There is an old classic story about the great painter Pablo Picasso. I don’t know if it is apocryphal or if it really happened, but who cares, it’s a great story. He was immensely wealthy when he died; they say he was worth nearly a half-billion dollars. And I know exactly how he became so enormously wealthy. The story goes that he would pay for everything by check, most notably in his early days of fame he paid his rent by check. Whatever the purchase, just before handing over the check he would turn it over and doodle a little picture on the back of the check: an instant, unique and priceless Picasso! This of course meant that no one would ever cash his checks. The value of possessing a unique Picasso was worth more than whatever amount was written on the face of the check. Everyone simply kept the check with his own personal masterpiece rather than hand it over to the bank. Genius!
As happens many times throughout the day, a nice lady came in to the office a few months ago to have some Masses said for her family. I passed by and said hello. She asked if she might take a moment of my time. We went in to my office and talked about things, whereupon she opened her checkbook and wrote a great check to donate to our parish. I was astonished and very moved by her humble and unassuming generosity to support the good works of St. Martin’s parish.
After several weeks she called me to ask if I’d deposited the check. I said not yet, because I enjoyed staring at it on my desk. I simply couldn’t part with the sight of such a beautiful gift to the parish. I figured now I best take the check out of the frame and put it into the bank. Reluctantly I took the check out of its frame and drove to the bank. As I entered the bank to deposit the little Picasso, a big man yelled out from his tow-truck: “Hey Father, it’s good to see a priest.” I went over to the big rig and made a new friend named Hugh. Hugh reposes cars for a living; I wouldn’t want to mess with him. If you Google “tow-truck-repossession” Hugh’s face will come up; right out of central casting. He told me he was so happy to see a priest walking around that he couldn’t help himself, he had to shout it out. He said “You don’t see a lot of priests anymore.” This immediately put me into the category of extinction: stagecoaches, dinosaurs, bellbottoms and payphones. We talked for a while and he promised he would come visit and bring lunch. He told me “seeing a priest today was the best part of his day.” He said he loved priests, you just don’t see them anymore.
All of this goes to teach me how important it is to be dressed like a priest in the world today. We never know the silent effect it has on a passerby. I remember being on a bus in Rome when a vecchio uomo kept yelling at me. He was one of those rare ones who did not like seeing a priest, but for the most part people smile or want to talk, or often enough want to go to confession. I hear the whispers when walking down the aisle of the plane “Oh, thank God there’s a priest on the plane.” While I would never say it publicly, I believe it did not serve well religious communities to jettison their religious habits in favor of street clothing. But that conversation is for another day.
The Franciscan monks St. Francis and St. Giles were traveling through a very large city to preach the gospel. It was an enormous city that took 2 days to pass through. After two days as they left the city Saint Giles asked Saint Francis when they would preach the gospel. Saint Francis responded that they already had. The simple presence of the monk, the nun, the priest gives hope to those whom they silently pass. It happens without our ever knowing it.
Well anyway, I handed over the check to the bank, but I made a new friend thanks to my priest outfit and he’ll be coming over for lunch next week. That is worth more than a Picasso.