I was on one of my visits to Shop-to-Stop to buy some necessary items. It became clear that this was not going to end well. It all started very nicely. As happens, I first bumped into Sharon in front of the organic apples, she had a few questions about school, then I met Estelle in aisle 3. She had a couple of questions that I tried to answer while we chatted in front of the canned corn. They were pretty serious questions, so I can’t tell you about them. Then I met Joe and we were able to settle a few concerns in the dairy aisle. He said he called me for lunch and was still waiting—for two years. I apologized and moved on. A lady whose name I didn’t get wanted to show me how well she sang while in the frozen food aisle. I encouraged her to join the choir. Finally, I met Kathy in the meat section who taught me how to cook a roast. I pretended not to understand and told her it would be a lot easier if I just bought the roast and she took it home to cook for me. She didn’t go for it.
I always enjoy bumping into people in the store. It reminds me of when Jesus would walk around town and meet his flock. I don’t know how Jesus remembered all the names; I guess because He was God. I’m embarrassed if I can’t remember every name, but the people are always very kind. Everything was going just fine until I got to the check-out.
My good friend Steve called me to invite me to something or other and so I got distracted. All the lines were long, but I found a nice short line and waited patiently. That’s when I sensed hostility rolling in to surround me like a fog. You know how you can just sense anger in the air? I put all my items on the conveyor belt and that’s when it happened—the check-out lady snapped! “Twelve items or less!” barked Mindy. I froze. “Twelve items or less—this line is only for twelve items or less,” she repeated. The manager came over and told me I had too many items, as she pointed to the illuminated sign: “Twelve items or less!” the manager repeated. “You have fifty items.” Surely the cops were enroute.
What was I going to do? Everyone behind me was furious. I said I would leave the line, but that would have been like making a U-turn in the Midtown Tunnel. I was stuck. The only thing I could do was beg for mercy, but no one in line was ready to forgive me. I can’t say I blame them. I felt like Jesus with the crowds yelling “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” It was perfect Lenten penance. Everyone in Shop-to-Stop was staring at me. I wanted to crawl under the shopping cart. So, what did I do? I apologized and moved on, albeit quickly. I prayed no one on line was Catholic.
In all honesty I was caught unawares. But I learned that, finding oneself in such a position, the only thing one can do is apologize sincerely, get up and continue on. Let us not get stuck in the ruts of our mistakes but make a firm amendment to “make up for my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.” This is the heart of the Lenten message.
I will tell you that when I was leaving, Mindy asked how many bags I had. In my desire to get out of there quickly I asked her what difference it made now. She informed me each plastic bag would cost me 5¢. I looked back at the people on line and thought it best not to argue.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon