When I first encountered the Psalms it was in a lonely shelter on the Appalachian Trail. The words of David spoke to me right then and there, as if they were written for me in that moment:
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Ps 40:2)
I never forgot that Psalm, the first word of the Lord I had ever read.
When my wife comes home in the morning from her overnight shift in the ER, she will sometimes recount the sad tales of the patients she treated the night before. Some are accidents and traumas, some are embarrassing injuries, but many are alcoholics being treated for withdrawal, and those addicted to drugs. Many of them have burned so many bridges they have no one to call, no one left to pick them up–no one in their life. One patient last night was twelve years sober but started drinking again when he found himself unemployed. He was shaking so badly she had to give him 40mg of Valium (most patients get 5-10 every few hours) just to put him to sleep.
“That’s a great idea,” she replied.
“You might be the only one at that moment to think to give them hope. Everyone needs a saint in heaven and an angel here on earth. You don’t even have to say anything–just slip it in their hand, or lay it next to them in bed. If you don’t do it, who will?”
St. Ignatius was a competent soldier who only picked up the Lives of the Saints when his romances of chivalry reading were not available as he lay convalescing in bed after being struck by a cannonball. It was a fertile ground for conversion because he had nothing else to turn to at that moment.
It’s ok to be creative as Catholics, to seize upon little opportunities to share Christ with someone with your lips, to be Christ to someone with your kindness. Especially when the forgotten, the lost, the dejected, and the hurting who have no one else to turn to present themselves. As one example, St. Francis de Sales used to write his sermons on pieces of paper and slide them under the doors where Calvinists lived.
I once dated a super-sweet girl, a Catholic with a good family, who I probably could have married. But the timing was never right. I was discerning a monastic vocation, and though we parted ways and even dated again briefly a few years later, it just never worked out.
Timing is important, and everything happens in God’s timing.
We may read a piece of scripture one year during a productive time in our lives where it doesn’t sink in–a year later we may be bankrupt and on the brink of divorce, and that same exact scripture suddenly speaks to us and takes root in our hearts.
That is because God’s Word is alive, not dead letters on a page.
But we let these moments slip through our fingers often; we forget that we are called to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19-20). These don’t have to be big, monumental exercises that draw attention to ourselves.
We shouldn’t forget that we are simply beggars showing other beggars where to get bread.
I printed out the prayers and icons of Ven. Matt Talbot and St. Mark Ji, since I didn’t have time to order prayer cards before my wife’s shift this evening, and since we have a laminator it should be easy to make a few she can carry in her pocket, along with a Miraculous Medal. Given how common and pervasive drug and alcohol addiction are in our hurting and trauma-riddled culture, I have a feeling she won’t be short on the opportunity, as she’s treating their physical symptoms, to slip a spiritual lifeline to those tonight who find themselves mired in the pit with no one to pull them out.