Once upon a time there was born a story that is said to be true, but no one really knows for sure. Like so many stories that we know, it is true in the deep spiritual message that it carries, if not exactly in the strict historical sense of the setting in which it is placed. I am choosing to relate it during this Christmas season because my present situation reminds me of the story just about every day. I remember it in its San Diego setting, because that is where I first heard it. When I checked out the Google reference, I found out that what I have been taking for undeniable, non-negotiable historical truth for all these years is a parable that serves all of us who know the story, regardless of the source or the setting with which we connect it.
There was, and still is, a magnificent church in one of the toughest parts of the city of San Diego. The church, like many inner city churches sat on a magnificent piece of real estate. It has a nice, well-groomed lawn, neat shrubs and hedges and is generally very well kept. In the middle of the front lawn, dead center in front of the tabernacle on a beeline down the spine of the church stands this marvelous statue of Christ. One day, a long time ago, this statue was stolen. Clean as a whistle with not a clue left behind. The entire city and county turned its attention to finding this treasure that was not only a church property, but a symbol of the unity of the local community as well as the entire region. The search was not easy and time passed, in fact, a lot of time passed, and the statue remained unclaimed, and never replaced because it was always believed that the Savior would find His way back to His people..
One morning, several years after the disappearance and not long before Christmas, there was the statue. Intact except that the hands had been cloven clean off the arms at the wrists. People came to daily Holy Mass and were astounded that their statue had returned. They were also stirring a mixture of anger and relief inside of themselves. Anger at the vandalism that had claimed the hands but relief that they had their Savior back in their midst. The buzz was more like a roar. The present pastor was inundated with all kinds of suggestions about what to do with the statue and what to do with the perpetrators should they ever be found.
Christmas was drawing nigh and the pastor wanted to close the drama in a way fitting to the season. He prayed and he prayed. He consulted the bishop and his brother priests about the situation. No one came up with a solution that made his soul comfortable. Just a few hours before Midnight Mass on Christmas, Jesus gave him the inspiration that he needed. He was flooded with peace and happiness because now he knew what God wanted, and, might he say in no uncertain terms, needed.
The time for the Midnight Mass came. All the preliminary ceremonies and rites went off without a hitch. The baby Jesus was laid in His manger with a smile somewhat sweeter this year than in the few years past. The pastor had a glow on his face that had the congregation fired up too. Came the time for the homily. The happy pastor went to the pulpit, zealous and burning with the fire of God's house in his heart. He stood up straight and instead of preaching, he recounted the story of the stolen statue. A dropped pin would have sounded like a canon during the telling of the story. Then the pastor stopped talking because he was overtaken with emotion. He now had to announce his solution to God's people. He gathered himself and in a voice trembling, but forceful, pronounced his (and that of Jesus) decision: "We have a new statue to replace the old one." Murmurs in the church, but then quickly, heavenly silence again. "It is entitled, 'I have no hands but yours." The pastor could not see, too many tears. He couldn't hear anything either and wondered if he had gone deaf of a sudden. He had no sooner wiped one eye dry that a roaring chorus of AMEN's shook the rafters of the large church. God's people standing and shouting AMEN over and over again for minutes on end.
There is not a Catholic soul in San Diego who has ever contested the pastor's decision. True or not, the parish in question has a reputation, and deservedly so, for being the most socially active parish in the entire diocese. There is a statue to back this story up in front of the church of Christ the King. Everyone in that parish believes this story to be theirs. It has some variations, but, they point out, we have the statue to prove it.
Part two: This is the historically true section.
What's with the picture at the head of the story?
Almost four years ago my wife and I were minding our own business working for a pastor in Fremont, California. One day the pastor of St. Christopher parish in Moreno Valley, California called and asked us to move to Southern California to help him in this parish of over 6,000 families. It's too long a story for now, but, we came. In the process of gathering things to move, we found a plaster casting of the Christ that you see in the center of the picture. We had never encountered it before, but there it was. We looked at one another and wordlessly communicated all that had to be known at the moment. Since that moment, that handless casting of Jesus is a center piece of the Bible Meditation Corner of our dwelling. It always takes prominence on the first Sunday of Advent. This year it is highlighted by two miniature Nativity replicas, one Chinese and one (the plaster shell), Italian, from Assisi.
Jesus and your guardian angel do not want to see you crying at my funeral...not unless you can prove to them that it is out of the joy of seeing that I have gone to heaven. Capeesh?