Father McDonell is off for an overnight in New York this week, to connect with a pair of friends of his from Michigan. The couple is engaged; he has business in the Big Apple, she is coming to enjoy the city. Fr. McDonell has arranged it with him, and will surprise her. Be careful about that, I cautioned him. He assures me that he has successfully surprised her in this way before, and it was both very surprising, and very positive.
I can’t help but think that this is great: a happy surprise, in a big city far from home, no less. It makes me wonder: what has surprised you lately? Does anything surprise you anymore?
In our day of galloping technology, all things are possible, most things are available, and nothing is inconceivable. The quandary for science fiction authors and filmmakers is to invent something fictional that hasn’t already been achieved or at least foreshadowed in reality. Which is why so many books and movies and TV shows now settle for merely startling people, with some form of suddenness or brutality, rather than actually presenting something that will surprise. They just do not have that arrow in their quiver.
Our expectations for pretty much everything have been so comprehensively expanded that the only remaining possibility is not to have our expectations exceeded, but to have them disappointed. Such disappointment probably reveals more about our expectations than it does about reality or possibility, but reluctance to admit that is just as common as disappointment itself.
Heaven knows the majority of human behavior fails to surprise. In fact, it’s a common lament, especially when approaching the daily news, that “Nothing can surprise me any more.” This sort of world-weariness slides toward resignation, if not outright pessimism. I think this comes from viewing human behavior in a “macro” way – you know, “in the main,” or “in general.” That almost never fails to disappoint. Technology and toys provide no respite.
I submit that the one place where we can still be surprised is more on the “micro” side of human behavior – a single act by a single soul. The simplest act by a child can open our hearts to a flood of delight – and surprise. A single sacrificial act of genuine love can upend the predictability of the great mass of human behavior and bring liberation from the oppression of expectations, whether the world’s or our own, and from the soul-crushing reign of pessimism.
That is why I think Fr. McDonell’s little jaunt this week will bring a beam of delight and deliverance to one person in this world of predictabilities. Good for him, good for his friends, and good for us all.
Does nothing surprise you anymore? If you feel the burden of predictability or pessimism in your day, please know that it does not have to be that way. Even if you cannot count on one of your friends or family members to make a trip, give a gift, or say a word that will break the pattern, your liberty is at hand.
Far from being a routine of repetition and regurgitation, the one place you can look for to something truly new is your relationship with the risen Jesus. The Apostles knew Him better than anyone, saw what he did, and heard what he explained and promised, and still, when He rose from the dead, the peace He brought was a surprise of the most beautiful kind.
Turn to Him with everything that is inescapable in your life. Go over His words – again. Contemplate his actions – again. Pour out your soul to Him – again. Ask forgiveness for your petty and petulant sins – again. Receive Him at the altar – again and again.
Jesus will surprise you.