Our God is a God of surprises. He can be found in the most unexpected places and circumstances.
No one knows this better than a young woman named Kate.
Since she was young, Kate always felt a close relationship with God. However, in her late 20’s, she found herself working a high-pressure job and planning her wedding. There was just not as much time for prayer and spiritual reading which at one time had been a priority for her. Little by little, she felt herself losing her connection to her Heavenly Father. In fact, the only time she prayed was when the stress from work and wedding planning got to be too much for her. She would simply cry out, “Where are you, God, and why aren’t you helping me?”
One day, while rushing to catch the subway to work, a homeless person stopped her and asked her for change. She just did not have the time to stop and blurted out to him, “Please leave me alone!” Though he was startled, he calmly replied, “That’s okay, ma’am. I’ll still pray for you.”
Kate was struck to her core by his response. It helped her to realize how selfish she had been. She had allowed the pressures of life to squeeze out what had always been important to her, namely, being attentive to the needy. This man had helped her realize that God had not abandoned her, but she had abandoned God. She had been wondering where God was but it turned out that He had never left her. And she discovered this truth in the most unexpected of places and in the most surprising of ways - on a subway platform from a homeless person.
Today’s scripture readings speak to us of this God of surprises who reveals Himself in the most unexpected of ways.
In the first reading, God takes some of the Spirit which is on Moses and bestows it on seventy elders to assist him in leading the people of Israel through the desert. Though, two of the elders are outside of the meeting place, they too receive the Spirit and begin prophesying. Moses’ closest assistant, Joshua, is offended by what he sees and urges Moses to stop them. But Moses recognizes the work of the Spirit and understands that he cannot control it. He was used to God working in unexpected ways. It was a lesson that his young assistant would also need to learn.
In the gospel, Jesus’ closest friend, John, witnesses some people casting out a demon in Christ’s name. Like Joshua, he is offended by it and urges Jesus to stop them. It must have been an especially stinging event to witness since only a few chapters earlier, the disciples themselves were unable to exorcise a man who had come to them possessed with a demon. Like Moses, Jesus assures His disciples that they should welcome any good works done in His name no matter who does it. The Spirit of God does not follow our rules or limit Himself to our expectations. He is a God of surprises who always does what is unexpected. Soon enough, the disciples would discover how true Jesus’ words are when He is unexpectedly raised from the dead and when they finally receive the fullness of the Spirit themselves empowering them to preach the good news.
If God seems distant to us, if we feel as though we have lost touch with our Heavenly Father, could it be that we are looking in the wrong places? If we are unsure what God expects from us, if the direction of our lives is unclear, could it be that He is working in an unexpected way to bring about our sanctification and salvation? Are we so expecting God to work in a certain way and to reveal Himself in a certain place that we are not open to His surprising us from time to time? And if He is working in mysterious ways, how can we discover it and become aware of it.
The great spiritual master, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, can help us. Unlike many of the Church’s other spiritual masters, Saint Ignatius developed a spirituality for people with busy lives. It is not necessary to quit one’s job and spend hours in prayer to follow the way he proposed. One of his spiritual exercises which is especially helpful is called the examen. Like the examination of conscience, Ignatius has us spend a few minutes in the evening reviewing our day. However, the examen is not just concerned with how we may have sinned. It is also focused on how God revealed Himself to us that day.
We begin by taking a few moments to quiet ourselves down and to thank God for everything that happened during the day, both the good and the bad. Then we ask for the grace to review our day, hour by hour or period by period, looking for the ways that God may have been revealing Himself to us and how we responded. Like Kate in the subway, it might be through a homeless person we encounter. It could be at a moment when we look out a window and are struck by how beautiful the world is. As we remember those moments throughout the day, we thank God for revealing Himself and ask Him to give us the grace to recognize Him the following day. If we have failed, we ask for forgiveness and the grace to do better.
Taking that time at the end of every day will not only help us to see how God has been at work in our past but will prepare us to recognize Him when He does appear to us in so many unexpected and surprising ways. It will also give us confidence that no matter how chaotic our lives may seem, God is in the midst of it with us and we can be assured that He will manifest Himself to us in it and lead us through.
We worship a hidden God who can manifest Himself to us in infinitely various ways. Through prayer, we can learn to recognize Him and can allow ourselves to be surprised by Him. Now He comes to us in the most glorious of ways, through the Body and Blood of His Son. Nourished by the bread from heaven, we can now show the God we have discovered to others so that all the world can be charged by the glory of this God of surprises.