Following God's vision, not ours

Some people speak of being raised on a farm. Others, in a city. I grew up in a grocery store. My father managed it, and my mother worked in it. My brother did as well, for a time; and my sister, in her turn. Of course we had a family home; we children went to school; and our life as a family was more than work. Still, the store was always there, a shining place of wonder to my little eyes: aisles full of brightly colored boxes and cans; piles of fruits and vegetables, which my parents trimmed and changed each day; the rotating rack of comic books, which I could take home and read, provided that I kept them fresh, like the stacks of brown paper bags, ready for use at the checkout counters. There was also the intimidating meat department, which we weren’t supposed to enter, because it had to be kept clean, like an operating room. And I didn’t want to! The butcher didn’t smile.

Slightly before the legal age of fourteen, I started working, part-time, at the store. I liked it: catching the heavy cardboard boxes that came down the rollers from the delivery trucks; cutting open the boxes and labeling each item with a price; arranging groceries in paper bags, keeping in mind what had to go on top and how heavy the bag could not become. Even today, with my recycle bags in tow, I’m secretly delighted if no one is available to help me at the counter. I get to do my own bagging!


I learned a lot, working at the store, including a great lesson. It happened like this. A delivery truck had come in, so there were boxes to cut and items to be priced. Of course, one always had to be ready for the sound of one long, and one short, buzzer. It meant that a bag boy was needed in the front. I was doing all of this and, in my haste, had rather loudly slammed some empty grocery carts back into their stand. Ruth, a checker who had been at the store long before I was born, whispered something to my Dad. He came over to talk with me.

“Son, what are you doing?”

“I’m trying to work pop bottles, but the truck has come in, and we haven’t done the dairy case yet.”

“But why are you racing around?”

“How else are we going to get all of this done today?”

“Son, we’re not going to get this done, today. They don’t pay us to get it done today. They pay us to come here and to work, well and steady, while we’re here. What we don’t do today, we will do tomorrow, or even the day after that. The work will never be finished. That’s not something we can achieve.”

Life’s lessons sound simple, but that doesn’t mean that they are self-evident, or that mastering them comes easily. My Dad wasn’t recommending laxity or laziness, but he was showing me where my labor fit into the larger scheme. The work came before I did, and it would remain after I was gone.  

Moving from grocery to Gospel, what’s to be learned? First, remember that all of us have been called into the church to labor. Yes, to labor. To be saved is to be sent.

Secondly, we didn’t create the church. Christ did. We don’t give the church its mission. Christ does. The work of the church doesn’t necessarily align with our goals, which isn’t to say that those goals aren’t grand and worthy. Some probably are; others, perhaps not. Yet the vision we serve predates us; the vision summons us; we don’t adjudicate the vision; we are judged by it.

For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live (Hab 2: 2-4).


Sometimes a loss, or a weakness, of faith doesn’t lead people out of the church. It leads them into an evangelical lethargy. Lacking confidence and patience in God’s vision, they substitute their own. They’re upset with church leaders, church teaching, church congregations. All their talk is of future church, future bishops and priests, future congregations. Our God is the God of Is. The devil deals in what might be.

The church always stands in need of reform, because it is not the Kingdom of God. It serves the Kingdom. It attends the vision. But we must always guard against impatience with the vision, or lack of confidence in it. Then we’re tempted to replace the church, to which Christ has called us, with one, which we create, and which exists nowhere, save in our minds. Saints reform the church by serving Christ in the church. The weak in faith are often seduced into becoming pundits.

Here is one of those Gospel verses, which we don’t often quote. It sticks a bit in the contemporary caw.

When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, “We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do” (Lk 17: 10).


Surrender is scary, but it allows confident rest. St. John XXIII used to say to himself, at the end of each of his days as pope, “Lord. It’s your church. I’m going to bed.”

There was an earlier, very important lesson for me in the grocery store. Like the first, it involved Ruth the checker and one of my parents. As a “toddler,” I was following my mother through the grocery store. We passed the candy display. I took a Tootsie Roll. I didn’t know that why it was wrong, yet I did know that I needed to do it in secret. Ruth saw what I had done and whispered to my mom. My mom was more embarrassed than angry, as she taught me my first lesson in stealing: dad and Mom worked at the store, but it wasn’t ours for the taking.

Some Gospel truths are so foundational, so oft repeated, that we risk forgetting them. Here’s one: “as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.” God’s vision. Not ours.

Habakkuk 1: 2-4, 2: 2-4  2 Timothy 1, 6-8, 13-14  Luke 17: 5-10

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
2 years 3 months ago
In my opinion the writer has his understanding of Revelation mixed up. Our Faith is pure Grace and is the point which we embark as disciples (thank God for Infant Baptism). Everything else follows. All mediated through the Body of Christ, His Church. (Always remember that Scripture was produced by Church Evangelists). This Revelation of Jesus' Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. For the Church IS MISSION and All is Christ, The Rest is details, subordinate to Jesus-God come in the flesh commands to love God, and love our Neighbours as Ourselves. GRACE OVER NATURE...Always !!! in Christ, Blessed be the Holy Trinity...
Bruce Snowden
2 years 3 months ago
Hi Father Klein, For Augustine much older it was Pears, for you a Tootsie Roll and for me, Brown Sugar. As a child I use to “steal” the sweet brown stuff from the dining room table, then run and hide, also but less successfully “attempted theft” from a big bag of brown sugar on the floor of a little grocery store back in the late thirties. Your essay, “From Groceries To Gospel” is not only effective catechesis, but also made me laugh, Its good humor related I believe to the Holy Spirit’s “Gift of Joy” as all righteous humor is. I also loved your definition of God as, “a God who IS.” It made me think of St. Paul who somewhere in one of his Letters says that, “what is and what is to come, one and the same.” That triggered God’s words about David as, “a man after My Own Heart.” meaning that long before the Incarnation that gave us the Sacred Heart of Jesus, God spoke of possessing a Heart showing as Paul said, “Whatever is and whatever is to come, one and the same” already existing. Eucharist another example in that, on the night before He died, in an un-bloody way Jesus enacted the Sacrifice of the Cross before it happened, showing that, “Whatever is and whatever is to come, one and the same, because as you said, our God is “ God Who IS.” His concerns concern the NOW. I also liked that you said, “the Church always stands in need of reform,” easy to understand as we, the People of God, the Church, are ever in need of reformation, something the Reformers tried to do. As you said, “as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever” certainly applicable to me, reformation As much as I hate to admit it, I (we) are unprofitable servants, doing nothing other than what is supposed to be done. One thing for sure, I found “From Groceries To Gospel,” very profitable. Trying to end this post flashing back to Augustine’s words, “Everything is Grace,” with reference to my Brown Sugar “stealing.” Looking for a sin to confess at my First Confession, age 7, I decided because I stole Brown Sugar I’d confess that I was a thief. So, my first confessed sin was that I stole sugar. I still remember what the priest said namely, “Young man, I want you to remember for the rest of your life, you cannot steal what belongs to you. What belongs to the family like milk, bread, sugar, also belongs to you. However if Mother or Father said you may not have sugar and you took some, you would be guilty of the sin of disobedience, not of stealing.” It was amazing that seventy-eight years ago a priest in Confession would take time to explain to a 7 year old child that when it comes to judging sin “distinctions” are necessary, advice that has served me well for many decades. Yes, how true, “Everything is Grace” even Groceries versus Gospel!


The latest from america

Psychedelics can blur the line between science and spirituality—but Christian mysticism cannot be studied.
Terrance KleinJanuary 17, 2019
The extensive New York Times series in support of legal abortion unfolds as if the last 46 years of the abortion debate following Roe v. Wade never happened and did not need to.
​Helen AlvaréJanuary 17, 2019
In 1983, Sri Lanka descended into a bitter and prolonged ethnic conflict. Harry Miller, S.J., then almost 60, was thrust into a new role as witness, advocate, intermediary and protector not only for his students but for anyone in Batticaloa who sought his help.
Jeannine GuthrieJanuary 17, 2019
I have found that praying 15 minutes every day is an important form of self-care.
Michael R. Lovell January 16, 2019