I had just parked my car in front of the row of stores in a town far from here. As I walked into the store I noticed two teenagers marking the sidewalk with graffiti. It was harmless chalk, but still nevertheless graffiti…and illegal! I paid little attention to it and went into the store. When I came out of the store to place the few packages into the car the two teens came over to me. I wondered what they could possibly want standing there, and why they weren’t in school in the middle of the day. Perhaps they wanted to spray-paint my car. One was the spokesman and asked: “Are you Father Gordon?” I was caught off guard because I didn’t know who they could be, but they were smiling. I told them I was Fr. Gordon. The spokesman said “You gave us our First Communion.” He asked if I remembered them; I lied and said “yes.” We chatted for a few minutes. I asked how they were doing, where they went to High School and if they had taken up graffiti vandalism for Lent. When I left them after a few minutes they remained fixed at their places joyfully smiling, and then they stood and waved earnestly goodbye…but it occurred to me that after so many years—they never forget. Finally, I noticed in my rear-view mirror that they got onto their bikes and sped away.
When Saint Stephen was put to death by stoning in the 7th chapter of Acts of the Apostles, the story ends with a quizzical notation. It tells us that they took off their cloaks, so as to be able to pick up the rocks, and they placed their cloaks at the foot of a man named Saul. Saul minded their cloaks for them as they put Stephen to death. Saul didn’t participate; he simply watched and concurred with what he witnessed. Saul however, had no idea what was happening to him interiorly. Two chapters later in the 9th chapter of Acts of the Apostles, Saul will fall from his horse and have the greatest conversion in biblical history. Saul is on the way to becoming Paul, the greatest evangelist to ever live. Most people say the conversion of Paul took place in the 9th chapter of Acts of the Apostles when he fell from the horse. I believe the seed of faith began in the 7th chapter, so that when Saul falls off his horse, the seed that had already been planted by the courageous death of Saint Stephen will crack open and give birth to Paul. That seed of faith had remained dormant for a long time but would give birth to the great Saint Paul.
Here’s what I find interesting: Saul never actually met Stephen; he simply witnessed his courage from afar…but he never forgot! I don’t think Saul actually knew the seed of faith had been planted in him—it was imperceptible. But that tiny seed of faith grew until it cracked open when Saul fell from his horse. Paul was now born.
The word graffiti was one of the first words I learned in Greek class: Γκράφιτι
From it we get the word “graphite.” It means to write or scribble nonsense. It is the word used in the gospel of the woman dragged before the Pharisees. Jesus bends down to scribble in the dirt the very sins of the accusing Pharisees now standing before Him. Suddenly their sins were revealed for all to see. They dropped their stones and went away one by one. Lent is all about leaving behind our sins and moving on.
Maybe seeing me after all those years those two young teens remembered that they were made for more than graffiti. The last thing I saw in the car mirror was that they had left their graffiti behind and joyfully moved on.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon