In yesterday’s first reading from 1 Samuel 9, we heard about Saul the Benjaminite who, while out looking for his lost donkeys, just happened to run into Samuel the prophet. Samuel had been told by God the day before that he would meet the man whom he would name as the new king of Israel at that specific time the next day. From Saul’s perspective, It was a chance encounter. From Samuel’s, though, it was God’s plan.
In yesterday’s Gospel, Mark 2:13-17, we read about Jesus calling Matthew, son of Alphaeus, to follow him. Matthew certainly wasn’t expecting to be called, but it was in Jesus’ plan to pass by his tax collection booth that day and invite him to be His disciple.
Jesus meets us in unexpected, memorable and life changing ways, also. Unfortunately, when He does, we can be quick to write them off as mere coincidences. I’ve learned, though, that most anything very far removed from the ordinary is God working in my life and not just a result of dumb luck. He’s calling my attention to Himself and His will. Sometimes it may only be a reminder that He is here with me, sometimes a reminder to be grateful for His providence, and sometimes He’s telling me I need to make a course correction. Sometimes it’s all of the above.
I had a little God-moment yesterday. An old friend, Joe, called me out of the blue. I hadn’t talked to him in many months, and only a couple times since he moved away five years or so ago. Joe and I first met ten years ago this coming April on a Christ Renews His Parish weekend, a retreat in which neither of us ever expected to participate. Joe was a lukewarm Catholic with little desire to grow deeper in his faith but attended to placate the man who kept pestering him. Me, I had never had any faith to allow to grow cold. I was simply at a low point and attended to get away from the stress of life for two days.
From the get-go, Joe and I hit it off. We became instant friends, both satiated with the Holy Spirit by the end of the retreat, and wondering where we would go from there. I chose to join the Catholic Church and learn more about Jesus, and Joe chose to begin living out his faith with renewed zeal. We were both on fire and our friendship kept each other stoked like a blacksmith’s furnace. Together, we went onto the next Christ Renews team. We met for lunch once a week and shared how God was working in our lives. We participated in a men’s small group at which we discussed the Gospel and learned more about our faith from other friends.
And then Joe changed jobs and moved a couple hours away. We lost touch, yet we kept moving forward in our own ways. Joe got involved in the small parish which he attends and started making new friends. I retired and began studying to become a spiritual mentor. Our small group slowly dissolved and I found new friends with whom to share my faith.
We talked for over a half hour, catching up with each other, our families, our faith. He called me because he thought of me and our Christ Renews His Parish journey together. He was giving a pulpit talk this morning to ask men to attend a weekend retreat and he wanted my prayers.
I told him I have a couple groups with whom I meet regularly and just last week gathered together some of the old guys from our first group. It was a fun reunion and we talked about resuming regular get-togethers. Joe said he misses those group discussions and would like to get a small group of friends from his parish together to share their faith. We talked about our prayer lives, and about the spiritual mentoring that I do, and he sounded interested in getting his own spiritual mentor. It was almost like old-times. Before we ended the call we vowed to stay better in touch.
After our call, I thought back to how our friendship evolved. We were both called to be on that retreat together. We had our reasons, but God had His own. It was not a chance encounter. Yesterday’s phone call wasn’t a chance encounter, either. We needed each other during that time to grow deeper in our faith which ultimately made us better disciples for Christ. We needed each other yesterday. It was like God giving a couple pumps on the bellows of that old furnace.
The Holy Spirit is still urging us to continue being disciple makers. And, because of this, we have the grace to know and accept that He puts Sauls and Matthews in our lives by His plan and not by coincidence. But, they don’t know that….not yet.
PS: My wife and I arrived at mass this morning just moments before the opening procession. Not wanting to walk down the aisle to our preferred seat, we took a spot in the back pew on Mary’s side, at the far outside end of the pew. As I sat down I remembered that this was Joe’s seat. He would always get there early to make sure someone else didn’t get it. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
“Heavenly Father, thank you for the friendships we have developed with You as the Common Denominator. Through them You give us the extra help we need to be disciple makers and bring our brothers and sisters to You. Amen.”
(No Chance Encounters was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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