On a Sunday morning more than a century ago, young Josip Broz was given the honor of serving as altar boy at his Croatian church. When it came time for Josip to hand the glass cruet of wine to the parish priest who was serving mass, something went wrong.
The vessel slipped from his fingers and shattered on the floor. It was a dreadful moment, made far worse by the fact that the priest reflexively drew back his hand and slapped Josip across the face. “Don’t ever come back here!” the priest whispered fiercely.
Josip never did go back. Years later he would emerge on the international stage as Marshall Tito, the totalitarian dictator who ruled Yugoslavia for almost three decades.
At almost the same time in another part of the world, a similar drama was being played out. An altar boy at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois, was chosen to present the cruet of wine to the visiting bishop, who happened to be presiding at mass that morning. Once again, almost as if it were happening in slow motion, the vessel somehow slipped through his fingers and shattered on the floor.
Years later, as a grown-up, the boy would reflect on that moment: “There is no atomic explosion that can equal the intensity of decibels in the noise and explosive force of a wine cruet falling on a marble floor of a cathedral in the presence of a bishop.”
But things were different this time. The bishop, John Spaulding, looked at the boy with a twinkle in his eye and whispered, “Don’t worry. One day you will be just as I am.”
He was right. The altar boy would ultimately write fifty books. He would pioneer Christian television programming in the United States. His weekly show was called Life is Worth Living. We know him as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
The words we speak have the life-changing power to crush or to heal. When you think about it, both the priest in Croatia and the bishop in Illinois turned out to be right. In those traumatic moments, their words were able to generate hope or snuff it out. Speak carefully today. Speak with kindness. Look for opportunities to turn a disaster into an experience of grace. You never know who might be standing right in front of you.
-Rev Dr William Lewis