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Saints in the Supermarket

[ Feature 1 Photo]
Photo By Donald Ventre


On the Feast of All Saints, we salute the unsung holy ones.

By Kathy Coffey

 How's the Broccoli Today?

 You Have to Take Your Medicine

 Salt and Light

 Litany of the Saints in Ordinary Times (Sidebar)


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 cheerful employees.

They 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.

The 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.

You 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.

Major diplomacy 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.

Their courtesy 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.

Salt and Light

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.

This article 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.

Kathy Coffey 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 children—who are among her thresholds into prayer.


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Litany of the Saints in Ordinary Times

Servers of food and beverages, we bless you!

Drivers of buses, cabs and delivery vans, we bless you!

Barbers, beauticians and all who help us look our best, we bless you!

Janitors, window washers and all who pick up after us, we bless you!

Tailors and seamstresses, we bless you!

Dry cleaners and launderers, we bless you!

Librarians and booksellers, we bless you!

Paper carriers and meter readers, we bless you!

Young neighbors who mow and shovel, we bless you!

Grown neighbors who watch and water, we bless you!

Baby-sitters and all who care for our loved ones, we bless you!

Crossing guards and security officers, we bless you!

All who wait behind counters, desks and windows to welcome and assist us, we bless you!

All who answer the phone with good cheer, we bless you!

All who repair what we break, tear or wear out, we bless you!

All who fill potholes and empty garbage, we bless you!

All who respond to our aches, pains and human helplessness, we bless you!

All who volunteer their help at church and in civic enterprises, we bless you!

All who respond to sirens and disaster alerts, we bless you!

All who build or manufacture or create to enrich our lives, we bless you!

All whose service is unseen or overlooked, we bless you!

All who serve the public cheerfully and
courteously, we praise you and bless you!

All you holy men and women, saints of God, we praise you and bless you!

—Staff, St. Anthony Messenger

from American Catholic Online



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