Some of the greatest moments in my life have been when I wasn’t looking to be used by the Lord and He surprised me. It’s very clear in those times that it was all the Holy Spirit and I am usually filled with the joy. The last day of my honeymoon was one of those days.
Genevieve and I had experienced so much on our honeymoon in Europe. We spent a week in Ireland, visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, the burial places of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and St. Columbkille, and just enjoying the country’s stunning beauty. Then we spent our second week in Italy, savoring so much great food, visiting Saints Francis and Clare in Assisi and Peter and Paul in Rome. We topped it all off by receiving a special marriage blessing from Pope Francis and getting to speak with him for a few moments after his Wednesday audience. So when we flew back to Dublin for our last day and a half, we were filled to the brim and really just ready to get back home. The Holy Spirit had other plans!
After sleeping in as long as we could, we went in search of a place claiming “Dublin’s best coffee.” It was only a few doors down. On entering this small coffee shop, we met George, the barista and the only person there. A tall 20-year-old with a very warm and welcoming nature, he joyfully congratulated us on our wedding and shared a little about himself. After chatting with George for a little bit, he shared with us some bad experiences he had with the Church (not yet knowing we were Catholic Missionaries) and how they left a bad taste in his mouth towards the Church and God. Then he suggested a great place to eat breakfast just a ten-minute walk away. Not feeling like prolonging the conversation, we thanked him and went on our way.
As Genevieve and I were enjoying our breakfast, the Holy Spirit was speaking in both of our hearts: go back to George and ask forgiveness on behalf of the Church; express to him Jesus’ sorrow and also His deep and unchanging love for George. So we began our walk back, praying that the Holy Spirit would open George’s heart for our conversation and make sure that no one else was in the coffee shop.
Both prayers were answered. We walked back into the shop to see only George. We thanked him for the great breakfast idea. Unsure where to begin, I shared that we were Catholic missionaries and how much it broke our hearts to hear about his experience with the Church. He seemed genuinely touched and began to open up more about his painful experiences with an aggressive priest in boarding school. We continued to listen and apologize for the hurts that were still afflicting him, causing him to even doubt God’s existence.
At that point, Genevieve, with great confidence, encouraged him, “Ask God Himself if He is real.” She boldly went on, “He will answer a prayer like that because He loves you and is really heartbroken that you were anything but loved by those who represented Him.” In that moment I felt like the Holy Spirit wanted to work in some special way, so we asked if we could pray with him and, though clearly nervous about it, he agreed.
A great excitement started to become visible in George. He loosened up and revealed that, due to his bad experiences, he hadn’t prayed since his Confirmation at nine-years-old, even going so far as making a vow to be done with religion. But now, with a childlike joy he was ready; after eleven years, he was ready! He told us to lead the prayer and so we began. It was a very simple but sincere prayer. We prayed that God would touch George and show him that He is real and to let him experience His love for him. We also prayed for the grace for George to be able to forgive the priest who had mistreated him and even for the priest himself to seek the mercy of God for his mistakes.
At the end of the prayer, George smiled and with laughter in his voice said, “That’s what prayer is!? Just talking to God?” He had thought we were going to all kneel down and say ten Hail Marys and an Our Father, which made him nervous because he didn’t remember them very well. It was such a beautiful moment! He told us that he really felt something and that he had woken up that day not even wanting to go to work but now he felt different: he felt good. Genevieve said, “We prayed for you to feel God and you did because prayer really changes things; prayer works.” He then told us he believes God is real, which really touched us because it was a complete shift from not being sure just a few moments before.
All filled with joy, we took a picture together to remember this beautiful meeting and then exchanged emails. Then inspired, I shared with George that we had just met the Pope a few days before, but this experience with him, with his courage to share his life so openly with us and to be prayed with, filled me with even more joy than that. He couldn’t believe we had met the Pope and was touched to hear what we had experienced through his openness. Then inspired again, I gave him a hug and told him that we loved him, this new brother of ours, and I was amazed that it was true! Yes, only God can fill our hearts with such a love for a young man we didn’t even know existed a day before.
After saying our final goodbyes and walking away from that little coffee shop in the center of Dublin on the last day of our honeymoon, Genevieve and I knew that the Holy Spirit had done it again. He had used us without asking and then filled us with a joy that would carry us through the rest of that day! It was such a beautiful way to end our honeymoon and to begin this life of service together as a married couple.
Please say a little prayer for our new friend George as he begins again this beautiful journey with Jesus!
Big Woods Mission, Louisiana
Thomas VehigeMission Page: thomas.familymissionscompany.com
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