After the talk, I went to Vons. I was in line with an armload of groceries with two people in front of me. Disclaimer: whoever is in front of you in the check-out line is your enemy. But even if these two were not in front of me, I would be tempted to think sour thoughts about them. An Anglo lady with cropped hair and lots of makeup was talking with a younger Mexican lady. They were pointing to a Cosmopolitan magazine, which showed a woman with some outfit whose neckline went to her belly button. “Celebrities can wear that kind of thing, but I couldn’t,” one giggled thoughtlessly. Next to this picture on the cover was a headline: “bed-breaking sex.”
I despised these ladies for smiling at Cosmo’s pornography. They were joking about it! They were admiring “celebrities” who get paid lots of money to smash and trash the soul of our country. Why are Americans so stupid? Why do we stupidly smile as the cultural elites brashly destroy our marriages, our families, and our children? I wanted to get out of that store, or take those women to task, or throw out those racks of soft porn at the check-out counter.
The “Joy of the Gospel” came back into my mind. I didn’t feel very joyful at that moment, but rather guilty and sad. I was scowling, or looking away, simply unable to manifest the joy of knowing Jesus. Dressed in my clerical clothing, I was failing miserably to be even the simplest Christian, let alone an “other Christ.”
It was my turn at the checkout. I had a $20 bill, but the total was $20.78. I began to push one item to the side when the cropped lady ran up and put her card number into the touchpad. “Here you go father,” she smiled at me. “That should save you two or three dollars.” I was not kind to her, but she was kind to me. Yes, her hair and her conversation blithely aped the idiocy of our declining culture, but she had a heart, and she shared that heart with a priest.
Despite the pervasive inanity of our time, people still have hearts. It takes a lot to completely destroy a human heart. We can smile, and we can manifest joy, because each person in that grocery store radiates the image of God, even if from under a “distressing disguise.” One who commits himself to the Joy of the Gospel makes the effort to see beyond the disguise. He sees the heart, and responds to that heart. Blessed John Henry Newman, an Oratorian priest model for me, took as his motto “Cor ad cor loquitor”—heart speaks to heart. The heart of God to the heart of man, certainly, and the heart of man to the heart of God. But it is our joy also when our hearts speak to each other, even in the check-out line at Vons.