Update to this old post below. As part of my World Day of Prayer for Vocations homily this weekend, I used the story of the kid in the library. Just for fun, I looked him up to see if I could find out what he is up to thirty years later. I found his LinkedIn page. He's an employment counselor. How fitting!
The other day there was a program on TV about St. Maria Goretti. At one point it showed a picture of the priest who gave Maria her first Holy Communion. He looked like a regular, unremarkable priest. I was thinking about him a little. In all of the joys and struggles of his life, whatever they were, in all of the highs and lows of his vocation, that particular moment, when he ministered first Holy Communion to Maria Goretti, was probably one of the most important moments of his life. What I mean is that it was so from God's perspective, from the point of view of the larger economies of grace.
I think that we're often unaware of the way God wishes to make instruments of us in particular moments with one another. God knows that it works better this way, without the interior tangles of pious self-awareness. In the economies by which God pours out his own sanctity in the world, we never know how God is making use of us.
Here's an example from my own life. When I was a senior in college I was considering religious life. There was another kid among the philosophy majors who had been a seminarian. I didn't really know him. One night we ran into each other in the library. He asked me if it was true, that I was thinking of entering religious life. I said that it was. "Good luck with your vocation," he said.
For him it was surely an offhand comment, but for me it made a big difference. Your vocation. It made the whole business real. I had been considering religious life, for sure, but as my idea. The idea of being a Franciscan friar attracted me, and so I was thinking of trying it out. I remember standing there after the guy walked away, jarred by the idea of having a vocation, a call from God. He had named something for me with a clarity that I hadn't known. God used him to accomplish an important grace for me at that moment, probably without his having any idea.
This is why it's good to pray that God guide our speech and interaction with others, and that we work whatever spiritual practices we need to stay open and attentive when we are with one another. Nevertheless, we may not be aware of the graces God works through us, and mercifully so. God keeps us ignorant of these movements a lot of the time, saving us not only from temptations to vanity but also keeping us from messing up the plainness of grace with the clumsiness of self-conscious piety. So we may get to heaven and find out that the most graced moments of our lives were things we hadn't even thought about. In fact, we may as well presume that this will be the case; it will help us to be humble on this pilgrimage and keep us from taking what we know of ourselves as graced before God, which is very little, too seriously.