A man experiencing poverty goes to Mass, gives what little he has, and is rewarded generously.
“If you want more of something, then give away what you have,” Fr. Nick Schneider preached on a recent Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. “If you want more joy, then give joy to others. If you want more love, give love.”
It was the message of the first reading from 1Kings 17:10-16, the story of the widow and her son who were down to the bottom of their flour and oil. The prophet Elijah had come to her and asked for some bread and water. In the face of what seemed to be sure starvation, the widow shared her last loaf of bread with the prophet’s promise that God would provide for her. “The jar of meal was not spent nor the jug of oil emptied, just as Yahweh had foretold through Elijah.”
Although it was a story of old, happening so very long ago, Fr. Nick explained that it was as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. Then, he recounted an event that epitomized this Bible story. It happened with a priest in the heart of the oil fields. I contacted the priest who was involved, Fr. Brian Gross, to later to get the story in his own words.
“It happened last Sunday at 10:45 a.m. Mass,” he said. “I noticed a guy who looked like he had not shaved in a couple days. I especially noticed him because he looked troubled.”
After Mass, many people walked down to the church basement to enjoy a lunch of soup and bread for all. Fr. Brian strolled around visiting with parishioners. and spotted this man. “Hi, how’s it going?” he asked sitting down across from him. “Where are you from? Are you working for the oil company?”
He learned that the man, Paul, (not his real name) was a truck driver originally from Seattle. He had moved his wife and five children to Fargo. They were living with his mother-in-law while he had come to Watford City looking for work and living in a man camp.
“I just got a job with a carpenter putting up siding,” Paul said smiling. “I start tomorrow. It’s going to be outside work.” Although he said nothing, it was obvious his thin coat would not keep him warm for that kind of outside work this time of the year.
“When is the last time you had something to eat?” Fr. Brian asked.
“Oh, I guess it was about twenty-four hours ago,” Paul answered.
“We have more food than is going to get eaten,” Fr. Brian said. “Go through the line as many times as you want.” Then, noting the man’s thin coat, he asked, “Do you need help with anything?”
“Yeah, is there some place in town where I could get some heavy clothing?”
“How are you going to pay for it?”
“Well, I’ll do the best I can,” Paul answered, looking down at his bowl of soup.
Fr. Brian talked some more with him and learned he actually had no money. “I’m going to visit with some other people,” he said. “I’ll come back and talk with you more in a bit.”
He walked around saying hi to people then spotted a couple he knew that actually belonged to another parish. The man was the vice-president of a local company. “Hey Frank, (not his real name) do you think you can help someone out?” He then proceeded to explain the situation. “He told me he has no money,” Fr. Brian ended the story.
“Yeah, sure, I have some stuff I could run home and get,” Frank offered.
When Fr. Brian pointed out the man who needed the help, Frank’s wife expressed surprise. “That guy?” she asked. “We sat behind him during Mass. I happened to look over at him during the collection,” she said. “He took a $5 bill out of his wallet and I noticed that his hand was shaking when he put it in the basket. It must have been his last $5.”
Frank hurried the fifteen miles home, and returned with an oversized duffel bag full of warm clothes, boots, and a coat. He presented it to Paul who was overwhelmed with gratitude. Frank learned that Paul was a licensed truck driver so he offered him a better job with his company. Again, Paul could not stop thanking Frank and Fr. Brian.
“Because you made the decision to come to Mass, today, this is what Jesus is doing for you,” Fr. Brian said. He also made arrangements for Paul to pick up $50 of groceries on the parish’s grocery account. But a couple days later, when Fr. Brian ran into Paul, he asked him why he had not gotten any groceries.
“Oh, I didn’t need to,” Paul explained. “Frank had slipped $100 into the side pocket of the duffel bag.”
Back at Cathedral, Fr. Nick finished his retelling of the story and wrapped up his homily. Then, we opened our hymnals to sing the offertory song, “All That We Have.”
“All that we have and all that we offer,
Comes from a heart both frightened and free.
Take what we bring now and give what we need,
All done in his name.”