Sunday, February 06, 2011


I didn’t gloat; I didn’t chalk it up to divine favor; I didn’t rub anyone’s nose in it. When our power stayed on last week in the winter storm, I simply thanked God for this unmerited blessing, and internally and prayerfully shared the frustration of my parishioners who went without for two, three, or even four days. Really I did.

So when my power went out this Wednesday afternoon, I didn’t scream, or rant, or rage. But I did tense up just a little, because it happened exactly ninety minutes before Cardinal Wuerl arrived here, along with 25 other priests, for a meeting of the priests of our deanery, followed by dinner.

It was a very difficult forty-five minutes before the power returned. The meeting and dinner proceeded well, even if the power did go out TWICE more. Each time it was out long enough for it to get uncomfortable, for me at least. His Eminence enjoyed the visit, and seemed to enjoy the joke. He looks forward to returning in six short weeks, to celebrate Confirmation for our kids on March 15th.

Okay, so maybe I tensed up more than just a little bit. The rectory staff and I had been working for days to make this just right. I tried to remind myself that it was something completely out of my control, and that the Cardinal would understand this, and the other priests would understand this, and that there was no great requirement for me to do anything about it except to roll gracefully with the vicissitudes of Pepco and grim fate.

And because I knew it was one of those moments, I realized, I’ll laugh about this later. However it turns, out, in the future, I will have survived it, and I will be able to see how amusing it really is.

I think the key is there, somehow. Really, whatever has our stomachs in a knot right now, whatever makes us want to spit fire and bite off someone’s head, it will all be more intelligible in hindsight. Not only intelligible, but also enjoyable.

Long ago I recognized that when one comes back from an exciting trip, and people ask how it went, they are not really looking for the info on that perfect meal you had, how the flight connections unfolded without a hitch, how you arrived on the balcony just as the perfect sunset erupted in full glory. No, they want to hear what went WRONG. That’s where the fun is: the missed trains, three days without clean clothes or a toothbrush, the torrential downpours on your new silk dress. And just missing your moment to a talk to the Pope/the President/the Princess, because you were busy scraping gum off your shoe.

Our vacations are not the only thing that can be appreciated best – or at all – in hindsight. And humor is not the only thing that can be gained by the passage of time and perspective.

God’s work in our lives can often only be observed in retrospect. Grace, blessing, gift, and help are all invisible to us in the moment; but later, upon reflection, if we stop to ponder…. hey! Now we see it!

It’s not a cure-all, but pause, and look back, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you see the benevolent hand of God in your life, even in those times when it seemed everything was going wrong. You may or may not laugh, but you will see how grace was at work at times when you were preoccupied by how it was not unfolding according to your plan.

Why bother with this exercise? Because it will help us bear with what seems to be all bad next time your life does not meet your expectation. Because even miracles are sometimes only obvious when we look back in wonder.

Monsignor Smith

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