Love One Another! 2/2003 → a testimony
Our family was out for a drive when we stopped in at a country coffee shop. It was a small place with linoleum floors and plastic stacking chairs. Against one wall a bearded man was writing on a cigarette pack, and drinking coffee.
The owner, who was both cook and waiter, seemed overwhelmed by our order of seven grilled cheese sandwiches. He told us he and his wife were expecting a third child. The crying of his second youngster could be heard over the child monitor on the counter. His wife, he told us, was having a nap in their apartment above the restaurant. He darted upstairs to tend to the baby and we looked around.
The radio was playing the local station. At another table we saw two lads in their early twenties. They were rough looking, unshaven and unkempt, surrounded with duffel bags. One had a pony tail, the other, an earring. They both wore a disconcerting, scowling expression that suggested they would be as at home breaking and entering as sipping coffee in a restaurant. The owner came back down and spoke softly to the bearded man who got up to leave. We then exchanged some polite words with the owner as he started our order. The man with the beard returned, handed over a bottle of ketchup, a fistful of change, then took his place at his table.
As soon as our food arrived, we said grace. This we said as we always do, trying not to hurry too much in spite of our hunger. It was a discreetly said prayer, noticeable only to any who cared to watch. After we had been eating a while, the bigger of the two lads walked over and asked if he could talk to me.
“Yes?” I answered.
“Would you say a prayer for me and my friend?” He asked. “We’re hitch-hiking back home to Sault Ste. Marie and we’re a little scared.”
In my confusion, I muttered that I would. He continued to stand beside me.
“Do you mean now? Here? Or back in the car when we leave?” I asked.
“Now, with me,” he stated.
We had the children bless themselves and we began. We said a Hail Mary, petitioned whatever Saints we could think of, and followed this up with a short prayer to the Sacred Heart. We asked Our Lord to protect the two boys on their journey. The lad thanked me and rejoined his friend.
We felt completely humbled. That look I had taken to be typical of the “teenage attitude” had in fact been one of fear. My wife, Theresa, mused that in just a few years our own five children could easily be in a similar position. She went up to the boys to offer them some money. They blushed, protested, but ended up gratefully accepting it. The cook and the bearded man looked on without comment. We finished our meal feeling quite different from when we had come in.
Grace before our meal had been just that, grace. What had we done? We had done nothing but bless ourselves, yet this sign of the cross had overcome the boys’ fear. Our Holy Father is telling us not to be afraid. Fear is useless. It is fear that makes us timid in the practice of our faith. We fear ridicule, our own weakness, what strangers might think. Yet God will make use of the tiniest bit of earnest witness on our part to diffuse his grace to the world around us.