The Gospel Truth

Seven Pieces of Toast | January 8, 2014

On the Feast of the Epiphany my wife and I decided to attend a different parish church.  The pastor of this neighboring church has been a close friend for over 30 years.

We were there with him at the creation of the Foundation for Special Education of Children over 25 years ago in our current parish rectory where he was the Associate Pastor.

The guiding and founding light of that foundation was Monsignor Elmer Behrmann one of the nicest priests I have ever been fortunate to meet.  In 1950, Msgr. Behrmann founded the Department of Special Education, the first program of its kind in a Catholic diocese, at a time when persons with mental retardation were considered uneducable.  He directed that department for the Archdiocese of St. Louis until 1989.

Children with special needs

Msgr. Behrmann was widely recognized as a pioneer in the education of children with special needs.  His expertise was acknowledged when he was invited to serve as an advisor to President John F. Kennedy on issues relating to persons with mental retardation.   Monsignor Behrmann was the only cleric on the committee.

Our friend was the 3rd Director of the Foundation and now merely oversees its continual progress.  The initial goal was for a foundation of $one million dollars which seemed like a large number in 1986.

Thanks to the generosity of the people in our parish is well over four million now.  And over that time it has distributed another four million to special education in St. Louis.

Our friend’s sermon was ostensibly about giving.

Since the Magi had searched for the Savior to give him their symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, it was a fitting topic.

Came a long way to give their gifts

To illustrate this theme Monsignor repeated a story he had told to the attendees at his Thanksgiving Mass—with an appropriate apology— concerning one of his special students.

The little boy in question was 10 years old and had a very difficult life.  His mother was stricken with a fatal heart attack when he was just three, leaving his father with three little boys to raise by himself.

The story revolved around his class’ assignment to bring a dish for a Thanksgiving meal the class they were to prepare.  He said his father did not have much time but would bake corn bread for the class.

Well when the eve of the class meal arrived his father had not been able to do it and the little boy was left with nothing to give.

So he got up very early and made seven pieces of toast for his classmates.

A special gift

When he presented his gift with his father’s apology neither the teacher nor his classmates berated or made fun of his gift.  They took it in the spirit of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season to come.

Monsignor’s story is reminiscent of another story, called The Gift of the Magi.

I remember the emotional response I had it reading what is basically a love story of the highest caliber.

The Gift of the Magi is a short story, written by O. Henry, which was the pseudonym for William Sydney Porter.  It is the story of a young married couple, Jim and Della Young and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money.

Its twist ending is generally considered an example of cosmic irony.

The Gift of the Magi.jpg

Read it in high school

They each have only two possessions that mean anything to them.  Della’s has beautiful long, flowing hair, almost to her knees, and Jim has a shiny gold watch, which had belonged to his father and grandfather.

On Christmas Eve, with only $1.87 in hand, Della sells her hair for $20 to buy a platinum fob chain for Jim’s watch for $21. She found the perfect gift at last and runs home and begins to prepare dinner, with $.87 left.

When Jim comes home, he is shocked at his wife’s short haircut.  Della then confesses that she sold her hair to buy him his present. Jim gives Della her present – an assortment of expensive hair accessories useless now that her hair is short. Della then shows Jim the chain she bought for him, to which Jim says he sold his watch to get the money to buy her combs. Although Jim and Della are now left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far they are willing to go to show their love for each other, and how priceless their love really is.

This is what the Greeks and Christians call the deep and lasting  love of agape.

The story ends with the narrator comparing the pair’s mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi.

The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.

In surfing the cable channels I  recently stumbled over a recent allusion to this classic story with its own happy ending twist.

Fever Pitch is a 2005 romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon.

It begins with Ben Wrightman (Fallon) as a 7 year-old going to a Red Sox game with his Uncle Carl.   Ever since that day, Ben became a die-hard Red Sox fan.  Just about everything he owns bears the Red Sox name, emblem or the image of a Red Sox player.   Ben inherited his uncle’s season tickets when he died. They became his most treasured possession.

He meets Lindsey Meeks ( Barrymore), a successful workaholic executive. When he first asks her out, she rejects him, but she later changes her mind and agrees to go out with him.

She becomes attracted to him because of his ability to show a passionate commitment to something. That spring, he later pretends he is proposing to her, but instead asks her to the Red Sox home opener.

Lindsey attends, but not being a baseball or Red Sox fan, she knows nothing about the Curse of the Bambino or even how to pronounce the name Yastrzemski.

The two continue to attend the games together until one summer night when Lindsey attempts to catch up on work by taking her laptop to the game. Not paying attention to the game, she is knocked unconscious by a foul ball.  She eventually recovers, but stops going to the games.

Fever Pitch US.jpg

A gift without the irony.

As their absence makes them both miserably he decides to sell his tickets so they can be together.  When she learns of this with an eager fan with check and pen in hand waiting, she tears up the contract as her gift to him and said that she could not let him do that for her.

His willingness to do such was love enough for her.

This was a mutual gift without the cosmic irony which would have been too deep for an American audience.

But the principle is not lost on the observant.  Americans have always been a very generous people.

We pride ourselves on helping the poor and the downtrodden.  Generosity is endemic to the American soul.

Wealth redistribution is not a problem unless someone else wants to confiscate our wealth and give it to their friends and cronies, depriving us not only of our largesse but the act of our generosity.

Businesses and businessmen as a whole are very giving and even caring.  It has become the American way and transcends all social strata.

It is only the government that is trying to assume the role of Santa to all of the voters out there who eternize their power at the sacrifice of America’s soul.

Pope has met many Marxists

Again I suggest that the pope, who says he is not a Marxist but has met many who are good people to him, starts meeting a few capitalists and learn what they are about instead of assuming like the social democrats that have surrounded him for  his whole life that they are not as good and decent men as his Marxist friends.

That would make for a fairer and more balanced argument and it would temper his papacy with a broader vision than I think he has.

He might then realize that Marxists, like their liberal friends are very generous with other people’s money.

It is not the pope’s heart that concerns me but his intellectual eyesight.

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4 Comments »

  1. Bill, thank you. I loved the post. Love is certainly a different animal than entitlement. Many confuse the two. “We must help the Poor!” Well, how do you do that. Fifty years on, the War on Poverty has only mde the plight of the poor, and the rest of us as well, worse.
    At mass on Tuesday we heard about the feeding of the five thousand. Love was the motive for giving and love was the reaction to receiving. I blogged about it at theotherlawofmoses.com. Please have a look.
    Thanks for your excellent post.

    Comment by John Kelly — January 9, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

    • Amen to your comment. $20,000,000,000,000 later and there are still 15% poor in this country.

      ________________________________

      Comment by Bill Borst — January 9, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

  2. “We will always have poor among us” 20 trillion dollars is proof, what else do we need.

    Now too my point. The reason the Feds have gotten into biz of helping the poor was the States wouldn’t get involved, hence the War on poverty on the fed level.. Now Fifty years + later, politicians used the money chest (taxes) to keep their jobs. It is my opinion that the real reason the big push all these years to get any form of religion out of our government is to keep religious Charities at bay from doing the bulwark of their calling. It won’t surprise me in the future; if there will be a movement to have all 501 3 c religious groups removed from the tax code.

    Comment by Mike Ellington — January 9, 2014 @ 5:41 pm

  3. The beauty of “capitalism” over a command “economy” is that the foibles and weaknesses of the human spirit are recognized and an attempt is made to harness them to the betterment of all. That’s the part of the Constitution’s Preamble where it mentions “promote the general welfare”. The private charity to which you all refer and which most who have experienced, seen or participated in prefer, depends upon there being some level of disposable or surplus wealth as the common human condition. The Gift of the Magi, as well as being a heartbreakingly beautiful story of selfless love which is at the core of the common-denominator of all human culture—it’s very “brick and mortar”—-also demonstrates my point. If the spirit is willing—and it generally is as humans normally really want to be “good” if only PEOPLE WILL LET THEM—-but the “flesh” ( in this case the household income of that couple ) is weak, tragedy is as likely to ensue as anything else. While we may find such tragedy to be “beautiful” emotionally our society cannot survive on “looks alone”

    “Capitalism” ( greedism would be a better term for it if we could get get beyond the pejorative connotation which has been applied to that term–greed ) seeks to harness what are considered to be the “base” impulses in a manner which ultimately serves the greater good. While it’s true that the lower income strata people often are found to be more charitable—as a function of percentage of net worth—if it weren’t for the largess of the wealthy we’d *all* be in trouble. Of course that includes the levels of taxation they *voluntarily* suffer, since they tend to have the bribes to pay to the government to lessen their taxes to any level they’d like if they decide to apply their wealth in achieving that end. It’s the rest of us who are being robbed/forced to render “charity”. I dare say Bill Gates alone would have the wherewithal to put a “hit” on every single IRS agent if he chose to. I know *I* don’t…

    There *must* be disposable wealth for there to be charity whether it’s of the “filthy rich” allowing those people who were elected to student council in HS to “play government” with some of their disposable income or the private charity for which the middle/lower classes in this nation have always been so famous.

    Only “capitalism”‘s allowance for the greed motivation—a recognition of basic human nature—can effectively create enough disposable wealth to ever begin to to *hope* to deal with the needs of those who truly *can’t*.

    And that includes the creation of truly wealthy people from the ranks of the middle-class. There’s your Achilles-heel. As we’re taught to be members of a “class” those at the top don’t see their interests as the same as those of the not-yet-rich. So they’re
    happy to allow the We Know Better folks have their way with the “other” classes.That’s fine as far as it goes but it tends to stop the continual promotion from a state of not being wealthy enough to effectively look out for one’s own best interests—-bribe the government if needs be—and those in that situation become less and less numerous and their total wealth and thus *power* becomes less and less in relation to the We Know Better folks.

    Once we reach that point at which the balance-of-power allows those in government to overcome any objections at all it matters little if they’re “leftists” or “marxists”. Those are just the pigeonholes which tend to mold that sort of person into the most effective finished product. They are what they are and they were born that way. There are several efficient words/phrases describing that state-of-being but I won’t use them here as there may be ladies or people of tender years reading

    It’s “divide-and-conquer”. Until the rich and poor in *this* society see themselves as all having common cause we’re doomed—and rapidly reaching that point-of-no-return as I tap this out on my thrift-store Logitech wireless keyboard.

    Perhaps the very greatest charity is that of the middle-class individual to be able to put himself in the place of the “rich man” and that of the “rich man” to be able to put himself in the place of the rest of humanity.

    But it’s $$, ultimately, which “talks”.

    This society was once the “apex predator” of the global economic ecosystem. As such it had it’s part to play just as does the shark in the marine ecosystem. It’s also a huge ponzi scheme and so as the shark is reputed to need to keep moving in order to maintain adequate respiration so must the economic Great White. But our national “voluntary musculature” has become paralyzed. It’s something we ate—self-hate. The toxin it creates in our national intestines is guilt.

    Sorry for the length of my comment but we are what we are—and I was Born to Type.

    My motto: never use one word when ten will do just as well.

    Comment by James Stenzel — January 11, 2014 @ 1:30 am


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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at bbprof43@gmail.com

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