Wednesday, December 29, 2010



The other day I got an idea that struck me as something that is totally new to me and had never entered into my life before.  I have been rolling it around in my gourd since then and I have finally decided to try to put it down in concrete terms.  I have to tell you that it is once again another religious thought, or at least one that takes its meaning from my interpretation and understanding of a religious event.  I do mention that it is valuable to us in our daily lives.
I happened to be thinking of the Magi, the "Three Kings" who came to visit the Baby Jesus, per the Bible story with which we are all familiar.  This event is traditionally interpreted by professional Bible scholars as the moment when God enlightened the rest of the world, outside of Palestine, concerning the universal presence of His Son in the world.  This is the New Testament announcement of the presence of God to all humankind.  God had actually taken steps to make His Chosen People realize that they had a mission to others, but they never quite caught on.  Even in politics, none of the alliances that the Israelite kings tried worked out very well.  Now, in the Gospel stories we have "kings" coming to Jesus and bringing valuable gifts.  They recognize Him as a king also and they are warned to protect Him in a spiritual way.  The same way that Joseph had received his message from God.  Gotta love those dreams!
The thought that has been rattling around in my cage is this:  by giving gifts, they came to know Him better.  By giving gifts, they came to know His reason for being better.  I get the intuition that this is a way that God has of revealing Himself to us.  I think of the Old Testament sacrifices and the expectations of God regarding them.  The demands he puts on His Chosen People (us, really) are very strict and very bold.  Offerings must be offered to Him and to Him alone.  They must be the first born, unblemished male of the flock, not the runt.  By giving the least, we show that we love ourselves more than we love the one to whom we are giving the item.  Think of Cain.  When we think of giving a gift to someone, we look into ourselves and try our very best to understand what would make the greatest impact on the recipient.  This forces us to enlighten ourselves about the person.  Even if it is our spouse; our child; our parent.  When it comes time to give a gift, we realize just how little we know of the person to whom we want to offer it.  It is in preparing for the act of giving that we delve into ourselves to try to uncover some more of the mystery of the beloved who is destined to receive a part of us.  This preparatory period even creates a change in us.  We many times feel apprehensive about how the gift will be received.  We ask ourselves if it is proper, or if it is good enough, or if it "fits".   I wonder if the Gospel writer thought of all these things before putting his story down on paper.  I bet that God was thinking of it and saw to it that we too would come to understand it at some time in our lives.
Thanks for letting me share this experience of mine with you.  Let it be one more reason why you should not offer me tears at my funeral.  By reading this, you know that it is one gift that doesn't "fit."

The picture at the immediate left is a view of some of the 125 boxes prepared for the families who were judged to be the most in need of help at this time.  There were more than 125 families in the program, mainly through the food bank distribution center of the parish, but the overflow of about 100 families was channeled to two other Non-Profit Social/Spiritual programs who partner with the program at Holy Family.  The facilities of Holy Family cannot productively support more than 125 families.
Inquiring minds will perhaps be wondering how the parish gets to identify the families who can use the help offered by the parish.  The question, "What's in the boxes" may also arise.  Well, I'm about to tell you, so hang in there for a few moments more.
This program has been in action for nearly 30 years now (28+) at Holy Family parish.  It is an activity directly connected to the St. Vincent de Paul community active in the parish.  It was introduced by the members of the chapter of St. Vincent de Paul during the first year of the establishment of the charitable society's chapter at Holy Family.  The leader of the project is the same person who was there at the very beginning.  Her name is Terry Clark and she is standing tall for you right here, below and to the left.
They were taken on the very day when the 125 families who had been identified for the benefit of the program would come by and claim their basket. (See picture at the top)  Each container was personalized and contained items that would answer the most pressing needs of the recipients.  Some packages were intended for widows, some for elderly couples, some for families with children, some for shut-ins and some for people in circumstances that neither you nor I can imagine.  The people are identified through contacts made throughout the year by dedicated people who are called by God in a special way to visit parishioners door to door as a ministry.  Many are also found because parishioners report the situation either to Terry, to the Pastor or to a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society community directly.  When such information is delivered, the in-house visits begin and  will occur a few more times during the year.
The picture above was snapped a few short minutes before the real traffic would begin to move.  Terry was holding her trusty pencil so that she and her helper could keep a running tally of who took what and when.  Before this, Terry showed me around and introduced me to the packages neatly arranged on the floor (see above) and tagged for easy identification.  It was like letting me into her own home and letting me hug so many of her special friends.  In the short time that we spent together she told me the short version of how the "Adopt a Family" program started at Holy Family parish.  She told me how at first she would worry about money, but then learned to just throw it all into the hands of God Himself.  From that moment on, for 29 years, she has never had a worry.  Through the St. Vincent de Paul Community this program shares in four fund-raising events that are held each year.  Throughout the year, and mostly at Christmas many of the parishioners freely donate cash and kind for the program so that in the end, every needy person gets help.
Father Michael, Spiritual Father of Holy Family Parish
While I was listening to the story, I noticed that there were many people around helping.  Even young people.  Terry is glad to have them because some of us older specimens are not what we used to be when it comes to moving heavy stuff around.  All of the "volunteers" I saw were indeed from the parish territory and some of them were there to satisfy court orders to perform civil service hours for one reason or another.  As it turns out, there are some of the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Chapter in Holy Family Parish who help people under court orders by offering them work around the church for the duration of their sentence.  What was happening before my eyes was therefore an exercise of Christians helping one another in many more ways than one.  In the spirit of full disclosure, even I accepted a piping hot cup of fresh coffee which I consumed during my visit to the distribution site.

When all the volunteers were gathered and everything was ready to go, the pastor, Fr. Michael came into the hall, gave a short exhortation and a blessing of thanks to one and all, exchanged some polite pleasantries and exited right to allow God's work to proceed.  I distanced myself from Terry because she now had to focus on the task at hand, orderly distribution.  I remained by the side of her right-hand aide-de-camp, Alicia Esparza. Alicia, like Terry has been a key to the "Adopt as Family" program for the 29 years of its existence.  From Alicia I got filled-in about the wonderful fraternal spirit that has existed among the many different ethnic and national groups that comprise the parish.  Alicia and her husband Alberto have been our neighbors for more than 30 years, so it was very uplifting to spend these moments of spiritual experience with her.  

This visit was the first time that I had ever seen this operation up close.  I thank God for giving me the time, the freedom and the grace to spend time with the zealous disciples who dedicate themselves to His basic Mission of caring for the orphans, the widows, the sick and the infirm.   Terry suffered the sudden loss of her husband a short time before the due date of the very first "Adopt a Family" event.  Like the good and zealous servants that she is, she didn't look back then and doesn't now.  She knew that the support of her beloved would continue from above, so here she is, in the spirit of the loving Jesus and her spiritually present spouse carrying on for the comfort of God's People.  I'm declaring to you right now, I will not cry at Terry's funeral because I firmly believe that God will just take her by the hand and they'll go for a walk in His Eternally Blooming Garden.  If I don't cry for her, you don't have to cry for me, even if just to get even.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Swing low, Sweet Chariot...
Caution; This not a serious piece

This is a picture of a persistent thought that I have had since I was at least 18 or 19...something like that.  Something happened today that unlocked it all and so I have to tell you about it.  It has been a part of my life for a long time.  The only person who really has met this part of me face to face multiple times is my spouse.  Brace yourselves, 'cause here it comes.
I have yearned and yearned to have a hearse to drive around in.  It would be so cool.  The trigger to this deep desire for such a vehicle started when I was working at the Holyoke Magazine Press.  There was an employee there who had one and the stories he told were a fascinating mix of the ribald, the lugubrious, the fantastic, the marginal and the downright incredible.  Every lunch time with this individual was almost like an "out-of-body" experience.  One would imagine that this was what got me interesting in the world of people who drove hearses for their private transportation.  But that was not it.  Anybody can make up stories to fit the occasion.  But not everybody can get down to the essence of the situation of hearse ownership.  This individual hit it on the head for me one time when during one lunch break he was asked where he lived.  The answer was simple, "On the street, in my car.  That's why I have a hearse.  I can live in it, but I could never drive a house."  So that was it.  Freedom.  No mortgage. 
I took that and embellished it in my mind.  If I had a house to live in and a hearse too, I would have the nearly perfect camping situation.  I could throw a canoe on the roof and just go.  It was (is still) a dream that does not go away.
This morning when I got to the office address, there was a hearse of the same vintage as the one on the picture.  Same model too.  It was parked in front of the gasoline station store next to our office building.  Along side it there stood two young people sipping some fresh hot coffee.  I knew right away what was going on.  I sauntered over to them and simply said, "Nice car!"  The lovely young wife (she's his wife) said "You knew.  You like it, right?"  
"Yeah, I sure do.  Looks so great.  You had it long?"
"About a year now" says the man of the family.  "It sure is comfortable.  We're just pulling in from San Francisco.  Great ride."
"Well, I envy you."
"You ought to get yourself one.  The prices are right."
"That's been tried and failed.  The Voice from the Kitchen doesn't go for it.  I'll just keep dreaming.  Enjoy yourselves.  Merry Christmas."
I walked away and went to the office because I had a lot to do.  As I was preparing my work space the thought came to me that I had better tell someone to be sure that they don't cremate me.  I have just decided that I am going to enjoy the ride of my life when the time comes.  The Voice from the Kitchen won't have anything to say about it.  I'm going to put it in my will.  So, don't cremate me because when you see me driving away to the Pearly Gates in one of these cabriolets, you'll know that I am happy as a clam.  So for sure, then, you'll not be tempted in the slightest to cry at my funeral.                               
SSSwwwinnggg lowww, SSWWeetttt Chariotttt --->>>She's here now and I am a goin' HOME!