Dressed for the Part
God’s grace working in the most unlikely of circumstances
Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution? To be honest, I usually do not attempt a resolution, but I have certainly seen (and experienced) the effects that they can have on innocent bystanders. In my first assignment, I belonged to a YMCA, and I went faithfully almost every morning when the door opened at 5:30 a.m. Normally, this was a great time to work out, and the gym was mostly empty and quiet — just the way I like it!
However, that was not the case in January. The gym looked more like the New Stock Exchange than a fitness center. People were everywhere, the locker room was packed, and trying to get on a machine was like waiting for a number at the DMV. I hated it, and began to become annoyed at these new fitness fanatics ruining my peace and quiet!
One particular morning, I got to the gym in just enough time to jump on a treadmill, put on my earphones and run before the thundering horde arrived. However, several minutes into my workout, I could not but help to feel as though something was awry. I turned to my right and, much to my surprise, there was a twenty-something woman with her hands on hips staring at me. This woman had sleeve tattoos, more earrings than a jewelry store and a bandana. I considered running away, but thought better of it, slowed down to a walking pace, turned off the music and looked in her direction.
“Hey!” she said, “you look really familiar; I know you from somewhere.” “Well,” I told her, “I do come here almost every day.” “No,” she replied, That’s not it. … Wait a minute! Are you the priest from up the street?!” “Yes,” I told her. “I’m the new parochial vicar.” “Well Father,” she said, “why aren’t you dressed in your priest outfit? I mean; you kind of look like a normal person!”
I began to laugh uncontrollably. “Well,” I said, “I think that we are usually normal for the most part, more or less, but I had to wear these today. My clerics are in the wash.” We laughed about that for several minutes, but that brief exchange ultimately led to this young woman and her boyfriend joining RCIA and getting married in the Church.
I do not tell this story to say that I did anything great or spectacular, because, truthfully, I did not. I always think about that situation though whenever I am tempted to write people off or judge them. The power of conversion and the power of new hope in Christ is truly amazing, and there are times when I miss that.
I love the verse in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.” That consistently reminds me that God’s grace is working in the most unlikely of circumstances, and often in the most unlikely people. All that is required of all of us is that we get out of the way and allow God to operate for our own salvation and that of others. That can be difficult to do in the midst of hectic ministry schedules, meetings and responsibilities, but it is very much reality.
There are new beginnings all the time, and they can be great if we look at them as opportunities and not burdens. I still really do not enjoy January all that much; I do not like resolutions, and I likewise do not enjoy hanging out in the gym with all my new friends! However, I recognize that God is still working in spite of my own agenda. We all have a unique role to play in life and in ministry, but God is the one directing, and we need to cooperate with him — whether we are dressed for the part or not!
FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and chaplain of Central Catholic High School.