Saturday, December 2, 2017


True story. This past Tuesday morning, on the way back from saying mass for the Benedictine Sisters, I stopped to get gas. As I sat behind the wheel waiting for the attendant, a woman in shabby clothes shuffled up to my window. I rolled it halfway down and said, “Hi!”

“Excuse me sir, but could you give me fifty cent. I’m tryin’ to get me some breakfast.”
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Are you from Newark?

We begin to chat, waiting for the attendant to arrive. She tells me about her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, and about her own appointment with a doctor at the hospital. I interrupt our dialogue to tell the gas station attendant how much gas I want. By this time I’ve decided that Ann is telling me the truth, and really does need some help. So I pass her two dollars through the window, saying, “Here, Anne. I hope this will help.” Then I add, as I always do, “Pray for me, okay.”

She immediately begins praying out loud, “Lord, we bless you and thank you for this new day. Please keep us safe, and give us all the blessings we need. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.”

This is the third time that this has happened, and always with a woman: After giving a person on the street a little money, I ask them to pray for me, and they immediately start to pray out loud, right on the street (or, in this case, right next to the gasoline pump).

I pay the attendant, under the watchful eye of Ann, who then says, in a concerned tone of voice: ‘Now lock your door, and close your window. There’s some bad people that hang around here. Lock your door!”

I thank her for her concern, and we trade waves as I drive away. The rest of the way home I keep thinking about why these women always respond immediately to a request for prayers. Normally, when you ask someone “Please pray for me,” they respond with a polite promise to do so at some undetermined time in the future.  

I conclude that there are at least two reasons for this immediate response. First, because for them prayer is way too important to be postponed; maybe they realize how tenuous their position in life is, and they rely very consciously and constantly on God’s help. So why would you say, “Well, I’ll pray later on, but not now.” A second reason might be this, a very timely thought for the First Sunday of Advent: You never know if you’re going to be alive tomorrow, so you better get it done now.
The readings for this Sunday, December 3, the first Sunday of Advent, all have the theme, “Stay awake, be watchful, for you know not the day or the hour!”

For Ann, those words sound like good practical advice. She gives the same advice to others: “Close your car window! Lock your door, because you never know…”

As we begin the season of watchful waiting, I hope that some of Ann’s attitude of careful awareness will wear off on me. Maybe I won’t put off prayer times, for example, or maybe I’ll just be a little more aware during this Advent season, that this could be my last Advent.  To us comfortable folks, that sounds morbid and pessimistic, but maybe Ann’s attitude is more realistic. Maybe she’s onto something.

Have a blessed Advent!

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