David was 17 years old the summer he started working in the plastics factory, which was owned by his uncle. He took this job in between his junior and senior years in high school hoping to maximize earnings for college, which was just a year away. He also hoped that he would learn something about business. He did that, and more. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
While working that summer at the plastics factory, David slowly came to find out that many of his coworkers had police records. Some had been incarcerated for theft, forgery, even physical assault. He personally worked under the supervision of a young man 21 or 22 years old, who, like many of the others, had been in prison.
Days were long at the factory and tasks were mundane. Conversation was a way to keep everyone from becoming too bored. David and this man talked about everything from the weather to music to philosophies of life as they manned the grinder and cleaned up the waste. One day, the conversation took a surprising turn. David’s boss asked him if he would buy him a gun. Because the man had a record, he was unable to do so himself. David was stunned.
“A gun? What do you need a gun for, man?” he asked.
The young man replied directly, “To protect my family. I don’t live in the greatest part of town. There’s shootings. … I got a daughter. …”
Whether David believed him or not he couldn’t decide. But one thing was certain; he was not going to try to buy anybody a gun, even if he had been old enough. So he dodged the question, changed the subject and buried the conversation in the back of his mind. A few weeks passed.
Part of David’s backbreaking and unglamorous job was moving remnant shavings from the plastic molds into the shredder. He frequently did shoveling outdoors. One day it was so hot that he removed his shirt to work — leaving on just a sleeveless white T-shirt. His boss came up to help with the task and noticed David’s brown scapular hanging around his neck.
“What’s that?” the boss asked.
“It’s a scapular,” David replied.
“What’s it for?” the boss asked.
“Well …” and David, to the best of his ability, explained the concept of the scapular associated with the Carmelite order, of God’s love and protection, and the basic role of sacramentals, to an ex-criminal right there in the plastics scrap yard. The young man asked questions. David answered the best he could. The young man seemed intrigued.
The night before his last day of work, David asked his mother if he could have some scapulars. She directed him to the top drawer in the dining room buffet where the extra, replacement scapulars were kept. He took out three. The next day he gave them to his young boss. The man was visibly touched.
“For me? You got these for me?”
“Yeah,” said David.
The man opened one of the plastic bags which held the scapular and looked at the written explanation, then put the scapular around his neck.
He tucked the other two packages in his pocket to take home to his family. It was a grace-filled moment. There was no preaching, no lofty sermon or judgmental comments. David saw this man’s desire for protection and answered his request for a gun with three small brown scapulars. In his own way, without fanfare or preaching he was a channel of grace for someone else. Did this young boss of David’s ever join the Catholic faith? Start going to Church? Convert? Did he ever become officially “enrolled” in the brown scapular? I don’t know. But I do know that in that case, in that instance, one young man brought a message of God to another young man in a situation some may call random. Is it coincidence when we are placed in a particular situation in a particular time and an opportunity arises to minister to another? Or is it part of God’s design and plan from the start? You decide. I’m simply going to offer that it’s good to ponder the influence each of us may have unexpectedly, daily. In the strangest places, if we are open, we can be witnesses to our faith.
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