Posted February 17, 2012 in Word Made Flesh:
Standing in the Wrong Line

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

Sometimes gospel stories can trigger memories. Here’s what happened to Fr. Pat one year when he heard Mark 1:40-45, the story of the curing of the leper, the Sunday gospel reading for February 19th.


I could tell everybody was looking at me: I had just broken the precious silence after the reading of the holy Gospel.

For those around me in the pew it was probably a toss-up between wondering whether I had just awakened from a short snooze or if they had reason to move away for their own safety.

But for a single moment I was back in an express lane in a supermarket, and I did hear in my head the voice of a little ole lady saying again, "I beg your pardon, sir, but you’re in the wrong line."

Hearing voices…again? Hmmmmm.

You are so therapeutic! You know, there are moments when simple events from the past are suddenly re-activated in the present by the Spirit in order to grace us with new light on something in our life which we never quite understood before then.

Oh? And this Spirit uses express lanes, supermarkets, little ole ladies, and voices in church? This ought-a be good, Reverend!

Careful, my friend, remember what happened the last time you got too close to grace and then "fell in" over your head. Yes, the Spirit can use an express lane in a supermarket and a little ole lady whom I didn’t even notice until I heard, "I beg your pardon, mister, but you’re in the wrong line!"

Excuse me?

She didn’t exactly run over me with her grocery cart, but she looked like she could if she wanted to.

"Can’t you read?" she asked, pointing to and reading out loud the sign overhead, "Express Lane — Eight Items or Less?"

"I count fifteen in your cart. That means you’re in the wrong line, mister!"

If I had had hearing aids back then, I’m sure I would have been tempted to take them out, hold them in the palm of my hand, look the little ole lady right in the eye and say, "WH-A-A-A-T!"

But, it was Senior Citizen’s Day at the market, the lines were a mile long, all of my fifteen items were small, and, P.S., who’s counting? (Little ole ladies in express lanes who catch big ole men like me, who shouldn’t be there, I guess.)

Her tone of voice told me that we were on the brink of an "elder altercation" (see your dictionary) if I pushed my luck.

So the best thing for me to do was to exit: stage right, re-enter the supermarket freeway and jockey for a new place in an ordinary, non-express, slow lane. Darn little ole ladies!

I think you had that one coming: people like you drive me crazy at the supermarket, too. But to my recollection, there ain’t no gospel story about a little ole lady in a supermarket. So?

No, the Gospel that day wasn’t about a little ole lady but about a "little ole leper" who threw himself down before Jesus and cried out, "If you want to, you can cure me," to which Jesus responds, "Of course I want to: be cured!" Clunk!

At that time in my life, for me to hear any Gospel story involving miraculous healing re-opened a deep wound in my heart and brought up the same cry which was there that day as well after I heard the leper in Mark’s Gospel again.

Unlike the leper, I often found myself asking the Lord, "Why do you heal certain kinds of wounds and pains and struggles for certain kinds of people—simple lepers and Pentecostal Christians—but you never heal me? Why, Lord. Why?"

Maybe you should ask your little ole lady to answer that one since she’s talkin’ to you in church these days. (Ahem!)

Actually she did give me the answer, but I didn’t know it at the time. And if I had asked her that question specifically, I suspect her answer would have been much like so many others who live in faith’s fast lane and had already offered their opinions: "You just don’t have enough faith."

I used to hang out in that express lane until the day me and the little ole lady met again in the silence after the gospel reading that Sunday. In the fast lane, the express lane, where miracles and extraordinary things are supposedly meant to happen to real believers.

I often get lost thinking about all those times when I too would come to Jesus for a miracle of one kind or the other, and like a leper, cry out, "Lord, if you want to you can cure me," but I never heard him say, "Of course I want to, be cured." I never heard anything! And I never understood why either.

That’s where I was in my heart that day in church when suddenly, out of that leper-gospel-silence, I heard the little ole lady from the express lane in the supermarket again.

It’s hard to believe that a little ole lady is more powerful in your life of faith than the Gospel itself!

Oh no, all she did was crack open my heart so I could hear the Gospel again. After my unexpected "Huuuhhhh!" broke the silence there in church, I tried to go back to the Gospel, but it was gone from my mind.

But in its place, I found myself unconsciously repeating the little ole lady’s words over and over, "You’re in the wrong line," "You’re in the wrong line," "You’re in the wrong line, mister." Then an amazing thing happened.

Just like the first time, I saw myself leave the express lane and join all the other folk in the slow lanes at the supermarket.

But this time their faces changed, and I saw all the wonderful people in my life and the many ways our lives had crossed paths over the years, people whom I would never have known if I had tried to fit in the fast lane, the express lane, always waiting for a faith-healing, for a miracle.

I would have been missing everyday life there in the market place where most real people live. I would have missed all those simple, holy folk who have taught me so much about life and faith by simply living everyday life by heroic faith.

And thus I would have missed one of God’s great gifts to me, Catherine Doherty, whose faith-passion for life finally convinced me that the greatest miracles and healings are, in fact, all wrapped up in the mystery of ordinary life as in Nazareth for people like the Son of God, His Mother and Saint Joseph.

(P.S.: After the Annunciation, the Incarnation, God never worked any miracles that we know of for any of these Holy Three! Think about that—such life in such a slow lane!)

In church that day, I think I finally realized how much God had blessed me by taking me out of the fast lane, by not answering my cry for miracles and healings.

That way, I had to live in the slow lane, the ordinary lane with so many other people I have come to know and love—including all of you!

And to think it all came together through a little ole leper in the Gospel and a little ole lady in the express lane of a supermarket. Is the Holy Spirit clever or what?

Man, that’s sounds so boring, so ordinary, so…

"I beg your pardon, mister, but you’re in the wrong line!

X-cuse me?



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