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Be Persistent; Not Annoying!

October 20, 2019

A reflection for the 29th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings are Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm: 12; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 and Luke 18:1-8.

About two years ago, I was home in Panama and I had rented a car to go to a Charismatic Youth Gathering. It was a wonderful weekend – very Spirit-filled. A lot of Faith. I don’t know what I was thinking on my way back, but I was probably on a bit of a high. If Jesus came back to earth, He would find Faith on earth. I had just experienced it.

As I approached the city, I had to go through a check point. Now, you know when you see a check point, you have to go through. You can’t turn around. The mostly wave you on, but as I approached, I knew. As soon as I saw him, he made eye contact with me and I knew.

“Licence.” I gave him my Ontario driver’s license and my Panamanian ID. He asks, “Are you Panamanian?” “Yes”, I say.
He says, “You know…. “ And you know that every time they start a sentence with “you know” you know that they’re going to come up with a bogus story.
“You know that if you’re Panamanian, you can’t drive in Panama with a foreign driver’s license.” Which makes no sense, so I said, “Yes I can. I can drive here with a foreign driver’s license for 90 days.” He proceeded to quote the traffic act, numbers whatever and whatever and the criminal code and show me that he knew the law and that I could not drive in Panama with a foreign driver’s license. “Pull over.”

At this point, my mind is racing. What options do I have? I started praying. But I don’t think I was terribly worried. They’ll give me a ticket and off I’ll go. How bad can this be? Still you never know in these situations.

He comes over. He explains again what traffic offense I had committed. “What are we going to do about this?” That’s what they usually say when they want a bribe. But I refuse to bribe them, so I said, “I committed an infraction. Give me a ticket.” He said, “Oh, it’s not a ticket. We’re impounding the car.”

Now, I had been praying for this to get resolved quickly and easily and that clearly wasn’t happening, but still I felt a sense of calm and of peace. I decided to just be nice and polite to this office and keep my calm.

We started chatting. I told him that I had left Panama about 30 years ago and that I lived in Canada, but I came to Panama all the time; I’d rented cars here before and drove here with my Canadian license and it had never been a problem. I told him that I was here working for World Youth Day, “You know World Youth Day? The Pope is coming next year?”

He looked at me and asked, “Are you Catholic?”

Now… here I thought, this could go any which way. Either he’s Catholic and he’s super excited about World Youth Day or he’s not.

But I had a St. Paul moment, because he tells Timothy at the end of the second reading today to proclaim the word at all times, whether it’s convenient or inconvenient. It’s not every time that someone asks you whether you’re Catholic and your answer will determine whether they give you a ticket or arrest you or take your car. Well convenient or inconvenient, my help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. Here I go.

“Yes sir,” I said, “I am Roman Catholic.” Then I added, “I’m actually a Permanent Deacon in the Catholic Church.”

He looked at me. “Can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” I said.

“Do you believe in images?”

Now, I wasn’t 100% sure what he meant, but I was pretty sure I knew what he meant because that is one of the classic arguments protestants have against Catholics: that we worship images.
Here I had another St. Paul moment, because he also tells Timothy that we should know our Scripture and that Scripture is good for teaching, for correcting and reprimanding. I wasn’t going to reprimand him, but maybe teach a bit? I was glad I knew my Scripture.

I said, “It depends what you mean by images.” And I began explaining how Catholics don’t worship images.

He interrupted me and went into a long monologue about, I don’t know what… I actually don’t know what he was saying. It didn’t matter. I thought, he’s not interested in knowing what Catholics believe about images. I’m just going to let him talk. I’ll listen to him politely and that’s it. It was really not the end of the world. They could take the car – it’s not mine – they could give me a ticket; they could even take my license away. I was fine.

When he finished his soliloquy, he asked, “Did you ever hear about the woman who died and spent a week in heaven and a week in hell?” I really didn’t know where he was going with this.

I thought he meant Gloria Polo, a Colombian orthodontist who was struck by lightning and had a near death experience. It’s actually a great story of intercessory prayer (like Moses in the first reading today). When she was with Jesus, Jesus showed her all the prayers that were being sent up for her. They came up as little flames. But there was a flame that was much larger than the others. She asked, “Who is this person that loves me so much more than the others?” Turns out that it was some poor farmer from a small town that had seen in the newspaper that this orthodontist had been struck by lightning. He prayed for her like she was his daughter. Jesus said to her that because of his prayers and the prayers of everyone else, He would grant her a second chance.

But I don’t think this officer meant Gloria Polo.

He said, “Do you know who she saw while she was in hell?”
“Nope. I don’t know who she saw when she was in hell.”
“Pope John Paul II. He’s in hell. Do you know why she saw Pope John Paul in hell?”
“Nope. I can’t say I do.”
“Because he lied to people.”

At that point, I had a clear sense that this was an evil attack. God was allowing this attack. It could be annoying and inconvenient, but it could not hurt me. My help is from the Lord.

And that was it. He was called away and left.

A few minutes later, another officer came and gave me my ID and license back and said, “We’re going to let you go this time. Have a nice day”

I smiled the biggest smile ”Thank you very much. Have a nice day.” I drove off thanking and praising God who made heaven and earth!

I was thinking of this story because today is Mission Sunday. The third Sunday of October is Mission Sunday and this year, Pope Francis declared the whole month of October to be an extraordinary missionary month. It’s an opportunity for all of us to remember and reflect on the fact that we are all baptized and sent; we are all called to mission.

It doesn’t mean that we are called to be missionaries in Africa, but we are all called to be missionary; right here; at home; at work; in your neighbourhood; at school – all the time. Whether it’s convenient or inconvenient.

It doesn’t mean we have to beat people over the head with the Bible. That’s not going to help anyone. Had I began “preaching” to that officer in Panama, I’d still be pulled over on the side of the road. We probably don’t even have to say anything. But we are called to always be Christian; to be polite; to be respectful, to be steadfast and faithful. Especially when it’s inconvenient.

The widow in today’s Gospel get’s justice served because she was steadfast – not because she was annoying. The judge, like that officer in Panama probably just wanted a bribe, so he was making it as inconvenient as possible for her; she probably was respectful, honest, clear and steadfast. She did all the things that he asked her to do trying to get rid of her; she had all her paperwork in order and she was patient. That’s what eventually caused him to give up and rule in her favour. He figured he wasn’t going to get a bribe out of her.

Today’s readings tell us that we have to be persistent in prayer and persistent in preaching the Gospel at all times. We have to know our Scripture and we have to know what the Church teaches for when we have the opportunity to explain things to people. We have to be prepared to preach the Word at all times. But most importantly, we have to be persistently honest, just, merciful, kind, polite and respectful.

That’s preaching Jesus Christ.

Especially when it’s inconvenient.

If we do, I’m sure that when He returns, Jesus will find Faith on earth.

From → English, Reflections

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