by Mary Beth Beacom
Some years ago, deep in the midst of raising several children of several ages, I found myself wandering through the neighborhood drug store, quite aimlessly. It was so rare to be anywhere alone, that I was using the opportunity to be anonymous, think through my current worries, and shop. I came to buy shampoo, but must have looked like I couldn’t remember what that was, or why I had come to the store. A voice startled me out of my stupor.,
“Honey, do you need a prayer?”
“Thanks, I found what I was looking for,” I hadn’t quite registered the question, but thought I was responding to a standard staff question, as the woman I turned to see speaking to me was wearing a blue uniform apron with her name tag on it.
“No, Honey, “ Blue Apron woman said, “ I’m not talkin’ shoppin’, I think you troublin’ about somethin’, and I think you need a prayer. What is it , Baby? You got some kids we need to pray for? Your husband givin’ you fits? Have you got somebody in the hospital?”
I was starting to wake up to the idea that this store clerk was about more than clerking. And I found myself blushing that I was so transparent as to show this stranger that I was “ troublin”.
“ No one in the hospital,” I replied weakly. I may have been transparent, but I certainly didn’t have anyone in my circle who had serious health problems at that moment, and I suddenly felt a little guilty for looking like I did.
“Nevermind, “ said the clerk whose name tag, I now realized, beautifully spelled out the name: “Queenie”. She pulled a tiny notebook from her apron pocket and continued, “ How many babies you got? I’m going to pray for them. Give me their names.”
I found myself listing them all as she carefully wrote them down, calling out each name as she did so, followed each time with, “yes, Lord, here’s your baby”.
Queenie, whom I’d just met, praying for each of my kids (seven of them at the time) in the middle of the Walgreens.
What kind of radical love does it take to pray for the children of a stranger, by name, when all that was asked for was a $1.50 bottle of shampoo? Such a totally unexpected grace, that even as it was happening, I had a hard time processing it. I went from being a bit put off, to worrying that Queenie might lose her job for going off the company script, to finally agreeing, timidly, to pray along with her as she held my hands. Right in the hair and make-up aisle.
Praying timidly, because I’m Catholic, and Catholics don’t pray out loud, with hardly anybody, let alone strangers in the make-up aisle. As a rule, we keep our heads down ( unless they have ashes on them) and mumble a polite, “I’ll pray for you” when we see someone in distress or, probably when we see each other in church. At least I didn’t usually do more than that, unless I was at home praying for and with my own family, or in my bible study, or in another “safe” spot. So I told Queenie, when she asked where I “Church”, that I was Catholic, because I was pretty sure that she (a public pray-er) was not.
“I am, too,” Queenie said, “ you, pray for me, but don’t wait until you get to mass on Sunday. Pray for me tonight when you put your babies to bed.” And then Queenie
quoted scripture, asking for God’s favor, and praising him in advance for whatever answer he would give to us in prayer.
It’s not that I didn’t know I could pray and offer scriptural truth, and that I should, it’s that I didn’t. Not until Christ, through his servant, Queenie, opened the door and invited me to walk through it. Sure, maybe I should have been in the adoration chapel, but I wasn’t. Queenie wasn’t praying with me to check some boxes or sell me something or draw attention to herself. It became clear that Queenie had no choice but to share the Gospel, praying like it was her job, because it is.
Paul tells the Corinthians in his first letter,
“If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly, I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my recompense?
That, when I preach,
I offer the gospel free of charge
so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.”
In current times, we feel like we have been muzzled under masks and misguidance and mandates. But before a pandemic separated us, were we a “slave to all”, compelled to share the gospel? If so, then a pandemic can’t stop us. If not, there’s no better time than a time of pandemic to start.
Pray in the grocery aisle, pray the rosary in someone’s driveway, seek the intercession of the saints in a park shelter with someone of another denomination who’s heart is hurting over a wayward child, send scripture in a letter to an isolated elder. Yes, even approach strangers and difficult relatives to let them know their Father in heaven cares deeply for them. Not with a perfunctory, “bless your heart”, but with a sincere desire to share Christ, even with those whom we disagree. Pour out your thanksgiving to a good and faithful God for the grace to speak his name and tell His story.
God is our King when our favorite candidate wins an election, and he’s still in charge when our candidate loses. He loves us freely when we do right, and when we do wrong. He was there on Calvary and he’s been there every day before and since. He is really and truly present in the Eucharist, and our reception and celebration of the Real Presence doesn’t exempt us, it compels us, to preach it.
Free of charge, like it’s our job.