Tuesday, February 25, 2014

the disaster of the papers

site of the disaster of the papers
Dear Family and Friends,

Friday was a hard day at school. One of the most beloved teachers was diagnosed with cancer a few months back, and Friday morning the principal explained to the kids how “we’re not sure if she’ll get better.” Everyone was sad, distraught, confused, worried, fearful… you name it.

I had to celebrate and preach at the all-school mass in the afternoon – but about what? How could I help these kids who were suffering so much trying to understand why God would allow their beloved teacher to suffer?

Thankfully the Gospel of the day was about taking up your cross, so I prepared a homily all about that. I thought it was good. 45 minutes before mass, I went to the front row of the chapel to fine tune my homily. As I sat there reflecting, some commotion outside caught my eye through the window. Papers were blowing all across the sidewalk in front of the school.

It was a blustery day beyond compare, so no wonder the papers were blowing all over the place.

For a moment I hesitated between the two possibilities: “go and help”, or “stay and polish my homily.” “Go and help” won, though another “gosh, I never get time to polish my homilies” passed through my head as I walked out the door of the chapel.

I was hoping it would be just a few papers, but as I stepped from the doorway my hopes of a quick cleanup were shattered. Hundreds – yes – hundreds of papers were strewn across the grass, the parking lot, and the playground. Two students had been carrying a recycling bin full of papers between builidings when a gale-force wind had hit them.

I started grabbing the little white squares left and right. The students couldn’t help because they had their hands full just holding onto the papers left in the bin. The only other help was one of the school moms who had seen the disaster happen and had come to help.

But as both of us rounded the corner of the building, a sorry spectacle spread before our eyes. Papers of all sorts had blown to the farthest reaches of the school property. Many up to 500 feet away, some pinned against fences, others caught in pools of water or mud left over from the melting snow. “I’m going to be here all afternoon,” I thought, spirits sinking.

And then it happened. One of the side doors of the school opened and out poured a slew of second-graders. They looked so happy and energetic, at first I thought they were coming out to recess.

But no. In a flash, all of them, boys and girls, slow and fast, had spread to the farthest corners of the school grounds, grabbing the lost papers.

After that, things were a cinch. What would have taken me two hours to do took two minutes. The second graders had saved the day! Though a bit cold and wet and muddy, they had performed a powerful act of charity.

As I sat back down in the chapel to work on the homily, a thought slowly grew in my mind. “God just gave me a much better homily than the one I had prepared.”
I gave in. My homily would be the story of the second-graders and the runaway papers. What better way to explain suffering!!!

The poor students who had the papers ripped away from them by the wind, what could they see? Only a big disaster. So too are we most often. We can only see our suffering. It’s hard for us to understand how God can have a plan in all of this, why God permits the suffering.

For the second-graders, the disaster of the wind-swept papers was a welcome 10-minute break from a day of class, and a wonderful opportunity to exercise charity. Really! Those kids were braving mud and puddles and soggy grass, and – what’s more – the possibility of getting in trouble later for their clothes being dirty. As I poked my head into their classroom afterwards to thank them, I found them feverishly trying to clean the muck off, but I also found them with huge smiles on their faces.

God has a plan, and when we’re the ones suffering, we can’t see the fullness of His plan. All we can do is trust that He, in His goodness, on His time, will make things work out for the best.

No disaster of the papers, no chance for the second-graders to shine.

I know I don’t understand why God lets our beloved teacher suffer, but God does. And we have to trust Him. Trust that just around the corner of the building lies the fullness of His plans. And His plans are always better than ours.

May God bless you,
Father Kevin