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Taking a Leap of Faith

Planning is indispensable, but trust that the Spirit will guide us

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AckermanAbout a decade ago, a priest friend and I took a trip to Italy to visit several holy sites and shrines. However, since our ancestors came from the same town in Sicily, we decided to make a stop there as well. We flew to Palermo and had little trouble renting a car, but were totally lost after that. The car had no map or GPS with it, and neither one of us had a smartphone. We did not even have international calling. We knew that our destination was about 25 miles away but had no other guidance.

I wanted to stop and get a map, but he told me to forget it. “I know how to get there,” he said, “let’s go.” There appeared to be no rules on the road, and traffic seemed to go in every direction. I clutched my rosaries white-knuckled and prayed very hard anticipating meeting St. Peter. Sure enough, we arrived in the town of Termini Imerese with no problem.

“Did you actually know what you were doing?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I figured, though, that since it was a coastal town, as long as the sea was on my left we would make it. Why waste more time?”

I have to admit that I am more of a cautious person by nature, but there is wisdom in what he said. There is only so much planning possible; then a leap of faith is required.

At one of my assignments, one of the major fundraisers was making nut rolls for the Christmas holiday. The women who made them were excellent bakers and could have made those things in their sleep. They ran short of bakers one weekend, however, and I was guilt-tripped to help in the kitchen.

I asked if I could observe first, but they told me that there was no time for that. “You’ll figure it out,” they said. I asked if they had a recipe. That elicited a hearty laugh. There was no recipe.

Baking is a feel and taste endeavor they told me. We will know if you are good by the results. It felt like the Inquisition as they stared me down and monitored my every move, but it built character. Initially, my attempts at nut rolls were inedible, but as time progressed, the crew deemed me acceptable. I was even designated the first alternate in case someone missed the next baking session. Thank God that never happened, but I went home with my head held high and 10 delicious nut rolls for my troubles.

Now, I am not suggesting that we capriciously move through life. Planning helps tremendously and is indispensable, but trust that the Spirit will guide us is essential.

A priest I know told me a story once about a capital campaign that he was running for church maintenance. The church needed a new roof and boiler, both expensive endeavors, and he felt as though he would never reach his goal in spite of many strategic initiatives.

He went out on a pastoral call to visit an older woman who was recovering from surgery, but he was greatly preoccupied and looked distraught.

“What’s wrong, Father,” she said to him.

“Oh, I’ve been working all day trying to figure out how to provide for the needs of the parish. It’s not looking good,” he replied.

“Shame on you,” she told him. “Do you believe that God provides? Do you trust that he is in charge?”

She left the room and came back carrying a brown grocery bag. “Here is something for you,” she said. “Open it later and stop worrying!”

When he went back to the rectory, the bag had over $50,000 in cash in it! It also had a note: “God provides!”

Ministry often forces us outside of our comfort zone, but God is in charge, not us. We may, at times, merely have to jump right in and entrust ourselves to his providence, even when that is not our plan. That is not always the easiest thing, but discipleship invites us to find him in the present moment — that can be while driving, baking and especially visiting the sick in a corporal work of mercy. 

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the parochial vicar at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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