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There are surprises … and surprises.

Going back to my childhood I remember different surprises… those that delighted and those that disappointed.

There was a Christmas surprise that I hoped for and delighted in – a chemistry set!  (I will skip the details about how it led to the necessity of repainting the kitchen ceiling!)

Other surprises disappointed me. For this young boy at least, the gift of clothing at Christmas time disappointed! It was not what I had hoped for.

Of course, adults can also be surprised by life.

Famous people surprised by life

St. Paul

Jesus did not look like the Messiah Paul expected. Paul thought himself a good Jewish man blessed with faith in following the law to the letter. He believed in “the law” with all his heart. So, he hunted those who did not follow the law but instead followed Jesus.  He expected God to reward him.

Paul got the surprise of his life when he learned he did not undersstand who he was really persecuting. Jesus did not look like what he expected. Then he spent months learning from the very people he was persecuting. He learned to see the face of Christ in these people he regarded as fallen-away believers.

St. Vincent de Paul

Vincent was sort of like St Paul. He thought he was doing a good thing by becoming a priest… and…  escaping from the poverty of his parents. He was surprised when he learned to see the face of God in those living in poverty on the margins of society.

Frederic Ozanam 

He began using his great intellect as a staunch defender of the faith. Then he was challenged by an atheist. Paying attention to the challenge, he accompanied Sr. Rosalie on her visits with the poor. Seeing what he saw changed his life. He became the champion of the marginalized of his day.

Elizabeth Ann Seton

She had it all – privilege, security, and a loving marriage. She then lost it all. But she went on to discover the Eucharist. She found so much more. On the way to sanctity, she laid the foundations for the Catholic school system and the Daughters of Charity in the United States.

By paying attention to events, they each woke up to how God used the pieces of their lives to shape a picture of God at work in and through the details of their lives.

What did they have in common – being surprised by life and its ups and downs.  They discovered their God through these ups and downs.

Paying attention to everything and everyone in our lives

I like to think of Jesus’ vision of our last judgment. What a shock to everyone who heard his take on the ordinary events of their lives.

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

They did not recognize the God who walked into their lives.

Each group asked the same question. “When did we see you…?”

I suspect as you look back, or more importantly, around you today, there are many surprises both painful and joyful that catch you by surprise.

Learning from our surprises

  • What has surprised you most in your life?
  • What has God asked of you in the midst of these surprises?
  • Who do you turn to help you make sense of your mission in life?

Click below for an early version of this post.

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