Last week, we began the story of 87-year-old Carl who had volunteered to water the church’s garden. While performing the task, he was robbed once and drenched with his own hose by a local gang. We pick up the story where the gang leader comes back and startled Carl causing him to fall.
As the gang leader helped Carl get up, he pulled a crumpled bag from his pocket and handed it to the volunteer gardener.
“What’s this?” Carl asked.
“It’s your stuff,” the man explained. “It’s your stuff back. Even the money in your wallet.”
“I don’t understand,” Carl said. “Why would you help me now?”
A little embarrassed, the man said, “I learned something from you. I ran with that gang and hurt people like you. We picked on you because you were old and we knew we could get away with it. However, every time we came and did something to you, instead of yelling and fighting back, you tried to give us a drink. You didn’t hate us for hating you. You kept showing love instead of hate.”
He stopped for a moment. “I couldn’t sleep after we stole your stuff, so here it is back.” He paused for another awkward moment, not knowing what more there was to say. “That bag’s my way of saying thanks for straightening me out.” With that, he walked off down the street.
Carl took the sack and opened it. He took out his retirement watch and put it back on his wrist. Opening his wallet, he checked for his wedding photo. He gazed for a moment at the young bride that still smiled back at him from all those years ago.
Carl died one cold day after Christmas that winter. Many people attended his funeral in spite of the weather. In particular, the priest noticed a tall young man that he did not know sitting quietly in a distant corner of the church. The priest spoke of Carl’s garden as a lesson in life. In a voice thick with tears, he said, “Do your best and make your garden as beautiful as you can. We will never forget Carl and his garden.”
The following spring, another flyer went up. It read: “Person needed to care for Carl’s garden.” The flyer went unnoticed until one day, the priest heard a knock at his office door. Opening the door, the priest saw a pair of scarred and tattooed hands holding the flyer. “I believe this is my job, if you’ll have me,” the young man said.
The priest recognized him as the same young man who had returned the stolen watch and wallet to Carl. He knew that Carl’s kindness had turned this man’s life around.
As the priest handed him the keys to the garden shed, he said, “Yes, go take care of Carl’s garden and honor him.”
The man went to work and, over the next several years, he tended the flowers and vegetables just as Carl had done. In that time, he went to college, got married, and became a prominent member of the community. However, he never forgot his promise to Carl’s memory and kept the garden as beautiful as he thought Carl would have kept it.
Carl was a person who lived out Jesus teachings. Carl was a saint. Saints are not remote or distant figures who were always perfect and therefore unlike us.
Most saints were like us; they had to struggle to become perfect and live the life of justice, truth, mercy, and love of God. They lived out the beatitudes in everyday actions and struggled to do the best they could.
Let us imitate Carl’s loving spirit and one day join him and other saints in praising our loving God.