Like a Silver Linings Playbook my experience at Saint Charles Borromeo (SCB) Parish is a blessed, life-giving, grace. But it took several years for me to realize it. When I arrived in 2016, leaving a parish that was twice its size and highly impactful, filled with incredibly successful, optimistic, and happy people, and a large school that was the center of neighborhood life, I was hit with the reality of a school that was reported to be closing and significant downward trends in contributions, census, enrollment, dilapidation of buildings, and what I viewed to be general spiritual depression. Yet one bright spot shining in the darkness was the annual SCB spring-to-summer garage sale.
Prior to it, I don’t think I had ever actually been to a garage sale—and it, too, sounded depressing, certainly not a viable means to address the mountains of bills we had to climb over or massive holes from which we had to crawl out. At that time, I felt like I was being cast off by my diocese, much like my new parishioners were casting off items they no longer wanted or needed. But I soon recognized the garage sale to be a key event keeping the parish together, directed, and in touch with Christ’s Gospel, through what was a difficult time for all of us. Much as one family’s trash can be another’s treasure, or as individuals can find jewels amidst junk if they have the patience and know-how to search, so was I seeking a pearl of great price.
The garage sale helped me to find it. The 2021 version of the sale took place last week and, I must admit, it was a phenomenal event of deep value. Our gymnasium was filled to capacity with furniture, appliances, books, clothing, shoes, bicycles, toys, games, jewelry, art, and hundreds of other items. They overflowed into hallways and gathering spaces, with lawn furniture and outdoor items displayed on sidewalks, and trailers in the parking lot mobilized to hold additional objects, articles, and artifacts. The Knights of Columbus and a group called “Rebuilt” collaborated to host a cookout for volunteers to inaugurate the sale, serving nearly 400 parishioners, who were mingling, smiling, helping one another, and enjoying the company. When the doors opened, neighbors and strangers entered. The five-day scene reflected Pope Francis’ challenge to engage in a “Culture of Encounter,” i.e., to interact not only with those who come through our front door to worship, but also those who enter our side door, back door, or basement door, for food, clothing, education, counsel, or social interaction. I discovered that our garage sale is a dynamic act of evangelization.
It is also an event that connects varied individuals and families in an act of charitable outreach through annual spring cleaning of our own garages, closets, basements, and attics. People throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area and beyond contributed. The sale also aligns well with spiritual and material cleansing: purging ourselves of things we have held onto for too long and purifying ourselves of things we no longer need. In the process, we received numerous treasures: from classical books for our library, decorative items for upcoming liturgical, social, or fund-raising gatherings, and historical items for our upcoming 75th anniversary. And most joyfully, it brought senior-parishioners who have been members of SCB for sixty, even seventy-plus, years and who are the heart and soul of our faith community to work side-by-side with energetic young families on a common mission. It even netted about $30,000 to add to our school coffers. God’s abundant grace was overflowing in the swirl of activity.
On this Feast of Saint John the Baptist who was born into a liturgical family responsible for care of the temple, I am reminded that he, along with Jesus, shockingly took the temple from a sacred structure out to the people in towns and villages, to desert and wilderness. We are called to do the same through a culture of encounter. Finally, as you may recall, the main characters in the movie Silver Linings Playbook didn’t want or anticipate the direction their lives took, nor did they welcome the place where they landed; they even resented that their former life was stripped away. I was like them. But similar to how they eventually embraced their new surroundings and relationships, realizing that they loved it more than they ever imagined possible, so do I.