Carriage 5, seats 13a and 13b … c’mon, let’s get on…” says my sister, Loredana.
A robust young man, seeing our diminutive statures beside our luggage, offers to help carry our bags. We go to our seats and before we can sit down an old but spritely man, exhorts us: “I’m glad you got number 13 and not me…I’m sorry to say, but I’m very superstitious!” We take this opportunity to engage him further in conversation as is our habit when traveling on public transportation!
I’ve always been struck by the missionary mandate in Mark’s Gospel: “Go out in all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature…” (Mk16,15). Jesus expressly says to take the good news to every creature. When I look around me this phrase always comes to mind. Jesus doesn’t simply tell us to announce the Gospel to everyone but to he prefers to say “to every creature”, underlining the value of every person and the desire for a direct contact with them. Whoever passes by me has the right to listen to His word, therefore I have the duty to make that a reality, if I can.
Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel, says St. Paul. And in another passage, he affirms: “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” (Rm 10:14).
Pope Francis repeats this in Evangelii Gaudium, “the Church which goes forth is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice (no.24).”
“An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.” Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved.”
“You know, returning to superstition, says our curious traveling companion, ignorant of our real identity, “the worst thing is to travel with nuns, particularly those dressed in black…” The next half-hour of conversation alternated between serious and humorous, as we listened avidly to the various vicissitudes that had befallen him on account of these numinous travel companions.
At one point I interject: “May I ask if you believe in God?” “yes, I do, but unfortunately I can’t manage to rid myself of these superstitions. My parents instilled them in me as a child … even my kids make fun of me!”
We continue to listen to him attentively and are drawn in even more by our sense of veiled complicity. As soon as the occasion presented itself we asked him: Are you sure that you’re not traveling with any nuns today?”. “Believe me, I checked carefully before sitting down!!!.”
“I hate to break it to you, but we’re both consecrated, I mean, we are nuns in casual clothes!” All of a sudden, we feel the eyes of half the carriage turn and stare at us and a row of curious heads poke around their seats to see who these “nuns” are.
Karl, (pseudonym), embarrassed, amazed and a little incredulous begs our pardon. We try to put him at ease, indulging him in the topics closest to his heart: family, work, vacation… and with our identities now revealed, we could also broach more existential topics. We venture to retrace certain affirmations he made during the trip and reexamine them together in the hope of helping him to gradually overcome his prejudices and open him up more generously to receiving the Truth of the Gospel. We don’t miss the opportunity to speak to him about Jesus and his love, calibrating our discussion using images, examples and stories.
Upon reaching termini station in Rome, Karl, thanks us dearly for the pleasant conversation, that also made him forget the length and heaviness of the trip. Expressing our gratitude, we say goodbye, assuring him of our prayers and expressing our hope that this experience may have helped to dispel the idea that nuns bring bad luck!”. Karl laughed and extending to us his business card, invites us to come visit him whenever we’re in the neighborhood. We get off the train and realize that he is smiling from ear to ear. Light as a feather, he blends in with the crowd and we lose sight of him.
How many “random” encounters do I have a month? Have I ever prayed that one of these “random” encounters might be a moment of grace? This month, let us be open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may be filled with the joy of the living word of God and be a vessel of his grace for someone else.