We were in Sicily with 100 teenagers. You haven’t traveled until you travel abroad with 100 teenagers. They were always surprisingly good, for the most part. I remember one fellow trying to smuggle brass knuckles through customs in Munich; that did not go well. The German police are not known for their humor. I remember the first trip, nicknamed “the plague trip,” when absolutely every person on the trip got sick—very sick. I remember the trip when all the passports were stolen on the way home as we went to the airport. Then there was the bright fellow who bought one of those “disposable cameras.” When he finished taking all his pictures he threw it away, and then asked how the pictures got to your house.
My years at St. Anthony’s High School were perhaps the most memorable of my life. As we traveled the world our groups were so large that we had our own airplane: students, faculty, Franciscan Brothers, parents, chaperones, guides, doctors, photographers, and this priest.
Of all the trips and hundreds of students, I remember one in particular. Matt got sick towards the end of the trip and we put him into the “quarantine room” where the other sick students were. Upon our return to America, Matt still got sicker and sicker. He did not have a simple flu. Eventually he was put into the hospital.
On Saturdays Brother Joshua and I would drive a busload of students into New York City to the hospital to visit him. We would bring small gifts for him, but he was not improving. His devoted mother kept her makeshift bed pushed up against his hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit; she never left his side. On this particular visit, I had printed hundreds of simple paper cards and handed them out to the students in the school’s hallway. I asked them to write a few words and return them to me. I would bring them to Matt on the next Saturday visit. I got hundreds back, which I gave to his mother. She read every one of them to him.
The next Saturday when we visited the hospital and I entered his ICU room his entire room had been wallpapered with those simple cards. From floor to ceiling, Matt was surrounded by the love and prayers of his friends and even those who didn’t know him at all. It was while surrounded by those cards that Matt soon went to God. All these years later I can still see that cocoon of cards. I carry Matt’s holy card in my prayer book to this day.
If you were to see my desk right now it has a lot of cards on it. The one thing I cannot throw out are the cards people write to me. They are always written from the heart. Cardinal Newman was famous for saying “Cor ad cor loquitur, heart speaks to heart.” The cards are under the keyboard as I type now. One says “just wanted to thank you for being a priest.” Jean wrote to thank me for Benediction last week. Joanne wrote “thanks for being our priest.” A little boy wrote “thank you for being a pest.” (I’ve been told this before.) Claire wrote “happy birthday, we love you.” And Steven wrote “I thank God for you.” How can one possibly throw away such beautiful words, for they are spoken from the heart?
While this is not a commercial for Hallmark, never underestimate the impact the words of support from your heart can have on another heart. The person might not recognize it immediately, but when the heart speaks to another heart the words are never lost and never in vain.
This week you might invest in a stamp and let someone know you appreciate them.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon