VENICE | Have you ever been on a journey that had unexpected detours? I once led a pilgrimage in France with a wayward bus driver who never seemed to know where he was going. Once he took us down a one-way street the wrong way and got us stuck in a narrow alley. It was one of many miscues that were frustrating then and comical only now. But God delivered some powerfully graced experiences along the way. That detour took us further from the great Rouen Cathedral that was our destination but brought us right up to another interesting church not even on our itinerary, named for St. Joan of Arc in the place where she was martyred.
When the age and infirmity of our pilgrims who had suffered multiple falls on uneven cobblestones made it evident our group could not climb to the top of Mont Saint Michel toward the end of our journey, an easier day at a seaside village for shopping and lunch included Mass in a beautiful wooden chapel. I was disappointed, but God had a reason for the detour.
During our travels, I got to know the bus driver and the many challenges of his life, including the abuse he suffered as a foster child following the early deaths of his parents, and the tragic passing of his own wife and son. I told him I would offer Mass for them that day and, after many years of blaming God for all his misfortunes, he came to church for the first time in years. It was a tearful surrendering into the arms of Jesus who knows the suffering of crosses better than anyone. Had we gone to Mont Saint Michel, he would likely have spent that day back at the bus, waiting for our return. Instead, he was reconciled with the God who made him and loves him. This is the mystery of encountering God in the detours of life.
No one can deny that COVID-19 has led to many changes in our lives, detouring us beyond our control. This has included interrupted travel, cancelled family celebrations, curtailed parish events, postponed weddings and funerals, and vacations turned staycations. And yet, God has delivered graces along these detours. People, now more than ever, appreciate the power of human contact and relish time with others that we used to take for granted. Parishes have discovered livestreaming and other creative ways to reach out and remain in contact with parishioners. And, this World Mission Sunday, some of us will have to try new methods of supporting the never-ending work of the Church to spread the Gospel. Online giving through our parishes may be one new way for us to ensure that missionaries around the globe continue to receive our support and know that they are not forgotten.
No one sets out on a journey expecting detours, and when they happen most of us don’t welcome them. But God can use these course deviations to take us out of our comfort zone to new adventures beyond our imaginings. Blessed are hearts open to a life’s journey led by God, going to destinations more amazing than any we could have ever planned, because they are charted by our magnificent God of detours, a God who calls us on mission.
World Mission Sunday is Oct. 24, 2021. The Diocese of Venice collection for World Mission Sunday is Oct. 23-24.
Father Robert Kantor is the director of the Diocese of Venice Mission Office, dean of the Southern Deanery, and Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples. He can be reached at email@example.com.