Saturday, September 24, 2016


Thursday afternoon’s walk took me through the lively campus of New Jersey Institute of
Technology (NJIT). I sat on a bench at the edge of their central quad and edited a chapter for my latest manuscript -- meditations on the Easter season. The reflections each have something to do with the “Paschal Mystery” -- our belief that Christ’s principal way of saving us is through is passion, death, resurrection and ascension. The topic is a tremendously rich one, that includes the whole range of human experiences: victory coming from defeat, life from death, living a life of love, and so on.

Many of the short chapters in the book, then, have to do with my various encounters with the Risen Lord in everyday experiences: teaching in the classroom, say, or finding God in the cloister garden on a beautiful afternoon.

As I was walking the several blocks on King Boulevard back to to the monastery carrying some folded manuscript notes on the Easter Mystery, I noticed, among the many students on the sidewalk, a large young African-American man walking toward me wearing a big smile. As he strode toward me I searched his face for some recognizable clue, but couldn’t come up with any. This seeming stranger came up to me calling, “Father Al! How are you doing?” His voice had not changed since I taught him, however, and I quickly put it together with his bright smile. “Marcel! How are you, man!” I shouted as we hugged, causing a few heads to turn -- I guess we made an unlikely pair.

I hadn’t seen him since graduation. Marcel had been a varsity wrestler, and an average student on his good days; with all the things that can go wrong in the life of a young Black male those days, his life could have gone either way. He seemed to be happy, however, although maybe a little tired.

After we exchanged a couple of pleasantries, I crossed my fingers as I asked him, “What are you doing these days?” He answered “I’m a substance abuse counselor at a place in East Orange.” His voice rang with pride and contentment.

“Yes!” I said to myself, and to him, “That’s great! Good for you! Do you like the work?”
“I love it,” he answered.
“Wow! I'm so proud of you!” was my heartfelt response.

After a few more remarks we shook hands and went our separate ways, after he promised to stop by school and say hi to everyone.

I continued toward the monastery, holding the Easter manuscript, and reflecting anew on the gift of hope and the new life, and praying for Marcel and the people he is serving.

It was a good afternoon.

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