By Donald Ventre
On the Feast of All Saints, we salute the unsung
By Kathy Coffey
A friend of
mine delights in the fruit and vegetable section of the grocery
store. The wide array of colors, textures, tastes and smells
speaks to her of God's abundance. I agree. When we don't race
through, it's a feast for the senses: the smooth purple of
eggplant beside the pale blush of apricots; feathery greens
near strawberries glowing like rubies. But I have come to
appreciate another aspect of my weekly visit: the quietly
may never attend a religious-education convention or read the
latest works of spiritual writers. Yet they epitomize the "liturgy
of the world," Karl Rahner's term for God's continual self-communication,
the transcendent mediated by the dailiness of life. We do not
relate to an aloof, distant God, but one who is close, transforming
us by grace.
produce man has probably not read Rahner. Yet I learn compassion
from him as he engages almost daily in the same conversation with
the same woman. She dresses up for grocery shopping: heels, plaid
skirt, navy blazer, matching bow in her hair. One would think
she was off to a corporate board meeting or an executive office
instead of the lettuce aisle. Having observed this phenomenon
several times, I feel safe in saying it's a habit.
She queries the
produce man about the freshness of the broccoli; they engage in
intense discussion about the ripeness of the pears. I suspect
it is the only conversation she has all day. He is kind enough
to take it seriously; his comments about bananas seem reflective.
Every time I observe
surreptitiously, I pray that when I'm old and lonely, God will
send me an understanding produce man.
Have to Take Your Medicine
At the checkout
stands, elderly shoppers are warmly greeted by their first names.
It is a social ritual as the checkers inquire about their health,
their activities, their relatives.
ensues as the checkers balance the needs of the loquacious against
the grumbles of those waiting in line behind them. They have a
sure instinct for who needs a few extra minutes to describe their
flu symptoms and who is running short on food stamps this week.
seems extraordinary for people who have probably been on their
feet all day and who are not making a huge salary. In other offices
today, the well-to-do are paying huge sums of money for the attentive
ears of professional counselors. Far more moving is the modestly
paid checker who engulfs a frail old woman in a huge embrace and
clucks, "You get to the doctor, now, hear? I'm worried about you
not taking your medicine, honey...."
Of course, this
store has its share of surly clerks and its "just get the job
done" types. But there are a few here who illustrate for me the
sanctity of ordinary people.
Most are not overly
educated; certainly none are on the national lecture circuit.
Periodically, they seem to be honored with "Employee of the Month"
or some other badge of recognition, but that only skims the surface.
They should be canonized, their virtues proclaimed from cathedrals.
In his biographical
account [Orbis Books, 1997] of the late Jesuit author William
Lynch, David Toolan, S.J., tells of the sure instincts of the
kind of person we might be tempted to take for granted: a hospital
aide. No poems are written about such people; few homilists mention
them. But they bring the world salt and light.
It seems that,
when Father Lynch was dying in a New York hospital, he would explore
imaginatively the territory that lay ahead of him. Intently, he
would invite his nurse to join him on his mental travels. The
literal-minded nurse would rebuke him and feed him fantasy: "Father
Lynch, you're not going anywhere; you're going to get well...."
He knew she was patronizing him and he would have none of it.
But the nurse's
aide understood. "I'll come, Father," she'd reply cheerily. "I'm
ready when you are." That was all he needed; he'd re-enter his
imaginative exploration with a big grin.
How little we sometimes
need. How easy it is to provide. How many opportunities we miss.
Odd insights to accumulate along with the groceries. But the willingness
of ordinary people to offer ordinary kindness can be a kind of
nurture. I leave the store uplifted, whistling softly to myself.
is excerpted from Thresholds
to Prayer, a new book published by and available from
St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1615 Republic St., Cincinnati, OH
45210, for $9.95. You may
order online or by calling 1-800-488-0488.
is an award-winning author whose prose and poetry have appeared
in St. Anthony Messenger. She lives in Denver, Colorado,
with her husband and four childrenwho are among her thresholds
of the Saints in Ordinary Times
of food and beverages, we bless you!
of buses, cabs and delivery vans, we bless you!
beauticians and all who help us look our best, we bless
window washers and all who pick up after us, we bless you!
and seamstresses, we bless you!
cleaners and launderers, we bless you!
and booksellers, we bless you!
carriers and meter readers, we bless you!
neighbors who mow and shovel, we bless you!
neighbors who watch and water, we bless you!
and all who care for our loved ones, we bless you!
guards and security officers, we bless you!
who wait behind counters, desks and windows to welcome and
assist us, we bless you!
who answer the phone with good cheer, we bless you!
who repair what we break, tear or wear out, we bless you!
who fill potholes and empty garbage, we bless you!
who respond to our aches, pains and human helplessness,
we bless you!
who volunteer their help at church and in civic enterprises,
we bless you!
who respond to sirens and disaster alerts, we bless you!
who build or manufacture or create to enrich our lives,
we bless you!
whose service is unseen or overlooked, we bless you!
who serve the public cheerfully and
courteously, we praise you and bless you!
you holy men and women, saints of God, we praise you and
St. Anthony Messenger