This time last year some graduate-school friends from Ireland and their three young children came to visit us on the Cape. It had been several years since we had seen one another, so our time together was rich with recounting old memories and making new ones.
At one point during their visit, we took a snowy walk to a nearby country store for penny candy. As we prepared to go, I brought out a modest, but distinctly decorated clay pitcher full of loose change. Usually there are only pennies in this pitcher, very rarely a hidden nickel or dime, but with the going price of candy at the country store being four cents per piece, a handful of coins per child would be plenty for the event at hand.
While the children were each taking some coins my friend exclaimed, “My, what a brilliant use for that lovely little pitcher!” I was about to dismiss her compliment by saying I had no idea where the pitcher had come from, when she continued by saying, “I remember bringing it straight back from Ireland for ye some 15 years ago! How nice ‘tis to see it again.”
Gulp. I had innocently lost track of the pitcher’s origin, but if my foot had been allowed to continue its trajectory toward my mouth, my forgetfulness would most likely have been heard as ingratitude instead of poor memory.
The event started me looking around, eyeing other items in our home, recalling who had given them to us and under what circumstances. It was an astonishingly emotional journey through many special times, friendships, and places from our past. It revealed in a powerful way that “my” home is not strictly “mine”, but more like a mosaic of gifts from many people who have loved me and my family. The event got me thinking further about my faith, and how in a general sweeping sense, “yes,” my Catholic faith is mine, but just like my physical home, it’s really anything but.
My faith is really a mosaic of the gifts from many people who have loved God and taught me to do the same. As I had lost track of the history of my Irish pitcher and its source, I am sure most of us have lost track of the history of our personal faith, and specifically of the many priests who have contributed to it over the years.
In this, the Year of the Priest, I think it would be a remarkable journey for each of us to peruse our faith history with an eye to rediscovering the many priests who have contributed so generously to it. Maybe a priest friend has moved out of our life or we out of his, but I’ll bet the gifts he gave remain. One special priest taught me to love scripture. Another’s gift was a hunger for truth. A third’s was the sheer joy of his vocation, and the gift of many has been time spent around our dinner table.
All of us can begin recounting the priests who celebrated our family’s sacraments, and the priests who were our pastors and chaplains, but we can dig deeper, too. Did we have a grandparent who always listened to Bishop Fulton Sheen’s broadcasts and passed the wisdom on to us? Or maybe the grace poured into us from an individual priest was just a drop; a simple smile or the tousling of a toddler’s hair. Maybe it was a larger outpouring such as a confessor’s ear for an incredibly complex situation. Of course the ultimate gift a priest offers to us all is his daily consecration of the Eucharist.
The thing is that like pennies in a pitcher of loose change, single drops of grace add up and have a way of being the exact amount we need for the life situation at hand. As we continue celebrating the Year of the Priest, let us recount old memories of our faith lives and make new ones by remembering our priests in prayer, by thanking them personally for their service to God, and by honoring them for so generously pouring from their spiritual pitchers into ours the rich deposits of the Catholic faith.