By John De Gano
One of our volunteer receptionists shared a joke with me regarding a southern preacher castigating his flock for their lack of faith.
“We’re in a drought!” he exclaimed. “You claim to be God-fearin’ believers and you say you’re praying for rain. But you’re all a bunch of hypocrites! Where are your umbrellas?”
When Cheryl and I first came to St. Catherine we had an Umbrella of Faith out in front of the church. Each Sunday this pop-up-style shade structure was erected over a turnstile book/pamphlet rack with reading material for the parishioners to take and share.
It was a popular hangout, second only to the coffee and donut card table nearby.
One day the wind came up sooner than expected and the poor umbrella lifted up off the cement and started to take flight. A couple of the stronger menfolk grabbed the legs and wrestled it back to the ground where the one-pound coffee cans filled with cement were reattached.
While all eyes were focused on the cover, however, the unattended turnstile blew over and sent men women and children scurrying about picking up the some-times airborne stacks of prayers, flyers and parish bulletins before they sailed out into busy Arlington Avenue.
Sadly, the turnstile suffered more than embarrassment that day. Its racks no longer turned with ease. And it began to squeak more and more noticeably as time went on.
Then one weekend, we came to church and the umbrella and rack were gone.
A violent gust had raised it up and slammed it onto its side, demolishing both the shade structure, and the now crumpled turnstile rack beneath it. The Umbrella of Faith never rose from its ashes.
Of course, we continued to serve coffee and donuts after the morning masses. Bulletins were available in the doors of the church. We even added a patio area on the side of the church for after-mass conversation, but the camaradarie that had once been shared beneath the Umbrella of Faith never regained its former luster.
Perhaps that’s been our story, as well. Over the years, has our faith lost some of its luster, too?
As residents of southern California we’re always being told to prepare for an earthquake. My guess is that most of us haven’t done so. Why not?
Perhaps we tend to have short memories. We may have good intensions at the beginning but as time goes on we forget to restock our pantry, replace expired batteries and eat and drink the provisions we stored up.
Is it possible that our faith life suffers a similar pattern? We may start out excited by our faith; going frequently to Mass with family or friends. But eventually we become distracted. We have newer interests and they don’t always respect our Mass schedule! Something’s got to give. Sadly, it’s usually our faith.
Just this once, we tell ourselves. And soon we’ve become those Easter and Christmas Catholics we used to make fun of!
Our personal faith umbrella left home to gather dust in the closet.
And it can happen to the best of us.
Today as we stood watching the ‘May miracle’ (rain that we’d prayed would ease the drought) falling on the cars outside the punchline of the joke hit home…
“I forgot to bring my umbrella,” someone said.
“I brought one,” came the reply. “You could use it only my jacket is in my car parked across the street so I can’t go get the umbrella until it stops raining.”
Chuckling at the irony and perceived inconvenience the rain was causing, I said, “Forget the umbrella! Why didn’t we just have faith in the weather report?”
And in the tell-tale silence that followed, we realized how that preacher’s flock had felt -- inconvenienced not by rain but by the requirements of lived faith.
John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.