It was getting to 'Wind-down' time in the evening. I was quietly relaxing before going to bed. My cell-phone rang. Surprise! Surprise! A sprightly young voice burst forth upon me like a tidal wave with, "Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! You've won fifteen millions dollars in the National Lottery. Congratulations! Congratulations! Do you want it in cash or to be paid into your bank account?"
I had to halt this girl's avalanche of words. "Cool it! Cool it! Slow down!" I interjected. She was getting my poor head confused with her rapid-fire enthusiasm. "Tell me your name," I asked. "Penny!" she replied. "For heaven's sake!" I thought. "A girl call, 'Penny' was telling me I had won millions, no, billions, of pennies in the National Lottery."
I then calmly suggested, "Penny, tell me slowly what's all this is about -my winning a fortune in the National Lottery. And then give me a phone number so that I can reach you tomorrow." When I'd written all this down, I bid her, "Good night," and then composed myself for going to bed.
What a night I had! I threw caution to the wind! I let my imagination run wild. Not for me the sour caution of only believing in my good fortune once I'd seen the mountain of cash with my own eyes or when I was certain it had been safely lodged in my bank account. I pictured myself making it possible to pay off substantial debts on church buildings, or establishing bursaries for needy students, or assisting worthwhile charities.
With all this money flowing in my direction I expected at least to be allowed to make a celebratory cruise around the world. I put it this way because for over fifty years I have been a Dominican living under the vow of poverty. I'd been required to will to the Dominican Order any cash that came my way -earned, gifted, inherited or won by gambling. When I took my vows and when the Order accepted them neither side anticipated we'd be dealing with more than peanuts. I was not expected to be a financial asset to anybody.
I had mused on whether I would become bloated with pride at having become the Great Benefactor of the Order, the one who had plucked fifteen million dollars out of the air by winning the National Lottery. Would I be just the same person; would life go on just as usual?
Come the morning, I was brought back to the real world. No evidence could be found of my having made such a win in any lottery. The cheerful herald of my good fortune could not be traced through the cell phone. If her intention had been to rip me off through my bank account she must have rightly concluded I was not worth the trouble.
To tell the truth, the pickings and plucking in my life have come through hard work..by others and by me. By the mercy of God and the industry and generosity of others I've never known extreme need. For that matter, I've never been in a position to fritter away a mountain of riches. After deep consideration I believe I shall be most contented and fulfilled if I am able to make my own this prayer in the Book of Proverbs,
"Two things I beg of you, do not grudge me them before I die: keep falsehood and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches, grant me only my share of food, for fear that, surrounded by plenty, I should fall away and say, 'Yahweh -who is Yahweh? or else, in destitution, take to stealing and profane the name of my God," (Prov. 30. 7).
Quite honestly, I don't think God wants me to win fifteen million dollars. I've never had much luck with raffles and bingos - nor with lotteries. It's not God's way of blessing me, nor my way for serving Him. But I'll tell you, God has given me His very self. What more than that could I want? And if I owned the whole world and did not have God in my life I'd be as poor as a church mouse. Come to think of it, never in my life have I bought a lottery ticket!
Peter Clarke O.P.
In a fortnight Isidore will reflect on meeting God in being "Taken by Surprise"