By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 18 May 2013 in The Madera Tribune
I've been driving more than usual this past week. Paradoxically I've done so because I'm not good at it and many insist only practice can improve my skill.
A week ago I tackled my longest solo trek ever -- past Duarte, Los Angeles and Pomona (California). My one-day round trip went far better than I or others expected, especially on the L.A. freeway. I attribute that to the helpfulness of my GPS device, which navigated on my behalf. Instead of deciphering a map as I drove, I could focus on steering my sub-compact car safely in the congested stop-and-go traffic.
A guide is such a precious gift when journeying on unknown paths.
Perhaps tired out by my wanderings, I slept in a little several times this week. As weekday Mass is only available locally at 7 and 8 a.m., my sleepiness spurred me to attend later Masses in nearby Fresno instead. Afterwards I visited parts of Fresno to see what glimpses of the past remained.
With family history and a stranger's advice to lead me, I stumbled upon the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple, which is only a block away from where my grandfather operated a Chinatown grocery store in the 1940s. Barbershops, a classic shoe store, restaurants and other businesses remain, but the lively personality the area displayed has diminished with age I suspect.
I walked on Trinity Street where my grandfather tried again with another little store and where St. Alphonsus (of Liguori) Church still rises high, flanked by equally tall palm trees as they all face historic Kearney Boulevard, which itself is lined with similar trees for 20 miles. Decades ago, three convents graced that street and a Catholic school thrived a block away. Now it is a charter school, albeit with statues of saints still looking down from one outside wall. The nuns are long gone. Few Catholics remain in the formerly Italian, then Mexican and now African-American neighborhood.
After a noon Mass another day at the ornate St. John's Cathedral, a public exposition of the Eucharist caught me by surprise. I joined a motley crowd of Catholics, young and old, in prayer and song before the demands of work pulled me away. No priest kept watch or presided, so those there followed a heartfelt liturgy of their own.
The lack of clerical guidance was missed, but a tiny Asian lady filled that void.
Within the next hour or so, I listened to the spontaneous preaching of that woman, who had a strong faith and enthusiasm for God; I talked and prayed with an alcoholic and addict, sober for years, who wanted intercession and encouragement to persevere in the daily struggle; I winced at singing that defied any theories of harmony known to humanity. Yet it was admirable and lovely that so many sang to God regardless of such concerns.
Before I left, I learned that a Passionist priest and writer of 16 books, Rev. Cedric Pisegna, would finish up a three-day parish mission elsewhere on the next day, Wednesday. Helpful guidance indeed.
So the following morning I ended up at St. Anthony of Padua Church in its Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel. There Pisegna, who has a show on the Eternal Word Television Network and a local network, celebrated Mass and preached on prayer.
With jests and true stories, he affirmed that God hears our prayers and miracles do happen in response to them. But then he addressed a common lament: what about those long-term prayers that seem unanswered?
In these cases, he proposed, it may be that the greater work of God's grace is taking place in our own selves rather than in the circumstance or loved one for whom we pray. In such situations, he urged acceptance of God's providence without losing hope and becoming resigned. We must trust that God is working in us and through us.
An airline passenger once watched in shock, Pisegna joked, as an angry stranger harassed a baggage handler for roughly treating a suitcase. The worker endured this with such calm and dignity that the observer complimented him for his professionalism. The employee replied, "It was easy to take his abuse, because I knew that man would be going to Florida and his bag will be headed to Milwaukee."
Acceptance of a situation doesn't mean one must despair of future remedy.
On Pentecost Sunday this weekend, some Christians will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let us give thanks for that gift of divine guidance and far more.