Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Light Of Revelation In A Small Mississippi Town

Published January 12, 2006

I once drove from Louisiana to Chicago and made stops at our monasteries in Iowa and Kentucky on the way.

Feeling hungry, I pulled off Interstate 59 and drove into a small town called Ellisville, Mississippi. It looked to be a very small and old town, with one main street that had a row of buildings from the pre-Civil War era. There seemed to be a sleepiness to the place. People moved slowly, and not much was going on. If you are ever near there, it is right by Soso, Mississippi.

I spotted a pizzeria and parked the car and walked in. I was shown a place to sit by a waitress, and she soon brought me a few slices of pizza and a Coke.

The place was crowded, and I noticed that there were a lot of kids and most of them were severely handicapped. They had to be helped by those who were caring for them. Some were teenagers and had to be spoon-fed. There was one little boy who could breath only through an opening in his neck. There was a young girl on a stretcher for whom movement was possible only through the efforts of those who carried her in.

I asked the waitress where the kids came from, and she smiled and said that there was a special school right nearby. She called the kids and those who cared for them “angels, special angels.”

Three soldiers walked in, dressed in their olive green and brown camouflage uniforms. The same waitress showed them to a booth right near mine. They smiled at me and nodded their heads in a gesture of hello and then sat down. They ordered their food. When the waitress brought their plates, she placed them on the table, and before the men touched a morsel of food, they bowed their heads and prayed.

I watched them as they said their grace before meals, and it was as if a window to some light of revelation opened before me. I am a so-called “professional religious” and had not even thought of grace.

I looked about me at the handicapped kids and at those who so lovingly cared for them, and it struck me how many things I have been given in life and how I take it all so for granted.

Something of grace filled that little place for me that day.

Jesus speaks peace to those who doubt in the Gospel. He offers Himself as peace, though it would take some time for his disciples to figure that out. It would take them time to know that the Gift of peace is Jesus Himself. It is a living Gift that is Himself and not a treaty or a calm in the storm apart from Him. The disciples would experience that gift in many and different ways.

I looked at the soldiers who prayed. I looked at these men who would, if asked, lay down their lives for what they believe to be a way to peace for you and for me. I looked at men and women caring for young people who will never dance, never know the freedom of movement and the pleasures of family as do so many of us. I looked at that little boy with a hole in his throat who smiled when the woman who cared for him kissed him and spoon fed him some ice cream.

These days words of war and peace fill the media, and we can easily be overwhelmed because so many things seem beyond the control of any one of us to accomplish a sense of real and lasting peace.

But as the disciples were soon to discover, God is driving the bus of creation and His Kingdom is being realized through time. It is a long, loving ride, and we do not really understand the bends in the road. More importantly, the ride is being realized through each of us, for Jesus lives in and through us.

He is the bowed head of the soldier. He is the hand that feeds a child and the kiss that brings a smile.

And He is the One in me who will try to remember to say a prayer of thanks every day at meals for the rest of my life and remembering as I do so the soldiers who taught me something of God and peace and remembering in the seemingly insignificant place of a pizzeria in Ellisville, Mississippi—a place that had for me more revelatory power than a cathedral.


Father James Stephen Behrens, OCSO, is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. He is the author of “Grace Is Everywhere: Reflections of an Aspiring Monk,” which is available at the monastery Web store at