Growing up Air Force:
I grew up in an Air Force family, so I always lived near or on a military base. My childhood took place underneath the roaring engines of F-16’s and the whirring propellers of C-130’s; my friends were officers’ children, and all of us were marked in one way or another by the military ethos of our parents.
Growing up, most of the men I knew were either engineers or pilots, all very driven individuals whom I admired a great deal (my father especially). I loved their discipline, dedication, resourcefulness, and efficiency. I loved going on base and watching the jets take off and seeing the airmen running here and there, fulfilling their respective missions. Even though I was just an “Air Force brat” (as we were humorously called by our parents), I liked to think that I was a part of the team; I always felt at-home on base and dreamed of one day being an officer like my father.
Even though God had different plans for me, I joined the seminary with a lot of the values that I picked up by osmosis in my childhood milieu. Thanks to my military father and my dedicated mother, I had been brought up to be a man who took his job seriously and disciplined himself to get things done. “Make it happen!” my dad would tell me when he assigned a task: no excuses were accepted – just a job well done.
Learning to Work with God
Now that I look back, I am very grateful for the high standard that my parents held me to because it prepared me for the real world; but I am even more grateful for the faith they imbued me with. They gave me a solid human foundation upon which grace can act, and they gave me the faith needed to be open to grace in the first place. The challenge left to me was learning how to rely on God while not relying too much on myself and my own virtue.
One day, during my pastoral internship in New York, I learned a lesson that taught me that every time you put God first and your own productivity second, it pays off. It was a busy day for me; I was in Midtown Manhattan running around fulfilling different assignments that my boss (a very energetic priest) had assigned me. My errands took me to the Upper East Side which I got to via subway.
As I came up out of the stop at 68th and Lexington Ave, a thought came to me: “Why don’t you take a break to pray a little while at St. Vincent Ferrer’s?” St. Vincent’s is a gorgeous Neo-Gothic church (my favorite in the city actually), and on any other day I would have been very happy to stop in and pay Our Lord a visit, but this particular day, I had way too much going on. I had an appointment 10 blocks north of the subway stop, so I was not too keen on walking three blocks in the opposite direction.
But after thinking about it for a moment, I made a quick “what-the-heck” decision and went to pop into the church. As soon as I walked in, I was happy to be there. St. Vincent’s interior is beautifully decorated with exquisite wood carving and impressive Gothic stonework. The light that filters through the blue stain glassed windows fills the apse, sanctuary, and nave with a calming aura. As the doors closed behind me, the traffic noise became a distant buzz and I allowed myself to be engulfed by the peaceful ambiance of my favorite urban oasis. I knelt down before the Lord, placed my head in my hands, and put my problems and worries into His.
After some time of calming serenity, I took my leave and stepped outside. As I left, I remembered that I had been asked by the priest to call someone who lived outside of the city. Walking down the front steps of the church, I pulled out my phone and started looking for her number in my contacts list, but as I was doing so, I heard someone call my name. I looked up, and, believe it or not, the very person whom I was about to call was walking towards me!
Now, just think about it for a moment. I was in the middle of a city with over 8,000,000 inhabitants, and I just happened to bump into someone who did not usually go to the city in the first place. On top of that, I bumped into her just as I was about to call her! If I had stayed inside the church just a little longer, I would have missed her completely, as would have happened if I had not visited the church at all. The chances of us meeting at that exact moment were infinitesimal.
With that providential coincidence, God taught me a valuable lesson: give Him priority, and He will get things done for you. I gave Him a little bit of my time, and He did not ignore the small sacrifice. He is never outdone in generosity, so He made things a little easier for me that afternoon by saving me a phone call.
Prayer is a reward in itself, but we should not be surprised when God chooses to reward us for it. The next time you pass by a church, take a moment to step inside and greet the Lord, no matter how busy you may be. Have no doubt: in one way or another, your small time investment will yield rich dividends!