This week I feel like I’ve had some “Joan of Arcadia” moments. Not too many years ago there was a popular tv program by this name about a high school student who experienced God in the most unexpected people and places. It played on the life of St. Joan of Arc and the voices of God she heard that got her into such trouble with the Church.
Last Sunday I was at a reception following a Mass for the World Day for Consecrated Life at our cathedral. I was just taking a seat when a Sister came running over to our table. Our paths had not crossed in several years, since she was in administration at her congregation’s inner-city high school and I was at Clinica Guadalupana. Sister Maria Jesus is a large, gregarious woman who wears a modified habit with veil. She almost lifted me out of my seat to give me an enormous bear hug. “Look at you!” she exclaimed. “You look so wonderful! You are a miracle! Fr. Bill told us about your cancer and we have prayed and prayed for you! God is so good! He has done a miracle! Sometimes God does these things in our lives to let us know when we need to do something else.” She squeezed my face between her great hands and looked at me with such joy. As I thanked her for her prayers (and asked her to keep praying!) I felt that this was God breaking through in my life, standing right in front of me, reminding me of my call and the gift of my return to health. God in the form of a Mexican-American religious sister in habit. Several times during the week I’ve returned to that moment and message, especially during the two hour PET-CT scan I had on Tuesday afternoon as routine follow-up for ovarian cancer. I waited as the radioactive isotope circulated through my body and then waited some more as I laid in the scanner I had a deep awareness of how good God has been to me.
Then on Wednesday afternoon I was finishing my time at the University of Texas at El Paso when I am available for students who want to talk about “whatever”. I looked up from my reading to see a dark-skinned young man standing in the doorway with a great smile on his face. He stretched out his hand to greet me and introduced himself. His accent was French and sure enough, he is a visiting student from Senegal. He came just to make my acquaintance and he shared his perspective on UTEP and on the welcome he received from Catholic Campus Ministry. He told me about his country, his family, and his experience with Mass in English and Spanish at CCM on Super Bowl Sunday. “It was so beautiful,” he said, “to feel so at home there. You know, whenever things in my life get difficult I find—-” he struggled for the word in English—“a safe place, somewhere to go…” “A refuge?” I suggested. “Yes! That’s it! A refuge! God- the Church- is a refuge for me!” He was positively beaming. Once again I felt myself in the presence of God who indeed has been my refuge and my strength.
As I drove away from the university I marveled at the opportunities I have had to encounter God and how persistently God seeks after me. Like Joan of Arcadia only in real life! God appears not just “in distressing disguise” as Mother Teresa said, but also in the most surprising and delightful people who grace my life. Where will God show up next? I guess that depends on how open my eyes are!