Monday, October 9, 2006

A Coat of Many Colors is a Blessing Indeed

St. Christopher Parish International Festival
October 7 and 8, 2006

Kickoff of the fiftieth year of existence for the community,
A community of many colors

I present you with one of my favorite "Country and Western" songs.
The Lyrics are from Dolly Parton
She wrote them with her hand,
Because her heart had lost her pen.

Don't just read them, listen to them,
Even though you don't know the tune.
They will tell you more about yourself
Than they will about Dolly, herself.
They will also tell you about the truth
That we all live here, at Ol' St. Christoph...

Back through the years
I go wonderin once again
Back to the seasons of my youth
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use
There were rags of many colors
Every piece was small
And I didnt have a coat
And it was way down in the fall
Momma sewed the rags together
Sewin every piece with love
She made my coat of many colors
That I was so proud of
As she sewed, she told a story
From the bible, she had read
About a coat of many colors
Joseph wore and then she said
Perhaps this coat will bring you
Good luck and happiness
And I just couldnt wait to wear it
And momma blessed it with a kiss


My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

So with patches on my britches
Holes in both my shoes
In my coat of many colors
I hurried off to school
Just to find the others laughing
And making fun of me
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
And oh I couldnt understand it
For I felt I was rich
And I told them of the love
My momma sewed in every stitch
And I told em all the story
Momma told me while she sewed
And how my coat of many colors
Was worth more than all their clothes
But they didnt understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me

I had a similar experience in my childhood. It was a material experience, a story for another day. I have been living the same experience through the years, but it has turned into a spiritual one.

Like Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob (Genesis 30:23-24) I too was blessed to wear a splendid coat. I wore it well for a while, but unlike Joseph who triumphed over his brothers' betrayal and wore coats many times more beautiful than the first, I preferrred to return to the comfort of my rags and tatters. Like Dolly, I found true treasure in honest love and blessings that only true love can generate.

Coming off the experience of the International Festival of St. Christopher's parish as an observer, I find myself thinking about all these things because I have seen so much love and dedication fall into place to make this event successful. I have seen the manifestation of the different colors of ministry develop a tapestry of stunning beauty. I have seen the love streams of people come together and flow toward the sea that is the Bosom of Our Father God.

One of the saints of the parish told me today as the clean-up was nearly finished, "This thing worked because we did it by ourselves, for ourselves and that is why we are all so happy."

A Catholic parish is a mystery. It is a spiritual experience. It is a quilt of rags, some silk, some velvet, some cotton, some wool and some, ugh, polyesther. A Catholic parish is a gift from God that is like the cardboard box that enthralls young children. They prefer the box because they don't quite understand the gift yet. I only knew one person in the world who would give small gifts in big boxes to his grandchildren. That's right, my very own grandfather. He worked for the church for 50 years.

His ministry? He built beautiful cabinetry that no one but the priests saw. The priests though, were out there telling the world that this one handed cabinet maker was a saint. Had my grandfather ever heard that, he would have died laughing. But the whole parish knew that the priests felt this way about him. He was the gift, and everyone was enjoying the box.

During this same period of time there was an old spinster who cooked and kept house for the priests of the parish. She did it for about 65 years. She had come to the U.S. from France and the French Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette who were in charge of the parish gave her refuge...65 years worth! Her ministry? She was so kind, so reserved, so modest and so humble that everyone in the whole parish called her by her first compound name, Marie-Luce, and bowed when they said it. She never made a decision that she did not have the authority to make, she never "protected" the priests from people who came to see them, she cooked for people who had to suffer through funerals when times were tight and she always attended the rosary at the wake of a parishioner, no matter who it was.

How do I know this? My grandfather used to wonder how sane Marie-Luce really was? He used to say, "If that is what it takes to be a saint, I don't want to go there. You got another beer?" Finally, when Marie-Luce had been there for fifty years, the entire parish threw her a very lavish party at the best hotel in town. She felt blessed by God that her youngest sister from France was able to come. She was the gift and everyone was enjoying the box.

This International Festival made me look around. I wandered around looking for the one-handed cabinet maker and the saintly housekeeper. Let me tell you, they are around. We don't see them much because that's the way they want it. The music people, the paint-ball guys, the Kenyan family, the "food runners" who kept going back and forth to town to assure that the booth did not come up short, the Guamanians who had to suffer my telling them that they goofed because they didn't have SPAM "sangwiches", and I suppose that I could go on, but hey, this is only one event.

Do you want me to bore you with the "unknowns" who make the SONshine Summer Bible Camp a success? How about the unseen catechists who dedicate themselves for our children for ten months of the year? How about the Food Bank team that rarely gets any recognition because we sometimes forget that this is a ministry too? Am I forgetting the Pre-School? Yeah, and I have to remember to tell you that we have been developing a very serious ministry of baby-sitting at St. Christopher. What about the people who cook every Sunday to maintain the cultural environment of conviviality around the church on Sunday? Enough about food already, we have to remember the Eaters Anonymous group that is here every Monday. All these people are the gift and we spend so much time playing with the box.

I want you to notice that most people who dedicate themselves to God around here make Him present to us without our knowing it as it is happening. We have to step back and feel it only after it happens. That's God's way. He is the Spirit who drives us all. He is the Spirit of our Baptism who sanctifies us all through the dedication of our brothers and sisters in the community.

This last International Festival was a holy event. It was just us and God. It doesn't get any better than that.

I thank everyone who worked to make God present to us as we walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere. You have all practiced the ministry of your baptismal priesthood.

Keep it up and I will not spend any of my tears at your funeral...but then again, you're all younger than I am, so when you get to the Pearly Gates, just say, "I know Paul".

I will be sure to tell him that you are the gift, not the box.
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