Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Grotto Effect: Part 1 - "The Free Bench"

Many who land at Assumption Grotto after having spent life like a ship on the high-seas, tossed to-and-fro, in a relativistic, materialistic world eventually experience a reordering of priorities.

While I would like to call this "The Grotto Effect", I can assure you that there are many things which make this up, so why focus on only one. On top of my already incomplete series on Grotto Altar Boys, Kneeling for Holy Communion, the Romano Guardini series on "Sacred Signs", and a not yet started series on the Blessed Mother, I now add this one. Not to worry about the incomplete series - there is a lifetime for it all and I will get them started again, perhaps when things slow down at Grotto (as if that will ever happen). I'm hardly ever home anymore - another Grotto Effect!


When I first started coming to Grotto in May of 2005, I had come off of a 4-month long medical with an odd asthma attack, which - in the end, proved to be a grace which led to my turing more seriously toward's the Lord.

For several months, I had been assisting at Fr. Perrone's 7:30am Mass, which was being held outdoors since it was still summer. After Mass, and as I walked back toward's my car to go to work, I asked one woman whom I had noticed always there at Grotto, if I could possibly bring in some things I needed to get rid of, but didn't want to throw out.

The woman stopped walking, turned to me and said, "It's happening isn't it?"

I said, "What?"

She said, "Now, don't you worry, it happens to just about everybody who comes here."

I said, "What???"

The woman said, "Look, for me it was my precious doll collection. I had so many dolls you wouldn't believe it. I got rid of all them - all except one or two. You know, you just find that all those things that meant something, don't mean anything at all and they get in the way".

I just erupted in laughter and said that about sums it up.

Very casually, she told me to bring my things in and put them in on the "free bench", which some places would call a "free box" - a place where you can put things you don't want any longer so others may have them. I hadn't noticed until then, that just inside the doors of the school on the church benches in the hall, are periodically laid out clothes and material goods. No questions asked on where they came from, but there for the taking by anyone wanting or needing them.

Mortification, Detachment, and Simplicty of Life
The Free Bench is a great solution in a parish which enables shedding of a materialistic lifestyle. It is a grace from God. And, those things we have accumulated, that are simply excesses, are welcomed by the many Grotto families who are humble enough to receive them. Many moms, including some that are very well educated and skilled, have chosen to stay out of the workforce to homeschool and they get by in simple homes on tight budgets. Keeping in mind that the parish is located in a poor section of Detroit, the goods are also welcomed to those in our parish who are truly poor, or who are trying to learn to live in a spirit of poverty.

In fact, it is in witnessing the sacrifices made by homeschooling families and the parish poor whom God uses innocently as instruments to teach us to re-evaluate our needs and wants. Add to that a group of priests in a parish who regularly challenge us to practice mortification of our many apetites - for spiritual exercise in taming the will, and as an offering to God for some purpose (which is welcomed by Him like prayer).

Those apetites in today's world can include things such as daily expensive gourmet coffee drinks, purchased lunches which cost more and taste better than bag lunches, electronic gadets up to wazoo, hobbies gone wild with excess, designer and name brand clothes and items (you should have seen the huge collection of Bath & Body Works stuff I had vs. ordinary cheap soap and lotions now), the biggest cars and trucks (while I didn't buy a used car when my lease expired, I did purchase rather than lease - a more economical vehicle, with intent to drive it into the ground), larger homes than are necessary, and the list goes on. Don't get me wrong as there is nothing wrong with an occasional capuccino. But if we live in a spirit of poverty, we come to realize that those who have so little money are lucky to afford budget grounds from the grocery store - something we should practice voluntarily at times for mortification. It's at these times that we literally test our attachments to "things" and ways of life.

How much house do I need?
Before I came to Grotto I knew I wanted to get out of my 1165 sq. ft. condo and into a home. Even as a single person, I felt that going after a 1700 sq. ft ranch was modest. But, the Grotto Effect cured that and I soon realized that I needed nothing much bigger than what I already have - I just need to get rid of stuff. I still want to get out of my condo (spend an evening trying to sleep next to a condo loaded with party animals and you'll know why), but I have downsized my spacey wishes. Also, by choosing to live in a smaller, simpler home, I have lower heating and cooling bills, lower taxes, and more money for.......other things caused by the Grotto Effect not yet discussed.

I am truly beginning to believe that God issues a penance for such excesses once we recognize them: He has us getting so involved at Grotto that finding time to finish sifting and reordering life based on simplicity gets difficult.

I have enough possessions to fill the Grotto school hallway, let alone the free bench. I just need the parish to slow down so I can box the stuff and transport it.

Liberation via the Free Bench
The Grotto Free Bench is not only called that because it offers free things to the takers. It is the Free Bench because it is highly liberating for those who contribute to it.

Allowing the Lord to work on your soul and shape it through a fine parish like Assumption Grotto, please know that you should never try to do too many changes at once. Allow God the time to work on you and make small, incremental changes. The Angel of Darkness loves to make us feel like giving up because we try to change too much at once. Start with one thing and when you get through that, change something else.

I highly recommend using the Sacrament of Confession provided you find a good priest who understands how effective the Sacrament can be for building virtue and shedding attachment. Confession is where holiness is built because of the humility involved. Using it to tame appetites and attachments teaches us how to use self-control with serious sins and imperfections. Don't take a litany of things into the confessional, but work through one thing over a period of time. Keep in mind, most of these attachments are not bad in themselves. Rather, it is the inordinate attachment or inability to do without that reveals something worth working on.

Have you experienced a similar effect at Grotto or another parish? Feel free to tell us about it.

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