One night in New York City I was standing outside the Schubert Theatre during the play's intermission. The tuxedoed gentlemen were in an intense discussion with the evening-gowned ladies on the influence of Schopenhauer on Samuel Beckett's Theatre of the Absurd. I was about to deliver a timeless observation that would have precluded further discussion on the subject for at least a hundred years when an old woman peddling Variety newspapers approached. She was wearing sneakers and a cab driver's cap. I thrust a coin into her hand and snatched the paper. "Could I talk with you for a minute, Father?" she implored.

In those days I always wore the clerical collar. I know I could not distinguish myself by my virtues, but I could by my clothing. I wore the Roman collar while taking a shower and placed it under my pajamas while I slept.

"Yes," I snapped, "just wait a minute."

As I turned around to my friends who were breathlessly awaiting my finale riposte, I heard the old woman say, "Jesus wouldn't have talked to Mary Magdalene like that." She disappeared down the street.

The magnitude of what had happened hit me inside the theatre. I had been so preoccupied with my own status that I treated the old woman like a vending machine. I put a coin in her hand and out popped a magazine. I had shown no appreciation for the service she performed, no interest in her life, and an appalling lack of regard for her personal dignity. Preoccupation with my self-importance coupled with a failure to treat her with cordial love impregnated with respect for the sacredness of her unique personality only exacerbated her own sense of worthlessness and further damaged her self-esteem.

Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish