by Tom Hoopes
The day I learned the power of the cross, I was unemployed and desperate. More than desperate, I was panicked and near despair.
I had been looking for work in Washington, D.C., for weeks, and every promising lead had vanished. Not only was I looking for work, I was praying for work. And not only was I praying for work, I was begging God, in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour every day.
My wedding was two months away, and I absolutely had to get a job. But God wasn’t listening.
I had a job nearly a year earlier, when I had driven with my girlfriend, April, late at night out of San Francisco and surprised her by taking her into the stunning Corpus Christi Monastery church in Menlo Park to pop the question.
Behind the convent chapel grill, the sisters were singing a song for vespers, but I had called ahead and they knew what I was up to. I saw their habited heads bob and twitter when I knelt beside April. I took out the engagement ring and nervously asked April if she would marry me.
She said “yes,” and after vespers was over, the mother superior came out to greet us and became the first person to know we were engaged. She hugged April, tears in her eyes, and promised to pray for us.
I also had a totally different order of cloistered nuns praying for me, too. I served Mass at the Cristo Rey Monastery in San Francisco, and I told one of the sisters through the grill that I had gotten engaged. The next day, I received the most intense and extensive spiritual bouquet I have ever seen, promising dozens of Rosaries, communions, short prayers, and sacrifices.
When I asked April’s parents for their blessing the day after I got engaged, they were very skeptical.
I was very young, they said. Yes, I was. She was going to Washington, D.C., they said. Indeed, she was — to get her master’s degree from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America.
I would have to support her, they said. I would, I promised. I knew I would. There were two convents of cloistered nuns praying for me to get a job. I was praying for me. But I wouldn’t just leave it to prayer. I knew I had to do my due diligence. I would blanket D.C. with resumes, speak to everyone I knew there, do whatever it took.
But now my time was almost up. I would have to return to California for the last weeks before the wedding. I had signed a lease on an apartment, but I had no way to pay for it. I would move in with my new wife, but we would have no way to afford groceries.
What are you, anyway? … “You’re supposed to be almighty. Yet you can’t find me a job?
Every time it looked like a job was about to materialize, it slipped away.
I had walked all over Washington, D.C., dripping with sweat in the July humidity, talking to anyone who might want to hire a writer — professional associations, congressional staffers, lobbyist groups, newspapers — anyone with whom I had any vague connection.
I ended each day with the most important person I had a connection with: Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I did a daily Holy Hour begging the one who said “seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9) to help me find the job I was seeking. Finally, I got fed up.
“What are you, anyway?” I asked. “You’re supposed to be almighty. Yet you can’t find me a job? Lots of people are getting jobs. People who have zero people praying for them and who don’t even give you a second thought. I have two dozen women who have given you their whole lives asking for a job for me. I’m spending an hour a day with you asking for a job. And I can’t have one? If being almighty means this, then what is the difference between being almighty and being powerless?”
It was then that I had a strong sense that I should open the Bible in front of me.
I reached out for it and opened it up to a page that was bookmarked. Something about the bookmark caught my eye and I ended up putting the Bible down.
Here is what the bookmark said:
The everlasting God in his wisdom has foreseen from eternity the cross that he now presents to you as a gift from his inmost heart. This cross he now sends you he has considered with his all-knowing eyes, understood with his divine mind, tested with his wise justice, warmed with his loving arms, and weighed with his own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you.
He has blessed it with his holy name, anointed it with his consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God. (St. Francis de Sales)
I got off my seat onto my knees and stared at the tabernacle, overawed by this answer to my prayer, my eyes filling up with tears.
I prayed, “Thank you for this cross. Thank you for intervening in my life. Thank you for teaching me that you are Almighty God and not an employment agency.”
I remembered a line from a Bob Dylan song that had convicted me ever since I had regained my faith in college. It was from his Christian phase, warning against treating God like an “errand boy” — someone you use to get what you want.
I did what God required. I carried the cross of having no job all through our wedding, and all through our honeymoon. We had booked a red-eye from California to Washington, D.C., nine days after the wedding, on the off-chance a job came through. I carried April across the threshold of our tiny studio apartment at 9:30 a.m. on a Monday. I called one of the employers I had never heard back from — a D.C.-area newspaper — and asked if I could have a job.
“Sure,” the editor said. “Can you come in right now?”
Not every answer to prayer is as loud and clear as this one was. I started working earlier than I would have at any of the other jobs I had pursued. I became a reporter, a job that allowed me after a year to be a press secretary to a congressman on Capitol Hill, who then became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — a powerful position. Those two jobs opened every door that followed in my career.
I remind myself of this story every time I doubt God. He is truly almighty — and we are tiny and insignificant. His plans are so vast that we can’t comprehend them, but we can know that he has a plan. And I share that St. Francis de Sales quote with everybody I know who is having a tough time.
Hang in there, it says. God hasn’t forgotten you. He has something in store for you that is different — and better for you — than anything you’ve dreamed up.