases to amaze...

Here's the prayer card we hand out, front and back.  

In the past few months I've often thought of Taylor.  God had blown his world wide open, just as he had spun me around almost ten years before.  Nothing would ever be the same again even though the "snakes" would do their best to trip him up.  I've wondered if Taylor has found a spiritual home, a healthy parish where he can bond with fellow-believers and grow in the faith?  It's often difficult for young men to find like-minded peers in today's Church.  According to the latest numbers, only 7% of young Catholics actually practice their faith, and the youth hastened their exit during the aggressively secular Obama years.  Even the devout of the parish (usually a generation or two older) don't know what to do with someone freshly dewed by the Holy Spirit.  At least that was my experience.

Chris and I would love to meet up with Taylor again, or any of the people we've come to know through street evangelization, but often it's a "one and done" encounter.  Is that God's plan for them or are we failing them in some way? What is our role here?  Are we to follow St. Philip Neri and his "oratory" and help gather together spiritually hungry men for robust fellowship and growth in the faith?  Or are we merely the sowers of God's seed, lonely men of prayer and sacrifice like Blessed Charles de Foucauld?  Obviously we would prefer the first scenario (and St. Stephen's parish already has the beginnings of an oratory), but we are resigned to God's will so long as we do what is expected of us.