Every Saturday morning, Father John Dolan relaxed and prayed as he strolled through the park located across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
It was September 22 on this particular Saturday, and autumn arrived with a biting chill in the air. Sipping from a mug of hot, black coffee in one hand and a clutching a copy of The Morning Sentinel newspaper in the other, Father John sat down on his favorite park bench. As he flipped the newspaper open across his lap, he gasped, coughing a few times on some coffee.
He set the coffee mug down on the park bench, and read:
St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Close December 31
Local Diocese releases list of churches to close, combine
September 22 – In a year experiencing the worst economy in decades, St. Patrick’s Cathedral will be closed as part of the Church Consolidation and Reduction Plan...
A related story shared the front page, outlining the current state of the market.
“Downturn… depression… Lord, they use these words to describe our economy. But…this…” Father John looked up toward heaven, pointing to the newspaper, and began to cry. “This is how I feel. I feel it so…so deeply.” He sighed and closed his eyes, searching his heart for the words. “Lord…this should not be. With Thanksgiving coming and Christmas—oh, Christmas—Lord, we need a miracle.”
When Father John opened his teary eyes, a homeless man stood before him, grinning. The man hugged something gently with both hands, as if it was precious. Silver glitter on the object reflected the autumn sun, almost like a star.
“Good morning, sir. This is for you.”
Father John took the object and answered, “Thank you.”
It was a Christmas card.
“Open it. Inside you will find instructions. Good day, sir.” The homeless man tipped his grubby hat and hobbled away toward the duck pond.
Father John opened the beautiful, hand-made card. Inside the card was a simple message; a key was taped to the facing side.
Take this key back to St. Patrick's, and look behind the portrait of Jesus.
Father John glanced back toward the duck pond, but the homeless man was gone.
Immediately, Father John jumped up and ambled across the street to the church.
Behind the portrait of Jesus was a safe; and inside the safe was an old shoebox, filled with sealed envelopes. He brought the shoebox back to his office, and pulled out a handwritten sheet of paper.
Dear Father John,
In this box are 50 Christmas Cards sealed inside of 50 envelopes. The first envelope is for you to open--for St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Father John pulled out the first card, and carefully slit it open using his initialed letter opener. A large puzzle piece fell out of the card, along with two crisp $5000 bills.
You have 3 months to personally take each card to the family it is addressed to.
Each family represents people who at one time attended St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but who’ve since stopped coming.
Each card contains another puzzle piece, and a monetary donation.
Each puzzle piece is made with “velcro”, so it can be attached to the rectangular felt cloth folded and placed in the bottom of the shoebox. To make it easy, each puzzle piece is outlined in pen, drawn out on the felt.
Invite them to St. Patrick’s Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
In a brief moment of weakness, Father John wanted to open all of the envelopes--
“No, no, no….this is the miracle I prayed for. Lord, please forgive me.”
Christmas Eve arrived and Father John didn’t know what to expect. Would the church be half-empty like it was last year?
Soon, the church filled to overflowing.
“Before we begin, we need to complete our puzzle.” He pointed at the felt cloth, now mounted in a picture frame, perched on a tripod on the altar. “I have the first piece—the cornerstone, so-to-speak.”
One-by-one, the families came up and placed their puzzle piece on the felt.
Miraculously, the families also brought the money they received from their cards and placed it under the tripod.
Some gave all. All gave some.
Father John cried as the puzzle filled up, “Thank You, Lord…”
On the completed puzzle was a St. Patrick’s group picture taken at the old Summer Picnic several years before.
Across the top was written in bold letters:
UNITED WE STAND IN CHRIST.
In the end, they gave more than enough money—
And the church was saved.
All Scriptures New International Version (NIV)--
1 Corinthians 16:13-14
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