July 27, 2012

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

Church is more than what we do—it’s who we are

Debra TomaselliSitting in traffic, I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel and glanced at the clock. If only this logjam would loosen, I would arrive for Mass on time.

As usual, I was starting my work day by attending Mass.

“What’s the holdup,” I wondered, straining to look beyond the string of crawling traffic.

Finally, I spotted the culprit—a sedan at the side of the road with its raised hood. A young, brown-haired woman stared helplessly at the engine.

I sat, watching the minutes tick away, disturbed by the parade of drivers that inched by without offering assistance.

I wanted someone to help, but not me. How could I? I didn’t know her. I couldn’t fix cars. I couldn’t be late to my destination.

Something nagged at me to help her, but when traffic moved, I hugged the bumper of the car ahead of me, looked the other way and crept by, leaving the stranded driver visible in my rearview mirror.

That’s when an unexpected conviction arose. I must stop and help.

Suddenly, I realized that it didn’t matter if I was late for Mass. If I didn’t assist this person, I was missing the whole point of going to Mass.

It seemed like an eternity to make a U-turn, re-enter the congested intersection and return to her car.

I prayed the whole way—that someone else would have helped her by the time I arrived, and I could make it to church on time.

But no one did.

I stopped nearby. “What’s wrong?” I asked, walking toward her.

Relief washed over her face.

“I don’t know,” she said. “My car just died. Sometimes I can get it to start again, but not this time.”

“How can I help?” I asked.

“I really need to get to my class,” she said. “Could you drive me there? I can take care of the car later.”

Her destination happened to be across the street from my church.

“Hop in,” I said, as she grabbed her books and purse.

We introduced ourselves and I learned that Emma, who was around the age of my daughters, was studying to be a medical technician. She wanted to help others and was excited about her future. I told her about my children, and how I was headed to church. As we spoke, a deep connection formed.

When we arrived at the school, Emma thanked me for the ride. I’ll never forget her parting words.

“We’ll meet again,” she said.

Her statement startled me. I doubted that I would remember her, but I knew that she was right.

I may not meet Emma personally again, but she will be remembered in the medical technicians that I encounter throughout my life, the young adults I meet seeking direction and guidance, and the stranger who needs my assistance.

I waved goodbye, drove across the street, parked my car and raced into St. Charles Church, fully expecting to be late.

However, as I took my seat, Father Tom was just walking down the aisle.

Surprisingly, I didn’t even miss the opening prayer.

Amazing, isn’t it? In giving, I received so much more.

(Debra Tomaselli lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Her column appears in several diocesan newspapers. Her e-mail address is dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.)

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