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Jul 27, 2021 404 Graziano Marcheschi, USA
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Help From Beyond

Sometimes it’s the little miracles that bolster our faith and prepare us for the hard moments in life.

In our mid-twenties, when my wife and I were discerning a call to move from Chicago to Eureka Springs, Arkansas with members of our Catholic Charismatic community, we decided to visit Eureka to see what kind of housing was available. Two of our community members hosted us and showed us around. After a week, excited about our future in this picturesque town, we started our return trip to Chicago to make final preparations for our move to the Ozark mountains.

Twists & Turns

A few hours into our trip, engine trouble forced us off the road. The service station had good news—it was not a major problem, and bad news—they couldn’t get the replacement part till the next day.

We had to get a room at a nearby motel. The next day, with our car in good working order, we headed out a good bit lighter—money-wise that is. The motel room and the repair work used up most of our cash. We’d barely have enough for food, and since Nancy was pregnant, skipping a meal was not an option. I had no credit cards in those days.

We were sailing down the road when we were stopped by a state trooper. He flagged us down, along with five other cars, for speeding. One car after another, we pulled to the side of the road awaiting our tickets. I knew nothing about how to pay an out of state ticket nor, more importantly, how to dispute the speeding charge. Very politely, the officer said, “You can go to the courthouse if you want. Get off at the next exit, follow the signs into town, and you’ll see the courthouse.”

Reminiscence

The year before, Nancy and I took a delayed honeymoon to the Italian town where I was born. On the way there, we stopped at Assisi to visit our favorite Saints, Francis and Clare. In the basilica of Santa Chiara (Clare’s Italian name) we saw her actual golden yellow hair preserved in a glass case. Nancy turned to me and said, “If we ever have a girl, I want to name her Chiara.” I heartily agreed and looked forward to the day Saint Clare would have a namesake in our family.

As we neared the exit, knowing we couldn’t pay the traffic ticket, Nancy and I turned to Santa Chiara. “Dear Saint Clare,” we prayed, “help us get out of paying this ticket. Please help us.” Half-jokingly I added, “Saint Clare, we’ll definitely name our baby after you… even if it’s a boy!”

Immediately, the sign pointing to the town came into view. We could not believe our eyes. The officer had not told us he was sending us to St. Clair, Missouri! Not till recently did I learn it was named for a Revolutionary War general. But our naïve eyes saw the “St” followed by “Clair” and Saint Clare filled our hearts. We did not notice the difference in spelling of what we assumed was our beloved Saint’s name. This town of 4,000 in the American Bible-belt, we thought, was named for the Saint of Assisi! Overjoyed, we were convinced we had chosen well in turning to our dear Chiara.

Edging Off

I rushed toward the courthouse hoping to beat the other drivers so I could plead to the judge for mercy, but immediately the others pulled into the parking lot alongside us. When the courthouse clerk asked how I wanted to pay my fine, I said I didn’t think I was speeding and asked if I could speak with the judge. Though surprised, she said I could and nodded to a man seated at a desk across the room. As he took a long black robe from a nearby hat-stand, the clerk motioned us toward the courtroom where the man I had just seen was already sitting behind the bench wearing judges’ robes.

He called the first “speeder.” She insisted she had not been speeding and, to my delight, the judge was understanding, even agreeing that sometimes police officers make mistakes and innocent drivers get wrongly ticketed. I was much encouraged until he said, but he is the police officer and I must take his word. Your fine is seventy-five dollars.

The second defendant tried the opposite tack; all sugar and kindness, she explained the good officer must have made a mistake. Again, the judge indulged, conceding that officers are not perfect and sometimes even the radar equipment fails. But again, he turned on a dime reminding us that the officer is the duly appointed officer of the law. Her fee was eighty-five dollars.

I was next, and I started with a question. “Your honor, is it possible for me to be found not guilty here today.” “Oh no,” he said. “The clerk said you wanted to speak with the judge, so I’m happy to listen. But no, I can’t find you not guilty. We would need a jury trial for that.”

My only choices, it turned out, were to plead guilty and pay my fine or plead not guilty and pay my fine. There was no leaving without paying the fine. If I wanted a trial, I would have to return to St. Clair.

When Hopelessly Lost

“My wife and I are moving to the area in September,” I told him. “I’m willing to return for a trial.” The look on his face told me I was making progress. But suddenly Nancy rose to her feet, protruded her pregnant tummy, and called out for all to hear, “Oh honey, don’t try to reason with him. He doesn’t care about us. He doesn’t care that our car broke down and we spent all our money on a motel room and repair costs. Don’t try to reason with him, he just wants our money.” Try as I did to hush her lament, she forged on.

When I turned back toward the judge convinced hope was lost, he motioned to me to approach the bench. As I neared, he asked, “You’re planning to move to this area?”

“Yes, your honor. We’ll be moving to Eureka Springs in September.”

He reached under his robe into his pants pocket and pulled out a business card. Handing it to me he said, “The next time you drive past St. Clair, give me a call.”

I stood there, uncertain what to do. He gestured for me to go. I still did not understand. He motioned again, more forcefully. Tentatively, Nancy and I slowly left the courtroom.

As we approached the counter, the clerk asked, “What did the judge say?”

“He told me the next time we drive through town I should call him.”

She looked annoyed. “What’s your fee?” she asked.

“He didn’t give me one,” I said.

She looked as befuddled as I had been. “This has never happened before,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with your ticket.” She looked at us and said, “Ok, I guess you can go.”

Nancy and I entered our car in disbelief, stunned by what had happened.

But we knew who to thank. When we are young and less mature in faith, God often blesses us with small signs, like this, that strengthen our faith and ready us for the challenges life inevitably brings. Nancy and I received many small signs in those early days with the Lord. They persuaded us that God cares even about the smaller things in life—not just the cancers or heart attacks, not just the foreclosure or lost job. And God uses his faithful ones, the Saints, to be channels of his grace. As we grow in the Lord and our faith matures, we may see fewer signs because those early ones have built a foundation of solid faith that enables us to “walk by faith and not by sight (or signs)” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

But on that day long ago, in a town we were sure bore her name, we prayed that Santa Chiara would help us. And we have no doubt she did. Five months later our daughter was born in the Eureka Springs, Arkansas hospital. She was christened Chiara Faith.

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Graziano Marcheschi

Graziano Marcheschi serves as the Senior Programming Consultant for Shalom World. He speaks nationally and internationally on topics of liturgy and the arts, scripture, spirituality, and lay ecclesial ministry. Graziano and his wife Nancy are blessed with two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren and live in Chicago.

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