By LAURETTA HANNON, Commentary | Published April 3, 2023
It sounds like a joke, but a priest really did walk into my Waffle House that morning. He was an arresting figure–clad in a black cassock, exuding a commanding military air and, well, he radiated. Yes, I said he radiated. Before you decide I’m a nutjob, let me explain.
You see, his presence stirred something long buried and older than time within me. Something that threatened my whole orientation—the way I was raised and living in relationship to God; my disdain for church of any sort; and a strident bias against Catholicism.
Whatever was radiating from him had pierced me at my center, and I hungered for more of it. But I also knew it could dismantle my spiritual framework, a structure more than 40 years in the making.
So what did I do? I hid.
I sunk down in my booth at the back of the restaurant, relieved when he took a seat at the front. I finished my scattered and smothered hashbrowns with head down and tried to conjure a psychic force field around me that would render me invisible. Whatever it took to go unnoticed by the priest.
The next hurdle: how to stay under the radar when I got to the cash register which was in his vicinity. I’d have to rely on body language, so I paid the bill while looking like a hunted criminal–my back to everyone, a bundle of nerves, no eye contact or words with the cashier. Then a swift exit.
Despite being shaken by a soul-sized earthquake, I was A-OK with trying to forget it and return to normal. I mean, how could a religious dude in a Waffle House have such an effect? It had to be just my imagination. People do not radiate. And if my framework was coming down, that sounds like a lot of work. A lot of questions and questioning. I think I’ll pass and be glad I dodged the bullet.
At that point, you could sum up my belief system as “ABC”—Anything But Christianity. I grew up in a family that mercilessly mocked Christians. When my father saw a church sign that read, “Jesus is the Answer,” his retort was, “What the heck is the question?”
If asked if he’d been born again, the reply was, “Indeed, I am. A born-again agnostic!”
This from a man who had been a cradle Catholic from a devout family. He’d abandoned the faith before I was born, and there was no trace of it in our home. This gives you an idea of what formed my framework. The thought of being torn asunder was terrifying. I was not ready.
To be fair, I’d had some dalliances with the faith through writings by the saints and visits to the monastery in Conyers. However, I was just flirting with it, and the relationship never got serious.
But back to Waffle House. I returned the following week for my usual breakfast. Happily, the Man in Black was not there. As I checked out, the waitress said, “Oh by the way, did you notice the priest who was in here last Friday when you were?”
Those words made butterflies the size of pterodactyls hit my stomach. Consumed with anticipatory dread, I could only nod.
“He asked about you, wanted to know who you were. He was very curious about you.”
I had been busted. Exposed. Flat-out laid out for the future person I would become: a Catholic. Of all things, a Catholic? What is happening here? Further proof that God has a wild sense of humor and no one–I repeat no one–is a hopeless cause.
It would take several more years for my resistance and defiance to simmer down. You don’t go from “ABC” spirituality to the One True Church overnight.
So keep praying for those most hostile to the church founded by Jesus Christ. Stay encouraged. And by all means, treat your pastor to a nice meal soon at a Waffle House near you.
Lauretta Hannon is a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church, Cedartown. Named the “Funniest Woman in Georgia” by Southern Living Magazine, Hannon is the bestselling author of “The Cracker Queen–A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life.”