Flat tire fails to deflate priest's mission in Ferguson

Father Art Cavitt's day had gone pretty much as planned.

He handled duties as executive director of the St. Charles Lwanga Center and as pastor at St. Nicholas Parish, and he would end the workday by leading the monthly archdiocesan "Faith In Ferguson" prayer service at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ferguson -- just 11.6 miles and a 17-minute drive from St. Nicholas via Interstate 70.

Father Art left in plenty of time to arrive early, kibitz and relax a bit before the 4:30 prayer service, but ...

"I got as far as Grand Avenue when I hear, 'Plup, plup, plup,'" he said. "I know what the sound is."

A flat tire.

"It is every bit of 3:45 or so," he said.

Panic mode. Though AAA told him help would arrive in 20 minutes, he doubted he would get to the church in time for the service. He called organizer Sister Cathy Doherty with the bad news and figured Our Lady of Guadalupe's pastor, Father John-Paul Hopping, would pinch-hit.

"I thought Triple A would fix me, and I would just go back home," he said.

The thought was fleeting as inspiration followed.

"I thought, 'Perhaps you have something to say,'" he said. "Perhaps you should keep on trucking and say what you intended to say in the first place."

So, it was that Father Art led the fifth "Faith In Ferguson" service, with an assist from the Holy Spirit. AAA arrived on schedule and made the fix, and Father Art arrived just a few minutes late, his heart pounding but having the appropriate words for a gathering 100 strong. Only the Spirit makes it so.

In a powerful reflection, Father Art spoke primarily of freedom, an important topic in Black History Month and also the subject in the reading of St. Paul's letter to the Galatians that he read at the service: "For freedom, Christ has set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. ... But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

For the talk in the city where protests occurred last year after a police officer shot an unarmed African-American 18-year-old, he drew inspiration from the reading as well as a recent viewing the movie "Selma," about the civil rights marches of 50 years ago.

"It struck me ... to talk about freedom and our road to freedom in the midst of those obstacles that keep us back otherwise," he said, using his flat tire as an example. "In a minute, a good-hearted priest was ready to turn around and go back home, but he freed himself, with the power of God, from his anxiety, from what he might otherwise have said, 'Sister Cathy, it's on you. Father John, it's on you. I'm done. I can't get there' -- to free oneself from the chains of the obstacles one puts on himself."

Father Art described the "level of freedom" people attain by determining how much uncontrollable situations in the world today -- locally, nationally and internationally -- "affect us."

"So that we can keep identifying ourselves as children of God and face the '-isms' that we can't seem to do anything about," he said. "Examples of our freedom might free somebody else of their racisms and sexisms. The way we walk and talk ... and carry ourselves as people of God might inspire somebody else to say, 'Hey, I want some of that. I want some of that joy. I want some of that self-assuredness. Where does it come from? He looks like he's radiating from the sun.'"

The marchers in Selma had such a freedom -- to march despite their fear.

"We call that courage," Father Art said. "That's a level of freedom, not to be completely free of fear but to be free of an obstacle that may well be myself, holding me back because I'm unsure and afraid."

God supplies the tools to address the obstacles -- the Eucharist, Mass and sacraments.

"We have to let the treasures of our faith work for us so we have a level of freedom to face the '-isms,' to face the difficulties, to face the hard truths in our homes, in our jobs, in our government, in our church," he said. "God has given us the power not to be our own worst enemies."

And the power on this day not to let a flat tire stop a good-hearted priest.

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