So often in human life we wonder if someone is going to call, coming to visit, or going to write us a letter.
We assume that we are to expect, wait, and hope to be surprised and receive the benefits of friendship and social life.
We are to be recipients of good news and welcome others who desire our company. Others are the messengers and travelers who seek our audience and look forward to our hospitality or conversation.
Although kindness graciously invites and hosts others who come as guests and visitors, life also involves the willingness to be the traveler and the messenger communicating the experience and knowledge from one’s own wisdom.
It is natural for human beings both to seek and to bring. So often in human life, a traveler searching for a destination or arriving in a new place finds himself in the role of a godsend, a bearer of good tidings, a welcome change, a breath of fresh air.
He believed he came to find but instead discovers, surprisingly, that he brings.
Using Our Hands, Our Smiles
In her spiritual classic The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander explains that in the ordinary comings and goings of life people are often unaware of what they bring or why they are sent because of the routine nature of these trips:
“Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.”
God always acts in the world through human agents as the sources of grace, and often in these coincidental meetings of people whose paths cross someone is in need of what another person is bringing without fully realizing the hand of Providence. Houselander further explains:
Because only individuals can bear Christ. Only Christ-bearers can restore the world to life and give humanity back the vitality of love. No league or conference or committee or group can put life into the world: it can only be born into the world, and only individuals can give birth.
Every person, consciously or unconsciously, deliberately or accidentally, possesses this great potential to make a world of difference in another person’s life or in a particular location or profession.
Just as God’s grace is hidden in the sacraments under the appearance of water, oil, wheat, and wine, so too Christ’s presence comes mysteriously through other human beings who come as visitors or strangers and bear God’s image.
No Such Thing as Coincidence
In the opening chapters of Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop, Bishop Jean Latour, a French missionary to the American Southwest traveling on horseback in New Mexico, finds himself lost in the landscape of many conical hills and suffering from thirst.
Both he and the animals cannot continue unless they find water soon when, miraculously, one of the horses instinctively senses the presence of a stream where a boy is leading the goats.
When the boy learns of Bishop Latour’s identity as a priest, he leaps for joy, marveling: “A priest? . . . that is not possible! Yet I look at you, and it is true. Such a thing has never happened to us before; it must be in answer to my father’s prayers.” While the bishop is thinking of water and survival, he has no idea that he comes as an answer to someone’s prayer.
He is both being led to the water he seeks for physical life and bringing the spiritual, living water of the sacraments to a Catholic family thirsting for God.
The horse leads Bishop Latour to the water, the boy leads the priest to his father, and the priest bears Christ to the Mexican family. The bishop who is sent brings the sacraments to baptize the children and to sanctify the marriages.
This crossing of the paths of Bishop Latour and the goatherd brings life, joy, hope, God’s nearness, and “the vitality of love” to both parties.
To be a Christ-bearer always produces the leap of joy the boy expresses in his excitement when he exclaims, “Run, Pedro, and tell father and Salvatore.”
Agents of Providence
It is the same leap of joy that Elizabeth felt when during the visitation of Mary when she hears of Mary’s coming: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit . . . ” (Luke 1:41).
Elizabeth rejoices that “the mother of my Lord should come to me,” the child in the womb jumps with joy in the presence of God in the womb of the Holy Mother, and Mary rejoices in being the handmaiden of the Lord.
When Mary “arose with haste and went into the hill country,” she was simply paying a friendly visit to a cousin, but as a Christ-bearer she also brought good news, overflowing happiness, and a new surge of love in the heart.
As Houselander comments on this episode, if persons serve as messengers who are Christ-bearers and go “in haste” like Mary “to obey the winged impulses of his love,” they always bring new life that stirs “the quickening of His own life in the heart, which is the response to His coming.”
Human beings, then, are not just tourists or wanderers who meander through life.
The journeys they make for good reason—for friendship, for family events, for work or school, or for vacations—always carry the possibility of leading them to some form of water to quench their thirst for truth or God, to satisfy the deepest desires of the heart, or to bring others some message of good news that is Christ-bearing, life-giving, and heart-quickening.
It is not just the angels, apostles, and missionaries who are the agents of God’s Providence but also every person who comes and goes in his daily rounds of ordinary life.
Christ, life, and love are carried from one person to another in spontaneous, hidden ways that no organized committees ever accomplish.