by Father Mark Goldasich
“Hey, I’m going to run out to my car and get your gift. I hope you won’t hate me for it.”
Those ominous words, spoken a few weeks ago by the daughter of my godparents, were followed by a nervous laugh. Before I could say anything, off Marilyn went to retrieve the present.
I lost track of her and the gift during the reception. The occasion was something incredible, at least to me: my 30th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. Thirty years? Really? How did that happen?
I was a bit distracted while visiting with people because the video screen in the parish center was showing giant images of me. Holy cow, was that a picture of me as an infant? Hey, how did whoever made the DVD get pictures from my grade school days and my first Communion? I stared pointedly at my mom who, for some unknown reason, refused to catch my eye.
I began to catch snippets of comments as those images flashed on the screen: “Look, Father Mark used to have hair!” and “Wow, he was sure skinny . . . . once.” And “Get a load of those highwater pants!”
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Eventually, people began coming up and asking if I’d seen “the book.” Realizing that they probably weren’t talking about the Bible, I glanced at the table where my mom and some other relatives were sitting. They were all engrossed in what looked like a photo album. And there appeared to be a lot of pointing and laughing.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. Apparently, this was the “gift” that Marilyn had brought for me. When I finally got to peek at it myself, I was amazed at the array of pictures displayed there. Most of the material had come from stuff that my godmother — Kuma Annie (“Kuma” means “godmother” in Croatian; it’s all I ever called her) — had collected over the years.
If I thought the DVD was embarrassing, it was mild compared to this album. Here were pictures of my baptism, various black-and-white shots of me as a baby, grade school photos, snapshots of the various sacraments I received, a picture of me playing Twister, and on and on. As I turned the pages, I was mesmerized at seeing my life displayed before me.
So, did I hate Marilyn for putting together the album? Or my parishioner Dave who made the DVD? Absolutely not! I was humbled and grateful. In fact, it reminded me of this little story:
A certain French marquis was raised to his grand and exalted position from very humble surroundings. He’d been a shepherd in his earlier days and, in his palace, he had one area known as “the shepherd’s room.”
In it were reproductions of hills and valleys and running streams and rocks and sheepfolds. Here were the staff he had carried and the clothes he had worn as a young man when herding sheep.
Asked one day about its meaning, he replied, “If ever my heart is tempted to haughtiness and pride, I go into that room and remind myself of what I once was and from where I came.” (Adapted from an entry in “Quotes & Anecdotes: An Anthology for Preachers & Teachers” by Anthony P. Castle.)
It’s valuable and necessary to remind ourselves of our history and our roots. During my anniversary celebration, I saw people from the various stages of my life: relatives, a former teacher, a “kid” from my days as chaplain at Hayden High School in Topeka, Leaven managing editor Anita and her family. In seeing them, the faces of my Sacred Heart parishioners, the “little Marky” pictures — many featuring family and friends now deceased — all I could think was: Wow! I am one fortunate guy.
People often talk about how much a priest has influenced their lives. Well, I’m here to remind folks that it’s a twoway street. The Africans have a wonderful proverb that says: “A person becomes a person through other people.” How true! Some people have been in my life for ages, some for a brief time, and some just recently arrived — all, however, have had a part in creating the person I am today. And I am grateful.
I’ve played that DVD several more times (I now have a copy) and I’ve shown “the book” to a number of friends who weren’t able to celebrate with me in person. Each time I do, it’s not just a stroll down memory lane. Instead, it’s a visit to my “shepherd’s room,” to remind myself of where I came from and those who have accompanied me on the journey.
Because we all have tons of pictures tucked away in various locations, maybe this week would be a good time to dust them off, head to our own “shepherd’s room” and ponder what writer Robert Louis Stevenson said so well: “So long as we are loved by others I should say that we are almost indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.”