COMMENTARY: What you find where you don’t want to go

c. 1999 Religion News Service (Eugene Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and author most recently of”My Brother Joseph,”published by St. Martin Press.) UNDATED _ If you ever feel you have to go someplace and you really do not want to, you […]

c. 1999 Religion News Service

(Eugene Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and author most recently of”My Brother Joseph,”published by St. Martin Press.)

UNDATED _ If you ever feel you have to go someplace and you really do not want to, you are experiencing a reaction as common as the cold and just as widespread. There are no over-the-counter remedies for this reluctance to go to that party, that wedding or that reunion.

You keep asking yourself,”Why did I ever say yes to this?”You berate yourself for not having sent your”regrets.”Indeed, regrets are what you get when you do not send them in timely fashion to somebody else.

Invitations seem, in themselves, to be a prime agency of fulfilling scriptural prophecies about setting one family member against another. How much tension arises in a marriage when the husband does not want to go, the wife does, and they proceed like coach horses pulling in opposite directions right up to the moment of arrival at the event.

The saddest words of tongue or pen are not,”It might have been,”but rather,”You’re the one who wanted to go, not me.” Spiritually speaking, such reluctant journeys are nothing new. We recall that St. Peter is told by Jesus that, although as a young man, he could go where he wished, as a mature man, another would take him and lead him”in a way that you do not wish to go.” But being led in a direction we do not wish to go may lead us, as it did Peter, to where we belong. Beyond the familiar punch bowl may lie the biblical fountains of living water. The chances are that, merely by looking around on such occasions instead of squeezing our eyes shut in resignation, we may find ourselves renewed.

I recently stood at the end of a rear pew in a large, crowded church for a Saturday afternoon wedding. I studied the backs of heads in the many rows that stretched toward the altar. What distractions, I wondered, were swimming in those heads?

Suddenly handbells began to ring, and those in front of me turned in a maneuver exact enough, but too gentle, to be military. They caught sight in the same instant of the bell ringers, a cohort of children announcing their own innocence and the approach of the wedding party at the same time. This is what it means”to be visited by angels.” But these angels did not turn the guests into new creatures. They rather freed the guests to be themselves. Their game day faces fell away; the frowns engraved on their brows by waiting and the wrinkles sown there by age all dropped away as if a miracle had occurred.

In fact, one had. These people, as surely as those we read of in the Gospel, had their sight restored to them in that instant. Young and old, their faces were suddenly lighted from within and, easiest and most wonderful of human responses, they all smiled together in that natural way that not even a veteran photographer full of tricks could coax out of such a large group.

For what they beheld was irresistible, as sweet as the sound of the bells and as true as the solemn faces of the little children ringing them. They responded to the act of faith in love itself about to be pledged in their sight by a young man and woman against every test and trial that awaited them.

The guests were given a vision as good as any granted to a hermit in the desert.

For here, in the city of man, their mixed feelings dissolved and they themselves became what they were called together to be, witnesses to a marriage that renewed them as it united the bride and groom.

Revelations were plentiful that afternoon. One could find them in the eyes and in the smiles, some broadly joyful, some more measured but perhaps deeper for all that their wearers had learned from that merciless teacher, experience.

And hands also spoke eloquently. One would reach automatically toward another hand as if finding its way home so that when they joined together they became two in one flesh. Some were soft and some were worn while others were bent or their fingers gnarled, each of them a medal or a battle ribbon for a campaign _ an illness, a loss, a promise kept, fidelity preserved _ that they had been through.

If Peter found his calling in being led in a direction in which he did not wish to go, so, too, may we. For in such unlikely places we are given the eyes to see and the ears to hear the sweet everyday revelations of life.

DEA END KENNEDY