Yesterday I found myself in the hospital intending to visit parishioners. The only thing was, I didn't have a list of who was in the hospital because, when I called for names, nobody knew how to operate the system and therefore couldn't tell me anything. Since I was driving near one hospital I thought I'd stop in and see whether I could recognize anyone by name or face. (I've been at this parish long enough to be able to do that by now – at least parishioners I see regularly, either in church or in the hospital.) You can say that I went in not knowing whom I was supposed to be visiting. For that reason I traversed the corridors with a greater sense of observation than usual, which prompted me to notice and greet hospital staff members. I did see one woman whose name looked familiar. Although it turned out she was not a parishioner, she was from another parish and was the mother of a man whom I knew well. Later I found out that she hadn't been visited by a priest for a couple of days, so she was glad to see me.
As I headed toward the lobby ready to leave, it occurred to me: did I forget to walk through that one section? I had an appointment coming up, so (thought I to myself) I'd better get going. But wouldn't it be my luck if I found out a parishioner was on that unit and I never saw him! I guess you could say I listened to my heart, because I decided to go back up to the section I thought I hadn't checked.
As a result of that decision, I got to visit a relative of one of our deceased priests of happy memory. I shared fond memories of our acquaintance, dating back to when I was first ordained and would see him along my travels and at priest gatherings.
Then, as I passed another room, the occupant had her back to me (she was seated in a wheelchair) but her visitor noticed me. I wondered whether she might be a parishioner because I thought I recognized her name, but it turns out she wasn't. Her visitor, however, began to tell me that she was intrigued by my beard. She figured I was Catholic, but wondered for a moment whether I was an Orthodox Jew. I assured her that I was not, adding that others have mistaken me for an Amish person, or perhaps an Orthodox Christian. (And to think that I trimmed the beard a couple of weeks ago!)
There was nothing profoundly spiritual about the beard comments, but the rest of the story has spiritual ramifications: I came into a situation with a certain openness, and, I believe, was rewarded with experiences I might have missed had I been in a different frame of soul. Now I don't claim to be any sort of spiritual master, especially as my spiritual condition fluctuates throughout the course of any given day; but there is something to following your heart and leading with it.