"Father, do you believe in aliens?"
The question caught my attention, especially because the student (of chemical engineering) asking it claimed to be a fallen-away Baptist now-turned atheist.
I thought, "Well, that's enough of an opening right there!"
A lively conversation went back and forth on the topic, but soon turned to matters of more existential import--life in general, specifically the purpose of human life. Avoiding anything too explicitly "religious" for the sake of my young but unconvinced atheist, I sensed an opening at one stage and said on a whim:
"We were created to be loved--do you think this?"
Instead of a philosophical response, this time the answer was awkward silence and eyes filling with tears.
The conversation ended abruptly and uncomfortably after that, and I thought, "Way to go, Father Clumsy...you'll never see this student ever again."
As I said goodbye, I couldn't think of anything to offer accept a house blessing for her and the new place she just moved into with her six guy roommates--none of whom are Catholic. "Uh, okay. Bye," she said, and left.
Should I have been suprised when the phone rang the next day, and she said that her household wanted me to come and bless the house?
Well, I was surprised. But I also marveled at the strange ways of God, who took me from aliens to booking an improbable house blessing with seven students who had probably never talked to a Catholic priest before.
Soon I was whispering "Wash me O God, and I shall be clean..." and walking around the most typical college house you've ever seen, sprinkling Bob Marley posters and lacrosse sticks with holy water, as slack-jawed and wide eyed college students stumbled nervously in tow behind me as we marched from room to room.
I can't think of another time in my three years as a priest when I have been more conscious of the fact that priests are ordained and sent not just to Catholics, but to the every human person, to the whole world.
Kind of like aliens.