My mother loved to put gifts in strange packages. One Christmas I eagerly tore off the wrapping of a fairly heavy package (heavy packages usually meant something good!). To my disappointment I discovered that it was a box of Glad Trash Bags. Well, I guessed I could use them but I was disappointed to say the least. She knew I was disappointed but smiled and said, “Open the box!” I noticed a little of the package had already been slightly opened and yet I said, “Mom why open this now, I’ll use them later.” “Open it!” she said. So did and inside was a check for $100. Over the years she often found strange packages to hide gifts, an old shoe box, a box of No. 2 Pencils, a package of underwear. “Gee thanks, Mom.” “Open it!” And there were two $50 bills. So I learned that sometimes good gifts come in strange packages.
God is that way too. Some of God’s gifts come in strange packages. Hidden within some of the crosses, and less desirable things of life are some precious treasures. Maybe we learned that we were stronger than we thought. Maybe our weakness taught us to trust and ask for help. Maybe the loss of a job opened new doors and launched new vistas. Maybe a troublesome person taught us patience and humility. Maybe an enemy helped us to see something in us that needed to change. Maybe injustice taught us to fight for what was right and that we were not truly alive until we found something for which we were willing to die. The cross is a paradox, a gift in a strange package.
I suppose we’ve all thought of the ideal circumstances we’d like to live in. Surely there would be reasonable affluence, comfort and beauty. It was no different as a priest. I wanted a beautiful Church, no debt, in a “nice” neighborhood etc. And yet my first assignment as pastor took me to the poorest neighborhood in the city with the highest crime rate.
I may have told you, the first day I went to look the place over. I drove onto the parking lot and there was a car on fire. I looked around and people were walking up and down the sidewalks as if nothing were amiss. I ran to the rectory door quite anxious. When the door opened I nervously pointed to the burning car and the staff person within said, “Oh, not again! OK come on in I guess I’ll go ahead and call the fire department.” In order to enter the rectory, I had to pass through two sets of bars.
Ah but I loved my time at St. Thomas More Parish. It was a wonderful Parish, wonderful people, wonderful experiences. And I cried copious tears seven years later when I was asked to take another assignment (where I am also quite happy). But you never know as you open the strange packages God gives you what gifts are within. God can make a way out of no way and write straight with crooked lines. That burning car on a church parking lot was really for me like the burning bush that Moses saw on the mountain assuring him (me) of God’s blessings. It didn’t seem so at the time but years later I understood: Some of God’s greatest blessings come in strange packages.
This video has been out for a while, but I never cease to be amazed by it and it prompted the reflection above. When I saw it I didn’t expect to be too impressed. It was just supposed to be a kid playing an accordion. I didn’t expect much. Frankly I don’t think of an accordion as a lofty instrument. And seeing a rather young man, I expected the usual “recital” scenario, where the skills would be less than virtuoso. I had no idea what I was about to see. I NEVER knew an accordion could be made to sound like this nor did I expect to see such virtuosity. This young man has extraordinary talent. One of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the Presto from “Summer” on accordion! yes, an accordion! Sometimes gifts come in strange packages!