Life’s Vignettes and God
Independent Films (IF) tell stories through vignettes. An IF vignette depicts poignant events in a person’s life in a short film. Each vignette usually ties the theme of all the shorts together. In many ways, our lives are like IF vignettes too. This essay is about my life vignettes this past week. I will tell some short stories and then tie them together in the end.
This Monday morning was like any other day. I got up at 4:30 a.m. and rushed to the bus for the two and a half hour commute to work. The weather has been below cold freezing, so I hurried to my office when I got off the bus in lower Manhattan and began my workday. At lunchtime, as is my custom, I hurriedly walked the quarter of a mile to daily Mass, rushing by all the tourists, the army of halal food carts and into the warmth of Our Lady of Victory Church. The half-hour daily Mass is the best part of my day and I treasure my time with the Lord.
On my way back to work, I passed by the Mitzvah truck which is a mobile RV run by members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish community, whose Rebbe is the deceased Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. A young man dressed all in black with the requisite hat popped the RV door open. He asked me if I was Jewish. I said no but I know of the Rebbe having lived in Brooklyn. He invited me into the RV to talk and stay warm but I had to get back to work. He graciously handed me a small card with the Rebbe’s picture on it and said: “Here, follow these and you will live.” On the back side of the card were the ten commandments.
When Friday morning came, my co-worker, Mary shared an experience she had on her way into work. As she ascended a long ramp which passes the World Trade Center, leading to our building, she had to stop and catch her breath. A young good-looking man passed her. He turned and greeted her with a good morning and kept walking. She hurriedly moved to the top of the ramp to see where he was going. He was nowhere in sight. At first, I thought it was a soul that was lost on 9/11, but her description of his clothes sounded more 2018 rather than 2001. I concluded it must be her guardian angel. We spoke about our guardian angels and how important they are and then we went back to work.
At lunch break, I ran to Mass. After Mass, I picked up a guardian angel prayer coin for Mary, a Padre Pio Scapular, and a Saint Anthony of Padua medal for another co-worker. As I was walking back to work, I noticed a young woman in her 40s making her way up the block. What caught my attention was the small oxygen tank she had strapped to her side and she was using a cane to walk. I decided to offer her the Padre Pio scapular. He is a great intercessor and healer. So I turned toward her and began to offer it to her by asking if she was Catholic. She stopped me in mid-sentence and quickly snapped, “No, I’m good”. So I turned and kept on my way back to work.
As the week wound down and my deadline for this essay to be submitted was looming I thought about what to share with you this month. There have been so many waves of trials and tribulations washing upon my family these past few months. My father-in-law is battling cancer and my mother-in-law is suffering from dementia. Our beloved family dog passed away; we lost two dear family friends within months of each other and heard of the suicides of two young men. There was much to write about because in each of these instances God’s mercy is evident in different ways. However, the above vignettes are what I was inspired to write about because they had a profound impact on me. The vignettes have twofold themes. They are recognized blessings and missed blessings.
The Rebbe’s Followers
I am familiar with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson through a Jewish friend who followed him. Many Jewish people in his sect believed he was the Messiah. He never claimed he was. There was a lot of infighting among the various sects in the Jewish community over the whether the Rebbe is the Messiah. After his death, many of his followers were expecting him to rise from the dead. These people know Scripture well. They know what to look for in the Messiah, yet they keep missing it. If they study Jesus they would recognize Him as Messiah.
The Fullness of Truth
Years ago I would have politely declined the card the young man offered me because it was not Catholic. As I have grown older I have seen that although Catholicism has the fullness of Truth, other faiths have truth too. Respect for others and getting to learn about what people believe is important because I think that each truth brings us closer to the knowledge of God and how He chooses to reveal Himself. Too often I used to put God in a box. God loves everything He created and as Jesus said, He would not turn away anyone who comes to Him. There is no expiration date on that promise. I have grown to appreciate God’s love for all people.
Saved by Jewish Blood
Judaism is in a category unto itself among non-Catholic faiths simply because God chose to save us through Jewish Blood; therefore, they are pre-eminent and distinct from Hindus or Muslims, aboriginal peoples with nature religions, Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses. Speaking with and listening to Orthodox Jewish Cantors or Rabbis speak of Scripture, to me, is like hearing Jesus talk. It is remarkable and yet maybe not so remarkable. After all, Jesus is Jewish and therefore, in order to understand our faith and Jesus we need to understand Judaism. The Mass, after all, is the re-presentation of the Passover Seder, Jesus’ Last Supper.
When that nice Rabbi handed me the Ten Commandments saying “here, follow these and you will live,” it immediately drew me into the Gospel passage of the Rich Young Man in Matthew 19:21.
Perfection in Jesus
The rich young man recorded in Matthew 19 was perhaps a Pharisee or an agent of the Pharisees. He greets Jesus by saying, Good Master. Jesus rebukes him and tells him only God is good. Jesus, although God, took the form of a slave (man being a slave to sin). This young man did not recognize the Divinity of Christ. He was bestowing on man what can only be rightfully attributed to God, pure goodness. The young man then asks Jesus the question about gaining eternal life. Jesus told him to follow the Ten Commandments. The Rabbi in the Mitzvah Truck (Mitzvah means good deed), handing me the Ten Commandments quoted Jesus without knowing it.
Oxygen Lady and Missed Blessings
As my week wound down, I thought about Mary and Oxygen Lady. Mary recognized her blessing that day and she enjoyed the fruits of that grace. And Oxygen Lady missed her blessing that Friday much like the young rich man.
I have often offered to pray with people and have been rebuked, sometimes harshly. At first, the sting of rejection is sharp and painful, like a smack in the face. Once the sting goes away I usually experience great sorrow for the person. They rejected an encounter with God. When I approached the Oxygen Lady with the Scapular of Padre Pio, she stopped me and said, “I’m good”. Only God is good. Oxygen Lady missed an encounter with God that moment. She didn’t seem ‘good’. She looked like she was suffering. Perhaps she had many good reasons to cut me off. After all, this is New York City and there are a lot of things to be wary of. I placed her in the Heart of Jesus with a quick prayer in spite of her rejection.
My encounters this week gave me a lot to meditate on and be grateful for. I learned that God sends blessings in many different ways through many different people and situations. The men in the Mitzvah truck reminded me of Jesus’ entreaty to not only listen to the Word of God but to follow His Commandments in order to gain eternal life. Referring to the Gospel of Matthew reminded me that in order to be perfect I must abandon myself and materialism and follow Jesus single-heartedly.
Mary’s encounter with the mysterious stranger reminded me to pray to my guardian angel more often and be grateful for God’s gift of the angels in our lives. Oxygen Lady reminded me to be empathetic. We don’t know what is going on in people’s lives.
Lent is upon us already. Look closely at the vignettes in your life and take moment to be silent and listen to God’s voice. Try not to miss His blessings.