Cover image for Bumping into God : 35 stories of finding grace in unexpected places
Title:
Bumping into God : 35 stories of finding grace in unexpected places
Author:
Grassi, Dominic.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago, Ill. : Loyola Press, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
x, 173 pages ; 20 cm
Language:
English
Personal Subject:
ISBN:
9780829410310
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Item Holds
Searching...
BX2350.2 .G696 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

The presence of God can be seen and felt everywhere, and Bumping into God makes it clear that everywhere1654_Bum is not an exaggeration--we bump into God every day in all kinds of humorous, serious, mysterious, random, and sometimes completely unlikely ways. This charming collection of 35 stories reveals one priest's myriad encounters with the presence of God in both the mundane and extraordinary moments that make up all of our days. A natural storyteller and Chicago resident, Fr. Dominic Grassi shares with readers his God-filled memories of five decades living in Chicago.


Author Notes

Fr. Dominic Grassi, a lifelong Chicagoan, wasnbsp;ordained in 1973 and has been a pastor, a teacher, a counselor, a coach, a retreat and vocation director, an inspirational speaker, an editor, and a writer. He is currentlynbsp;a pastor on the north side of Chicago.nbsp;His books include Bumping into God , Bumping into God Again , Bumping into God in the Kitchen , and Still Callednbsp;by Name .nbsp;In his spare time he enjoys reading, writing, and cooking.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Introduction   I like people even when they become an overwhelming crowd. I'm attracted to art fairs, festivals, and wherever people gather and are unafraid of being themselves. People fascinate me. They surprise me. They lift me up and they bring me down. What I can expect is only the unexpected. They make me laugh when I should be crying. They leave me silent when I should be speaking. And they make me nod my head in the affirmative when I should be saying no. Watching people helps me get in touch with myself, grounds me in what is truly real, and heightens my already tightly strung Italian feelings. You have to know that being Italian, I feel before any other response is possible. And being Italian, I naturally want to celebrate what I just felt. That's the way it is, both a curse and a blessing. For many of us, the celebration usually involves food, a whole lot of food. Once I gave a daylong workshop to a parish that had been created by the merging of three smaller churches on how to be a welcoming community. An elderly woman who had been earnestly taking notes on everything I said came up to me during one of the breaks and exclaimed as I was biting into a bagel, "My goodness! You sure do a lot of eating at your parish." She was right. That's just a natural way for me to bring people together. I feel that what you are about to read will go well with a nice snack. And so it is that my life is necessarily colored by strong feelings, formed by a celebration of the human spirit. These feelings are what ultimately drew me to the priesthood, and what I have, for over a quarter of a century, been privileged to share with so many people. And being Italian I also have a deep compulsion to share what I see with anyone who will stop and listen. You must remember that we Italians love to make what we experience bigger than life. Of this I unashamedly plead guilty, but I am unrepentant. For us, just about anything can become a Puccini opera. So this, in an almond shell, is how this book came to be. If there is grace in any of it, it is caught up in the mystery of the wonderful people about whom I write. This is because they are God's loving presence connecting with me. For this reason, I want so much to share them with you. They are the grace that God has for whatever reason chosen to freely give to me and that I found myself compelled to share freely with you. This is not a book of theology. But I hope it is a spiritual book. I hope it helps you celebrate God's love for you and all the people in your days and years. This is not a book about ideologies, but about people. I hope these people will bless you as they have me. If you were standing right next to me, our shoulders touching, and you saw and heard everything and everyone along with me, you probably would not recognize your experience in my words when you read them. I don't set before you right or wrong words. I merely offer the glimpses God has offered me of grace, forgiveness, laughter, and all the rich blessings of life. They are glimpses gained during ordinary days, while in the midst of doing the mundane things I do. Please feel free to use these reflections in any way you like for yourself or for others. Go ahead and retell these stories. Adopt them. Feel free to tear them to shreds. They are for you. But even better, why don't you start looking more closely at your own world. There are miracles and ordinary moments to celebrate, grace and joy to share, silly folk and saints to relish. Your own stories, once they are set down in front of you, may astound you or at least humble you and make you pause and think and perhaps (surprise) say a little prayer. Who knows? Perhaps yours could be the second volume of a long series of stories about bumping into God. Or maybe they will become a treasure just for you, your pearl of great price.       Stories of God's Presence   People look for God's presence in many places. They gather in the basilicas of Rome or at the red rocks in Sedona. I find God's presence quite nearby--in the magnificent complexity of the human person. Are we not, after all, made in the image of our God? This God lovingly created us and walks with us still. Walks with the priest and the rabbi. Is present in the courage of two elderly sisters, the faith of a simple worker, or the innocence of a street person. We don't have to look very far to find God's presence brilliantly reflected. Meanwhile the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." ~ Matthew 28:16--20   Two Priests   When I was growing up in the fifties, Chicago was still divided into distinct neighborhoods. And quite often those neighborhoods were designated by parishes. So if someone asked where you were from, the easiest response would be "St. Bonnie's" or "Mary of the Lake" or "Tommy More." This immediately located you and in some instances communicated your ethnic background as well. Our Lady of Mount Carmel was originally the Irish parish, the mother church of the neighborhood that was the suburb of Lakeview and is now a part of the trendy Near North Side. Big, beautiful homes with front yards and backyards and New York City--sized apartments have since given way to high-rises, four-plus-ones, and town homes. The area has become quite eclectic. But back then it was a classic neighborhood. Our family was the only Italian one on our block. In school there were precious few others. There were some Hispanics, including a number of Cuban refugees and other nationalities. But the Irish were still in the majority, including many of the priests in the rectory and most of the Sisters of Mercy who staffed the school. The rich parishioners along Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive guaranteed good collections and a solvent operation even as the parish's western boundaries saw an increasing growth in less affluent minorities. Still, the parish would have been considered a plum assignment. The castlelike rectory always housed four or five priests, including a pastor, a senior associate, a newly ordained, and a resident or two whose main ministry was outside the parish. When people ask me why I wanted to become a priest and when I first considered it, I immediately think of a particular priest. He was a resident who taught at the minor seminary downtown. His homilies made people laugh and reflect. He always seemed to be smiling. We kids would gather around him after Sunday Mass, and he made us laugh. He actually listened to us and was concerned about us. Fr. Gene Faucher was a good priest. It was his example that convinced me to attend the seminary where he taught. It was he who was a support for all the teens in the parish. He was the one who stepped in when I got into some serious trouble with the disciplinarian at school. He also taught me a little Latin. But, most important, he taught me a lot about having integrity, and he inspired me to serve people by accepting them for who they are. While this priest was at the parish, another priest arrived as a newly ordained associate. It was clear, at least in his own mind, that he was on a fast track, and having this parish as a first assignment was a sure sign of the greater heights for which he was poised. He never liked my brothers or me, among others who were not Irish. He was in charge of the altar servers and made his displeasure known when each of us was elected Supreme Grand Knight of the Altar (how's that for a title!) by our peers over his candidates of choice. My brothers and I didn't realize this until years later, when we compared notes after a few glasses of wine. This priest had taken me off the altar of the wedding of a young lay teacher who had asked me to be one of her servers. Then he suspended me for not handling the incense respectfully at a novena where none of the other three servers had shown up, and I was stuck trying to balance the thurible and boat (incense holder) by myself (I ended up spilling it on the Oriental rug after charring my fingers). He left the priesthood a short time later. The other priest went on to be a highly be-loved pastor who, through his gentle care and concern, offered many years to the work of bringing people closer to God. He retired without much fanfare, and his ministry continued. One day, I heard that the other man was re-applying for active ministry. This made a lot of his contemporaries happy. But I discovered how hard unconditional forgiveness really is. The Eucharist is a sign of unity. Could I ever bring myself to celebrate it with someone who had treated my family and me so poorly? I'll never know. He died of a heart attack before he was allowed to celebrate Mass once again. Recently, now-retired Gene Faucher and I were invited to the dinner of mutual friends. I was so grateful for the opportunity--in the midst of our shared stories and reminiscences--to thank him for the tremendous impact he had on my life. He seemed genuinely surprised at what I said. We don't thank others nearly enough for all that they have done for us. That experience also helped me let go of the hurts from the other priest that, even after his death, were still weighing me down. After all, I learned from both of them, in profoundly different ways, what it means to be a good priest. And, inspired by both their examples, I now try hard to be the best priest I can be. Perhaps a young man or woman with whom I have worked will one day decide to serve God as a priest. That person, too, will owe something to both the priests who influenced me so profoundly. God's presence comes to us in many ways. Sometimes the most difficult of situations can become sacramental moments whereby God touches our lives in a way that guarantees we will never be the same again. We cannot expect to find God only in the beautiful. Sometimes we find God in the most unlikely people or places. Our task is to look--and look again. What a lost opportunity if we fail to see the God who is so near to us.     The Quiet Teacher   Our neighborhood was loud. The backyards and porches and alleys seemed to make shouting back and forth a natural thing. The ragman came around on Mondays yelling, "Old clothes for sale!" which always confused me because he wanted to buy clothes, not sell them. The big, red vegetable truck stopped by later in the week, and from the back of it the driver sang a medley of what he had that day: "We got peppers and bananas and melons of all kind." The knife sharpener was the most pragmatic, cutting through the confusion with his "Time to sharpen your knives." Combine all that with the bells from the ice-cream carts, dads sitting in their Chryslers or Oldsmobiles listening to the radios until they fell asleep, mothers calling out back doors or windows for their children, who were themselves screaming, "Alle, alle, oxen free" at the top of their lungs to signal the end of a game of sardines. If you wanted to be heard, you yelled. I figured that we noisy Italians had a distinct advantage in this area! Across the alley lived a Jewish family. The father was a rabbi at the large synagogue on Sheridan Road. Unlike the rest of us, he never raised his voice. In fact, when he spoke to us kids it was barely above a whisper, even when one of our foul balls crashed its way into his bedroom through the closed window. His patience with us, his calmness--but most of all his being so quiet--made me really nervous. I felt as though he could read my thoughts. One of his two children was a son whose name was Hillel. We spent a lot of time playing together. On Friday evenings this could be inconvenient, especially in the winter when darkness came early, because Hillel had to be home before sundown on Fridays. One time his mother, looking distressed, asked if I could do her a favor. It was Friday and already dark outside. The Sabbath had begun, and she had left the burners of her gas stove on. Could I please turn them off for her? Even as a youngster I was impressed by how serious they were about their religion. She gave me some cookies to take home and share with my brothers. They were salty and sweet at the same time. My brothers would have liked them, if the cookies had made it that far. Depending on what game we kids in the neighborhood were playing, sometimes we gathered in the sandy lot next to our house, sometimes on Pine Grove Avenue, occasionally in our big backyard, but never in Hillel's yard. The owners of their building had paved it and turned it into a parking area for three cars, one for each of the three apartments. Once a year in the autumn, the rabbi would move his car and carefully construct a beautiful tent (we called it a fort) out of pipes and the heaviest plastic he could find. Its roof was made of plastic-lined bamboo poles. It never leaked, and it had kind of an exotic look about it. From the ceiling he hung apples and pomegranates and grapes. His family would gather there and celebrate the holy days, eating their meals and praying. From our house we could see the glow of the candles through the frosted plastic. This tent would have been the perfect target for vandalism. At the very least we could have sneaked in and stolen the fruit. But every year the rabbi called us over just when he finished constructing the tent. Standing there in his sweaty T-shirt, he would invite us, as Hillel's friends, to have some cookies and juice. He quietly explained to us how important the holy days were to him and his family. We ate and listened politely even if we didn't fully understand him. He explained that he needed our help. Would we watch over the tent when they were not around so that nobody could damage it? He always made it sound as if our messing it up was the furthest possibility from his mind. In return he promised to keep the tent up for a full month after the holy days ended so that we could use it as a fort. He didn't have to remind us that there would also be a party for us the day before he took it down. We guarded that tent with our lives. Nobody but nobody could set foot inside it without the rabbi's permission until the holy days were over. Once, when we woke up and found a piece of the plastic flapping in the breeze as if it had been purposely cut, we tried desperately to tape it back together. When the rabbi saw us, he chuckled--even his laughter was soft--and told us not to worry, that the wind had ripped that piece and he was going to replace it. So each year for a month we had a grand time playing cops and robbers, Indians and cowboys, Flash Gordon versus Ming the Merciless, or whatever other games we could create. We also learned a little about the fine art of compromise and how good win-win situations could be. In his quiet way, the rabbi taught us the more important lesson of tolerance, how to treat one another with the respect we wanted shown to us and how it was possible to bring out the best in each other. His was the wisdom of the Old Testament patriarchs, the strength of the prophets, and the cunning of the judges. It is not surprising that rabbi means teacher. We learned that there can be a sacred space where God's presence is felt in a special way. We learned that what made the space sacred was our willingness to want God to be present and to respect that presence. In the most subtle of ways, we learned that God's presence can most often be found inside our very selves when we rise to the occasion and are the best that we can be.     A Bookstore One Flight Down   A short while back, I attended an overnight workshop at the seminary where I had received my training. I found myself with a free evening and set out for the local shopping mall. It had been a chicken farm back when I was a seminarian. Time really does change things. After some aimless wandering through stores filled with items of no importance to me, I ended up in a bookstore. It was a typical store, but for me it conjured up a long-buried image from my youth. I remembered a cozy, crowded basement shop, one flight underground. It was run by two elderly sisters who I am convinced had personally selected each title that was on their overflowing shelves. What I walked into this evening was a two-story (complete with twin escalators) megastore containing tens of thousands of books, tapes, cards, magazines, and gifts neatly placed on dust-free shelves. Lush chairs had been strategically placed throughout the store to accommodate people weary from looking at so many books in a single place on a single evening. People lounged in those chairs and read as though they were in a library, not a store, oblivious to everyone and everything around them. There was even a built-in coffee shop in the center of the store. I purchased five books, two cookies, and a carton of 2 percent milk. As I sat there looking around and enjoying my snack, I thought of the little basement bookstore of my childhood. Now, we kids in the neighborhood didn't actually go in this store to buy books. There was no children's or juvenile section. We all had library cards anyway. We went to the bookstore to buy a single playing card with the painting of a beautiful horse or the picture of an antique car or railroad engine on the back. Depending on our selection, we paid two cents to a staggering one dollar each. We bought our cards and then traded them among ourselves. The owners of the bookstore did have their rules. We were never allowed to open a new deck of cards. But we were free to browse through the partial decks from which cards had already been sold. I remember most vividly the smell, look, and feel of that little shop. Today the only words I can use to describe it are clean and safe. One day when I was about ten years old, I was in the shop trying to make the very difficult decision of whether to purchase two matching cards at fifty cents each--one the picture of a white stallion entitled "Daybreak" and the other a picture of a striking black mare called "Midnight"--or to go up to the gyp joint and buy a bunch of baseball cards. Before I could make up my mind, I overheard a customer talking to the two elderly sisters. I saw him holding a book up over his head. It looked like a calculating, menacing pose. I don't remember the exact name of the book, but I do recall that it was a Jewish cookbook because I had whispered to Merle, my first-ever girlfriend who was with me and who was Jewish, that if he didn't buy the book she should get her mom to buy it. But as the man's voice grew louder and more enraged, I realized that he was threatening to burn down the bookstore if the owners insisted on selling books about Jews (except he used all sorts of words I had never heard before but could sense were not nice names for Jewish people). By some instinct I tried to shield Merle from this man. But at that point he threw the book onto the floor and stormed up the stairs and out of the little shop, trailing threats behind him. After a few moments of all of us just standing there quietly, the shop began to feel clean and safe again. I wondered what the two elderly ladies would do. They had not said a word during the man's tirade. With a single and almost imperceptible nod to the other, one of them picked up the book, gently straightened out its jacket, and placed it back on the shelf where anyone could see it. Neither of them spoke a word, but it was clear they were not about to be intimidated. Merle and I left the shop, ran back to her home, and breathlessly told her mother what had happened. She listened with a sad expression that slowly hardened into defiance. She took off her apron, grabbed her purse, and walked over to the little bookstore with the two of us tagging along behind her. This was an adventure! She greeted the ladies with a smile and asked if they happened to have a Jewish cookbook. She bought that book then and there, along with two or three other volumes that she picked up after barely looking at their titles. As we were leaving the store the owners called Merle and me over to them and let each of us pick out any two cards we wanted. That incident came back to me clearly as I sat there eating a better-than-average oatmeal raisin cookie. I am sure that these days there are corporate policies that determine which books are selected for such large stores--policies based on demographics or sales projections or profit margins and the like. And I am sure that when complaints come in about a particular title, someone from the home office sends a form letter covering all the legal and diplomatic bases. I am equally certain that little bookstores down one flight of stairs are becoming extinct. And gone with them are the genuine heroes and heroines who loved the printed word so much, who rejected bigotry and hatred so that every book on their cramped shelves was a true symbol of freedom and openness. For them the bottom line was the enjoyment, excitement, challenge, humor, pathos--in short, the truth of the message. That is why their little shops were such special, sacred places. Before I left the big store and the mall with my discounted books in a plastic bag, I picked out a nice Jewish cookbook and bought it in honor of the two elderly sisters and their very important little bookstore one flight down. We often try to force God's presence into the large, dramatic cathedrals of the world. But, as you walk down the street in your neighborhood, listen closely for evidence of God's goodness, love, justice, safety, and peace. Be open to the courageous messages spoken--with or without words--among the people in your environment. God is surely right here, where you and your neighbors live. And his Word is surely present. It is inclusive and full of peace. It helps people keep up their journeys throughout the week--throughout their lives. Excerpted from Bumping into God: 35 Stories of Finding Grace in Unexpected Places by Dominic Grassi All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.