June 14, 2019

Gift of friendship—human and divine—is at heart of book

Reviewed by Mike Krokos

Cover of Then Something Wondrous Happened: Unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with GodIf you’ve enjoyed reading John Shaughnessy’s work through the years, then you will certainly enjoy his latest book, Then Something Wondrous Happened: Unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with God.

As assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, for the last 13 years, Shaughnessy has shared countless genuine, heartfelt stories of faith that have touched readers.

An inspiring selection of these stories is included in Then Something Wondrous Happened.

As the title suggests, friendships with others and with God are at the heart of the stories in the book.

“In many ways, God makes his goodness and grace known to us in the world through our friendships,” Shaughnessy writes in the book’s introduction. “Our closest friends welcome us, lift us and accept us as we are, with all our faults and limitations. They stand by us when we reach the edges of life, love and faith. Our best friends also encourage, inspire and challenge us to reach for something more in our lives.”

Then there is our relationship with God, the author notes. “God takes this gift of friendship to an even higher level. He offers his friendship to each of us, and he offers it unconditionally. No matter what, God accepts us with all his mercy and love,” Shaughnessy writes. “He’s always there for us, even in our darkest times. He invites and challenges us to deepen the purpose of our lives, our bonds with other people, and our relationship with him.”

The book includes the story of the late Macklin Swinney and the friendship he developed with Father Rick Nagel, the pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, after the 26-year-old Swinney learned he had been diagnosed with the most severe stage of skin cancer.

After joining his grandparents at Mass one Sunday at St. John, Swinney felt called to be received into the full communion of the Church.

As the story goes, he and Father Nagel develop a friendship, and Swinney, despite his precarious life situation, tells the priest he is “going to give up fear” during Lent that year.

Stunned and inspired, Father Nagel says, “I was struck by how God had worked so beautifully in that moment to have this young man in his wisdom say, ‘I am going to give up fear.’ ”

Through the story of Swinney and Father Nagel, we see how overcoming fear through a life of faith serves as an inspiration for us. Their friendship provides a witness for us of how God was present in the situation and in their lives.

There is also the story of Mark Peredo and Luke Hutchins, whose lives intersected when the strangers were involved in a serious car accident in 2015 that left them both seriously injured and emotionally and physically scarred.

Through his pain and suffering, Peredo feels a need to reach out and connect with the other person involved in the crash.

When they meet in 2017, they learn of each other’s difficult life situations since the accident, which was caused by Hutchins suffering an epileptic seizure while driving.

Instead of condemning Hutchins, Peredo stuns him by sharing a plan to help them both heal their brokenness: Walking the Camino, Spanish for “the Way,” together, which Peredo had done alone in late 2016. The ancient spiritual walking pilgrimage from France to Spain takes several weeks and ends at the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.

“I knew I was still broken. I wasn’t whole. I was hoping I could create a way to make something great out of something bad—and he would be a partner with me in this,” Peredo says.

“Through nobody’s fault, both of us had almost been killed in the accident,” Peredo continues. “I wanted to do this for myself and him—to walk as brothers, to create something positive for our futures.”

What follows is a beautiful story of two strangers who become spiritual brothers as they spend 40 days walking 460 miles to find peace and healing. Their friendship, too, provides a witness for us of how God was present.

These are two examples of the book’s many heartfelt stories that feature friendships that begin in surprising ways and lead to unexpected graces.

An added treasure is a chapter featuring a beautiful essay written by Shaughnessy’s daughter Kathleen, who shows us how to “Rise and Soar” when life’s challenges weigh heavily on us.

As you peruse the book, you will learn the gift of friendship—the human and the divine—is at the heart of Then Something Wondrous Happened.

At the end of each chapter is an “invitation/challenge” from Shaughnessy offering thoughts designed to help readers step outside their comfort zones, including “Laugh with God,” “Put Your Life on the Line for Love” and “Do Something that Takes Your Breath Away.” If readers take that leap of faith, we believe taking on those challenges may serve as a new and healthy way for them to approach life and deepen their relationships with God and others.

If you’re someone looking for inspirational stories to remind you that we can all learn from others’ journeys, this book is for you.

No matter where you are in life, we encourage everyone to embrace these words shared by the author at the end of one of the book’s chapters: “Live abundantly while believing ‘the best day of your life’ is still to come.”

(Mike Krokos is editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. To purchase a copy of Then Something Wondrous Happened: Unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with God, go to www.amazon.com. The book can also be purchased at The Celtic Cross Catholic Gift Shop in Indianapolis. Cost is $12.99.)  †

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