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Cherish the tools that help you draw closer to God

      My dad, who recently turned 90, was a wizard with his hands. In his younger days, dad converted an old walk-in pantry in my grandmother’s house into a bathroom. He laid a brick bar in the basement of our house, with the top of the bar a fine smooth counter. He poured a concrete patio just off the back door of the house and installed a gas grill at one end of the patio.

      Unfortunately, I did not inherit such skills. The extent of my mechanical ability extends no further than a hammer, screwdriver (flat head or Phillips) and duct tape. If those items can’t fix it, I call an expert.

      This does not mean I did not inherit gifts from dad. What I am grateful to have inherited is his love of tools. Down in the basement of our house, dad constructed a workbench, and above the bench were his tools. These tools were always in their proper place, and they were always clean.

      My tools are not those of the trades, but of the spiritual craft. Atop my desk at my home are a prayer rope (100 knots) and a Rosary. Next to them are two books: Kardong’s “Benedict’s Rule” and Holzherr’s “The Rule of Benedict.” On the bookcase, immediately to the right of where I sit at my desk, is my Grail psalter (bound in a three-ringer binder), bible, Liturgy of the Hours, “Benedictine Daily Prayer” and “Daily Roman Missal.”

      Before me, and to the right of the window, is a Byzantine icon of Mary holding baby Jesus. Above that is a photograph of St. Thérèse of Lisieux when she was a child of about eight. I love that photo.

      Another gift I inherited from dad was his love of reading. Dad read to me when I was a child. He was particularly fond of Longfellow, and to this day I can recite large chunks of “The Village Blacksmith” and “The Wreck of the Hesperus” that he used to read to me. He also enjoyed Edgar Allan Poe and Bret Harte. But his real love was reading history. His paperback copies of Churchill’s six-volume “The Second World War” were held together, literally, with rubber bands.

      My personal library to the right of my desk is eclectic as well. While the majority of the books are theological, volumes of poetry line the shelves as well. Mostly, those volumes recall Wordsworth, Keats and Byron, though Eliot, Pound and Yeats are there as well. Joyce is represented, of course.

      Another gift inherited from dad is his love of singing. Dad sang tenor in a barbershop quartet as a young man, and I cannot recall a time when I did not hear him singing along with all those vinyl records he bought.

      I do not claim to be a good singer, but I can carry a tune and stay on key. My voice, once tenor like dad, is rapidly falling to the base line. I’m now 67; I don’t know how much longer I can continue singing – with any credibility - the Christmas Proclamation at midnight Mass or the Exultet at the Easter Vigil.

      All these things comprise the tools of my spiritual craft. You have a spiritual craft as well. Take pride in those tools. Be mindful of them. St. Benedict writes in his Rule that we should, “Regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar.” (RB 31.10)

      Old Brother Placid, dead now these past three years, was a Cistercian monk out at New Melleray Abbey, just south and west of Dubuque, Iowa. He ran the monastery garden which, at its peak, was several acres in size. A wood tool shed stored all the necessary tools and was spit-spot orderly. You never, ever, returned a tool to the shed until you cleaned and washed it. When you did put it back, you returned it to its proper place. Doing otherwise would subject you to Placid’s temper.

      Thus, keep your spiritual tool shed tidy and accessible.

      Which brings me to my last point. Tools are necessary. They are not to be misused. However, in the end they are mere objects. What gives the tools honor is the love of the person who handed them down to you. Your father or friend believed these objects were of value, and so they passed them on in the hope that you, too, would find them useful.

      Cherish the tools that help you draw closer to God.

      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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