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Column: Look for the power of the unseen hand

by Father Mark Goldasich 

“Lord, just help me get the names right!”

Every now and then, I’ll get a Saturday like the one I had this past week. I had a funeral in the morning, a wedding in the afternoon, confessions, Saturday evening Mass, and then a baptism afterwards. It was a nonstop blur of activity. One of my fears was that at some point I’d mix up the names: maybe call the bride by the name of the woman who had died or perhaps use the groom’s name for the little boy being baptized.

As far as I can tell, I kept everything straight. I attribute that minor miracle to the power of the unseen hand.

That image comes from this story about a famous artist by the name of Hubert von Herkomer, who was born in 1849 in the Black Forest region of Germany. As his reputation grew, he moved to London and built a studio there. Eventually, he sent for his aging father to come and live with him.

The older Herkomer, who had been a simple woodchopper, enjoyed creating things out of clay. He learned to make beautiful bowls and vases — things of which he was very proud. So the father and son went into business together as artisans.

As the years progressed, though, the father’s abilities deteriorated. At the end of the day, he would go upstairs to bed with a heavy heart, sad because he sensed that his work was now inferior.

The younger Herkomer knew what his father was feeling. Therefore, each night after his father was safely upstairs and asleep, he would sneak downstairs and take the pieces of clay that his father had left. Gently, he would correct the defects and the faults.

When the father came downstairs in the morning, he would hold up the pieces to the sunlight and closely examine them. Soon a smile would light up his face as he’d say, “Look! I can still do it as well as I ever did!” (Adapted from a story found in “Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes” by Robert J. Morgan.)

Whenever I’m facing a busy day of ministry, I try to remember the “power of the unseen hand.” As much as I’d like to do something perfectly, I know that will never be the case. All I can do is give it my best shot and trust that God, like the artist Herkomer, will take my imperfect efforts and shape them into real works of art.

The famous Protestant preacher Charles Spurgeon stated it well: “Don’t hold back because you cannot preach in St. Paul’s; be content to talk to one or two in a cottage; very good wheat grows in little fields. You may cook in small pots as well as in big ones. Little pigeons can carry great messages. Even a little dog can bark at a thief, and wake up the master and save the house. . . . Do what you do right, thoroughly, pray over it heartily, and leave the result to God.”

The church asks us to use these days from the ascension of the Lord until Pentecost as a time to open our hearts wider to receive the Holy Spirit. Maybe we should consider referring to Pentecost, not by its Greek name, but as the feast of the power of the unseen hand. Sadly, most of us hold back when it comes to our faith, especially in living it out in the world. Perhaps we feel that our meager efforts won’t make any real difference or maybe we simply don’t want to get involved and end up sacrificing time and resources that we’d rather spend on ourselves.

What would happen, though, if we consistently and deliberately put our faith into action? No doubt we would experience that “new earth” that is spoken about in the Book of Revelation. As proof, I point to the example of the apostles in the early days of the church. From their small, imperfect and sometimes hesitant efforts, the unseen hand of God — the Holy Spirit — produced amazing results, far beyond anything they could have imagined. Here we are, 2000 years later, still hearing the good news that they first preached.

In these pre-Pentecost days, make time to spend with God. Ask that the unique gifts that you have been given may become clearer to you. Pray for the courage to unleash those gifts in your family, your parish, your work, and your neighborhood. Extend a helping hand, take time to listen to another, give someone a reason to smile, bring comfort to the one who is hurting.

True, these efforts, and maybe even our motivation, will not be perfect, but don’t hold back. Let’s offer what we can . . . and let God’s unseen hand do the rest.

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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