The Only Crabby Lady in Philadelphia

The Only Crabby Lady in Philadelphia

One of many security checkpoints in downtown Philadelphia during Pope Francis' visit. Photo ©2015 Grace Mazza Urbanski. All rights reserved.

One of many security checkpoints in downtown Philadelphia during Pope Francis' visit.
Photo ©2015 Grace Mazza Urbanski. All rights reserved.

When the TSA agents confiscated her lighters, she spewed forth a cloud of profanities that settled heavily under the security tent. A heavy smoker, she watched in fury as the agents scooped up every single one of her brightly colored lighters.

All she was trying to do was get home. After a long day of work, she was heading for one of the few open subway stations to catch a train out of the city. She knew there would be closed walkways and a heavy police presence to protect Pope Francis, but the high-security checkpoints leading out of the city seemed to take her by surprise.

"I'm sorry we're taking over your city," I offered.

This is a family blog, so I won't record her response.

My encounter with this Philadelphian is memorable not so much because of her remarkable cursing skills, but because of her uniqueness: in a crowd of nearly a million people, she was the only one I met who was unpleasant.

To be fair, she had legitimate cause to be upset by the massive delays caused by barricaded streets and tedious metal detectors. And as far as the cursing goes, well, I have a pretty high tolerance for that. As Mark Twain says,

Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.

Even after we cleared the checkpoint, I could hear my Philadephian shouting angrily for half a mile or more, especially when she came up against additional roadblocks. The unflagging obscenities suggest that Mark Twain was wrong: the temporary relief provided by timely F-bombs neither strengthened nor sustained this frustrated woman. Maybe prayer really is the way to go.

Many law enforcement agents I spoke to in Philadelphia commented that the Pope Francis crowds baffled them; the million-strong gathering was polite and patient, far more so than any of the smaller events they have marshaled.

Prayer is the likely cause of the (almost) complete peace.

At every single stop in the US, Pope Francis asked the people he met to pray for him. You can bet he's been praying for us. Prayer works. Prayer is the raw material God uses, transforming it into superabundant grace for the world. Strictly speaking, God doesn't need anything to work with. The God who created the universe out of nothing can send grace as he wills. Nevertheless, God delights in our prayers and, like an indulgent parent, seizes on our tiniest gestures to lavish us with goodness.

The iconic story of the loaves and fishes provides a vivid illustration. (See Matthew 14:13–21 and 15:32–38; Mark 6:32–44; Luke 9:10–17; and John 6:1–13.) The disciples are overwhelmed by the neediness of the crowds. Literally and figuratively, the people hunger. The disciples are quite sure they do not have the resources necessary to help.

Jesus asks them to give all they have. Ultimately, they muster up only a few loaves of bread and some fish, which are totally inadequate for the needs of the many. Their best efforts fall dramatically short.

Unfazed, Jesus blesses the pathetic little offering they give to him, transforming it into abundance. Even after thousands are satisfied, baskets continue to overflow.

This is how the Lord works. This is why we can always trust that our tiny prayers and sacrifices make a difference--not because of who we are, but because of who God is. Pope Francis asks unrelentingly for our prayers. He believes the Lord will accept whatever we offer (even if we KNOW it is flawed and inadequate!) and transform it into his saving grace for the world.

Photo ©2015 Grace Mazza Urbanski. All rights reserved.

Photo ©2015 Grace Mazza Urbanski. All rights reserved.

After all these years of being a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, "the Pope's Prayer Group," I was overjoyed to pray with the Pope, in person, at the papal Mass on Sunday.

The Philadelphia throngs far outnumbered the crowds Jesus fed two thousand years ago, but the same Lord is still at work. The same Jesus asks us to present to him what we can. With the same awe the disciples felt, we watch as Jesus transforms our offerings into food for the world.

Pope Francis asks us to keep praying, to keep offering what we have for the good of others. Even if we feel shy, hypocritical, inadequate, or tired, Jesus will accept anything we offer. "Let God surprise us," as Pope Francis says. We can't even imagine the overflowing good gifts God has in store for us.

Waiting in the TSA line behind my Philadelphian, I closed my eyes and prayed for her. I prayed that the prayers of Pope Francis would reach her heart. I prayed for her to know the love of Jesus and share it in a way that only she can. I hope she'll pray for me.