The young man pulled up to my house looking for a place to bunk. He wore long hair, sunglasses and a tank top. His beat-up car was crammed—dashboard to hatchback— with clothes, boots, sleeping bags, coolers and a Coleman stove. I would have sworn he was homeless if a friend of mine hadn’t called to tell me that his nephew, a river guide from Colorado, would be passing through on his way to New Orleans. This was two days after Hurricane Ida hit the coast and the family needed help.
How could I say no?
My dog seemed to trust him. So, I invited the fellow inside and made supper. As often happens in the life of a priest, I discovered, yet again, the surprising ways God uses certain individuals to bring grace into the world.
The young fellow was once a seminarian. We talked some theology, but I wanted to know about life in the outback. So, he described for me the sweep of aspen meadows and steep ascents to snow-capped peaks. He recounted tales of rafting white-water rivers from Colorado to West Virginia and the freedom of a nomadic life, including the semi-hippie communes where he lived with other river guides, sometimes in a tent, but most times in his car.
After leaving seminary, he had taught in a Catholic school. Now, he takes former students to places like Ecuador and Chile where the young adventurers combine mountain-climbing with mission work.
The longer he spoke, the more I was convinced that John the Baptist had dropped by for a visit!
Before retiring for the night, we walked outside and gazed at the stars. Leaning against his car, I crossed my arms. In my heart, I prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for this man’s vigorous witness of faith. Protect him as he guides others through the beauty of this world to the wonder of the next.”