Don’t Be Afraid to Be Invisible

In my last trip to Ecuador back in August, Padre Julian drove me and Fr. Bill to the capital city Quito to get on our scheduled flight. While Fr. Bill and I were waiting at the boarding gate for the flight, I was thinking about the trip and really wishing I wasn’t leaving. I was thinking about how I could come back, especially seeing as I don’t have any cash these days to hop on a plane to South America.

So while we’re sitting there, the attendant gets on the microphone and announces that they are looking for some people to surrender their seats. In return, they’re offering $700. Fr. Bill and I started talking. He had a Mass early the next morning. I was hoping to go and see my father as soon as possible. But there was something inside of me that wanted to take the bump. I got antsy and uncomfortable and anxious. When it came to boarding time, Fr. Bill was heading over and I was still on the fence. Something inside me convinced me to give up my seat to someone else and take the bump. “I’m going to take the bump,” I said. “I’ll give my seat to someone else.” He wished me well and was off on the plane. I stayed and slumped down in my chair.

Wondering if I would be late to see my father, I suddenly realized that I could change my destination. I’d ask if the flight could be changed to Philly, and then take a train, and … well, I’ll spare all the details and just say that it worked out that I would get to see my father sooner than I would have if I got on that plane.

There was a little group of us who took bumps, and one of the men got to talking with me as we waited. He lived in a gated community in one of the small cities in Ecuador. What happens is that a group of Americans will retire and take their wealth to Ecuador to live out their retirement, where everything is much cheaper. They build mansion homes in a little community, and separate themselves with high walls. I listened to him for a while. Then, another woman in our group told me about her teaching in Ecuador. I shared with her my own reason for being there, to live with the people.

When you get the bump, you get put up in a hotel for the night. So the bus arrived to take us to the hotel, and as our little group headed over to the bus, we got swarmed by a group of young children, begging. These are poor street kids in Quito who are sent out by their parents to beg and to hustle and to shine shoes, all to get some money for the family. They usually don’t get an education, they’re usually not the cleanest bunch, and they never smile.

As soon as we headed over to the bus, there they were, begging and asking for money. The people in our group turned on their special powers that make other people invisible and ignored them. They came to me. So, I said to myself, you’ve come to the right person. I didn’t have much money, but I gave them what I could, and then I took out all the leftover rosary pamphlets that I had, with the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the cover. They all reached for them. I laughed with them, asked them questions, said some silly things to make them laugh, and then got on the bus.

I was the last one on the bus. As I walked down the main aisle to the very last seat in the back of the bus, not a single person would look at me. I had become the invisible man.

When I sat down, I looked out the window. All of the kids had gathered together. They were there holding up their little pictures with Mary on them. And they were all smiling and waving at me. The kids who never smile! I had tears of joy. It made my day.

In last week’s Gospel, a leper came up to Jesus to ask Him if He would heal him. The leper is basically invisible to the popular crowd. The leper lives outside the city, has no personal contact. When Jesus touches him and he’s healed, the leper can for the first time go out into society, and he goes off telling everyone what happened, happy as a clam. What happened to Jesus? He became the invisible man. On the outside of everything. But I know a little bit about the joy He had.

At the end of it all, the man with the mansion is not my judge. The tourist isn’t, nor the schoolteacher. My bosses, my faculty advisor, the president, the bishop, they are not my judges. But those kids are. The invisible ones are our judges. Don’t be afraid to answer their call.

Don’t be afraid to be invisible.

Then Peter said in reply, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mt 19:27-30)

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