The regular column by Father Joseph Breighner in The Catholic Review, the newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese, always has a nice twist, and the one I squirreled away a while ago is no exception. He used to answer questions from listeners in his “Ask Father Joe” radio program so he keeps a handful of stories at the ready. This one, though, beats them all.
Back in the mid-1970s, he wrote, he was stopped at a traffic light when one of those rear-view mirror horror stories unfolded before his eyes. The driver behind him was coming on at an alarming rate of speed, and–sure enough–plowed right into him. Father Breighner’s car was heavily damaged but fortunately he was unhurt. And the other driver? A young man, the priest wrote, “stoned on drugs.” Police arrested him when they arrived and, except for an awkward telephone apology from the young man a couple of years later–part of a 12-step program, Father Joe guessed–the priest put the incident out of his mind.
Until recently, that is. He was giving a retreat at a parish in the archdiocese when a penitent asked to see him privately after confession–and here comes, as he wrote, “the rest of the story.”
“Remember that man who ran into you a long time ago?” the penitent asked. Indeed he did, the priest replied, and then the other man said, “You don’t know the whole story.” With that, he proceeded to tell it, and here it is, word for word.
“You see, not only was that young man on drugs, he also had a large supply of drugs with him in the car. His intent that day was to drive to the cemetery, take an overdose, and die on his mother’s grave. Because he ran into you, he never made it to the cemetery.
“I can tell you that since then he has not touched a drop of alcohol or used a single drug in 30 years. If he had not run into you, he would be dead today!”
Father Breighner then made a confession of his own. “I was speechless after hearing that story,” he wrote. For a speaker, that’s quite an admission.
In the intervening years, though, he’s given the incident a great deal of thought, and with his background as a teacher and story-teller, here’s what he came up with.
“Haven’t we all had moments when we questioned God? Haven’t we all wondered why God lets bad things happen? Let me assure you that back then, I was not grateful that [the other driver] plowed into my car. Today I am. It’s nice to live long enough to know ‘the rest of the story.’ It’s nice to know that you and I really are not running the universe. It’s nice to know that we can ‘let go and let God’.”
Nor did Father Breighner forget that little twist for which he’s become known.
“It’s so easy for us to forget that our God is a God of surprises. Our job in life is not to work ‘for’ God. Our job in life is to allow God to work through us.
“And when someone says, ‘It was nice running into you,’ it will have a whole new meaning.”