When we go to Mass, we don’t necessarily expect the folks there to be warm and welcoming. After all, it’s human nature to occasionally be aloof. We’re weak, sinful people, and we don’t leave our foibles at the church door before coming inside.
But we do expect—have a right to expect—that the people we encounter there will at the very least be polite, especially during that one time in the service when we greet one another: the Sign of Peace.
So imagine my surprise when at one weekday Mass I put out my hand to shake that of the young lady in front of me and got snubbed.
Well, a lot more than snubbed. One look at my hand offered in friendship and she crossed her forearms in front of her head, turned her face aside, and shuddered with what I can only describe as utter disgust.
As though touching me would make her vomit.
Before you even ask, yes, I bathe, and yes, I use deodorant.
Now I realize some people are germaphobes, but a simple “No, thank you” or “I don’t shake hands” would have sufficed.
Needless to say, I was shocked. More than shocked, I was deeply hurt.
Of course I immediately forgave her and offered up the pain to God for her sake.
In case you’re wondering if she ever shakes anybody else’s hand, I wouldn’t know. Since this was a weekday Mass, the church wasn’t very full and we two were the only ones within arm’s reach of each other.
When something like this happens, it bumps up against what I find to be one of the most difficult verses of the Bible: “And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints” (Romans 8:28).
“All things work together unto good.” All things, including this.
So I had to stop and ask myself how this worked unto good.
It reminded me of an incident from the life of St. Teresa of Avila. She’d been poorly treated, and she complained to Jesus about it. He answered her, “But Teresa! That’s how I treat My friends!”
She immediately snapped back “No wonder You have so few!”
Yet . . . how on earth could what happened to me be something positive? How could I see it as God treating me like one of His friends?
Then I remembered another difficult Bible verse: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
St. Paul is telling us he actually rejoiced in his sufferings.
Okay. I can tolerate what happened. I can even get to the stage where, intellectually, I can thank God for it. But in all honesty, I don’t think I’m far enough along in my spiritual journey to where I can rejoice at being treated like last week’s garbage.
Definitely something I need to work on because, you know, suffering makes us more like Christ, and that is cause for rejoicing.
As for that young lady, I sincerely hope that if both of us make it to heaven, she’ll be glad to shake my hand then.
She might even allow me to give her a hug.