Missing the Obvious

If we fixate on faults, flaws, interruptions, we could miss something truly wonderful, beautiful, miraculous

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Father Michael AckermanOne of my least favorite activities without a doubt has always been Christmas shopping. Although I could probably save myself a lot of aggravation by online shopping, I usually venture out to the mall every Christmas at least once.

One particular year, I went to the mall after just trading in my Dodge Neon for a brand new Toyota Corolla. Being a new car owner, I did a typical thing. I parked far away — almost in the next diocese — to avoid dings and then entered the three-ring circus of the mall. After what seemed like weeks and after being pelted by shopping bags in a crowded food court, I made my escape, and was more than thrilled to go home. However, I could not find my car!

I was certain where I parked the car and was almost positive that no one else would have parked there, but it was a moot point. I walked around the parking lot for 15 minutes and still could not find my car. There was only one car in the row, and I knew that it was not mine.

As luck would have it, a police officer in his cruiser was coming through the parking lot and, having pity on me, stopped. “Everything all right, sir?” he asked. “Actually, no,” I told him. “I think my car was stolen.” “Do you know where you parked, sir?” “Oh yes,” I told him. “I parked right next to this light post and away from the crowds.” “Well, is that Toyota yours?” The officer asked me. “No!” I replied, “I drive a Dodge Neon.” “Are you sure?” he questioned. “Yeah, pretty sure,” I answered. “Maybe I’ll just press the panic button, and see if it’s near here.”

I subsequently pressed the panic button, and much to my surprise, the car alarm went off in the Toyota. “Oops,” I told the officer. “This is a little embarrassing, but I just bought this car, and forgot it was mine.” The officer looked at me, and then laughed hysterically. “I guess we often miss the obvious,” he said. “Merry Christmas!” And he drove away.

At the risk of sounding absent-minded, I tell this story because we often miss the obvious. It is easy to forget that the person who comes into our office, calls for our assistance or stops by to visit is a gift, and may even be Christ in disguise.

I had that experience once in my last parish when a woman who was typically demanding came into the rectory. As soon as I heard her voice, I ducked down the hall into a supply closet and waited until she passed by my office before I went back up front to where the secretary was.

“Father,” she said, “there was a woman just here to see you.” “Oh, is that so? What did she want?” I answered with a grin. “Oh, she just wanted to know if you wanted four club-level tickets to the Steeler game tomorrow, but she figured that if she couldn’t find you, then you probably were busy.” Yes, I was busy, so busy that I forgot who I was and that I am called to serve and not make things easy or convenient for me.

Christmas is often a hectic time for priests. Advent is generally chock-full of penance services and confessions, schools have plays and pageants, and even the ladies’ guilds seem to have their Christmas parties at the most inopportune moments. However, Christ came to be a gift for us in the midst of a very chaotic world, too. He came to show us the love of the Father, and to help us remember the obvious: We are his beloved children.

It may not always appear that way, but if we fixate on the past — our faults, flaws, interruptions to our schedules and maybe even our new cars — then we miss something truly wonderful, beautiful and miraculous. May this Advent and Christmas season give us pause not to miss the obvious. God is in our midst; sometimes it just helps if we can remember!

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

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