Kingston, Jamaica: Our Lady of HopeBy Fr. Richard Award, C.P.
A few months ago, I was driving into Kingston and listening to the radio. A morning reflection came on and I caught the last part of it. I remember the message clearly. “God gives the very best to those who let him make the choice.”
The truth of that reflection stuck with me. Some of the best gifts we have been given were not planned for, or worked for, or even deserved. They came to us almost by accident or coincidence.
I discovered a good definition of ‘coincidence’ in an article by Alicia Chesser. She defined it as “an event in which God wishes to remain anonymous.”
When I think back to my first encounter with the Passionists, it seemed like a pure coincidence. The year was 1968. I received a call from my local pastor. He had a request, that I drive a man to a retreat at Calvary Retreat Center in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. The man had been struggling with work and family problems. The pastor said he really needed to get away for a retreat experience.
As I sensed where the pastor’s call was headed, I saw a good weekend of tennis passing me by. When I had a chance to speak, I was ready to give a firm “No” but the word would just not come out. My pastor took the silence as a “Yes” and gave me the phone number and address of the man. I remember thinking that this would certainly be a wasted and uncomfortable weekend.
As it turned out, the weekend experience was not only pleasant but also profound for me. The retreat atmosphere was great, the talks fantastic. When I could not sleep one night, I went to the chapel. As I sat there in the darkness broken only by the flickering glow of the sanctuary candle, I began to realize this was no accident.
St Elizabeth Church, Kingston
In a few years, I was a Passionist, glad to realize that I could work on a retreat team like the group of Passionists I had seen in Shrewsbury. That would keep me far from the problems of a parish priest with his relentless concerns over bills, roof repairs, painting, finding catechism teachers, mediating with difficult parishioners, and the thousand other tasks that come in parochial ministry.
Well, I have been a priest for 26 years now and have never had an assignment other than a parish! Today, I cannot imagine a more rewarding vocation. Being with families in their extremely difficult as well as their most wonderful times is unexplainable. Beautiful! From baptisms to funerals, a parish priest has a very full life.
Our busy world programs all of us to choose many things, and achieve, and “go for it now.” Often we don’t get what we want. At other times, we do, and then find out we don’t want it anyway. Perhaps, when we have decisions to make, we should leave a little wiggle room for God to present something to us. We might do well to be open to any “coincidence” God may send our way. Peace.