Many decades ago there was a man who had trouble walking. He used braces on his arms to help him get from place to place. This man was a devout Catholic who would walk to mass every morning despite the difficulty.
One particularly day, the ground was covered with sheets of ice. This would be very treacherous for this man in his condition. I don’t think there is a single one of us who would blame him for assessing the situation and deciding to remain at home for his safety. But that is not what he did. Instead, he got up and very carefully navigated the slippery sidewalk with great difficulty until he reached the church.
Why do I bring this up?
Because unknown to this man, someone was watching.
Joseph was a man who lived an average ordinary life of an average ordinary Catholic American. He got married, got a job, went to Church on Sundays, and went to work on the other days. Every morning he would wait at the bus stop across the street from a church. And every day he began to notice the man in the braces slowly make he way to mass every morning. On the morning of the icy ground, Joseph sat at the bus stop and said to himself, “The man in the braces surely won’t be coming today.”
But to his surprise, there he was: walking with great care to make sure that he could attend morning mass. It was at that moment, Joseph said to himself, “If this man can risk all of this dangerous ice to make it to mass every morning, then what is stopping me?” At once Joseph left the bus stop and went into the church morning mass. And as I understand it, he continued to go every day for the rest of his life.
The man in the braces had no idea that Joseph was watching, nor did he realize what an impact his witness would have on him.
Every day we walk through our day unaware of the hundreds of people who observe us. I’m sure many of them give us very little thought. But you never can know. Perhaps they notice how you say grace before eating your Chipotle at the restaurant. Maybe they see how you cross yourself has you pass by a Church. Perhaps they noticed how you stopped to give aid to the homeless person who is begging on the street.
Someone once said to me that my life may be the only Gospel someone ever reads.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I realized this to be true. The way we live, both in the big ways and the small ways, must give witness to God’s goodness. I mentioned before the good things people can observe in us that can give glory to God. But the same is true about our vices. When we are selfish, petty, temperamental, lustful, greedy, lazy, or display any other sin, we are a kind of anti-witness to God’s goodness. If we say we love God, but someone hears us gossiping about our neighbor, then we show people how little we truly believe.
I don’t say this so that we should increase our anxieties, but only our awareness. None of us our perfect. But we can strive to do the best we can. Someone I know grew up with very devoutly Catholic parents. However, there were times when he would argue with them (the way most of us did as teenagers). I once asked him why, if he struggled with his parents so much, did he not rebel against the faith they had taught him. He said to me, “No matter what, every Sunday, my father was at Church as a Eucharistic Minister, giving Our Lord with such faith that I never doubted.” I don’t know if his father ever realized that his son was watching him and taking in his simple lesson of faith.
The man in the braces did only what he could to give glory to God and so his life had a tremendous impact. Joseph’s life was changed forever, but not just his. Joseph’s two sons James and Joseph Jr. became priests. One of Joseph’s daughters became a religious sister. This faith transformed this family. Fr. James ended up become the pastor of the parish in which I was raised. And because of him I had a solid foundation in the Catholic faith. Hundreds and thousands of people were brought closer to Christ because of the faith of that ordinary Catholic named Joseph. And that faith would not have taken wings without that decision on that fateful, icy day when the man in the braces chose faith over fear.
Today, people will interact with you. They will observe you. What will they see? What will they hear?
Be Christ to them today. Be Christ when you think no one is around. Because you do not know who is watching.
Copyright 2022, WL Grayson
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