Living the Gospel on a Bitterly Cold, Snowy Night
By Liz Quirin
Talk about becoming what you believe! Folks at St. Theresa’s in Salem know exactly what that means. Pastor, Father Robert Zwilling wasn’t preaching the Gospel as he welcomed strangers into the school’s gym from the interstate during the latest snow storm, but he was certainly living it, with all its complications. He agreed that the gym could be a back-up shelter earlier in the day, and suddenly that evening, it became a real shelter.
Like so many decisions we make about the future: He really didn’t know what he was getting into, but that didn’t matter to him or to Sister Mary Catherine Clark, ASC,the parish’s faith formation director. And, as with many situations, he wasn’t in it alone. His parishioners jumped into the breach with him, to provide whatever was needed for the stranded travelers along the interstate.
The experience turned into a life lesson and an excellent “Gospel” experience. The parables about the Good Samaritan and the Loves and Fishes jumped off the pages of the Book and became lived experiences, never to be forgotten. Sister Mary Catherine called to ask if we’d be interested in the story. Was she kidding? It was a tremendous story of what happens when people are in need and someone or a group fills that need, not asking for any recompense.
It was exciting just listening to the retelling of their story, how it happened, who became involved, how it turned out. They fed the hungry with supplies provided after Father Robert put out a request on Facebook. I am not kidding. The technology so often denigrated for stealing our ability to talk to one another became a life line as food and blankets started appearing at the gym. Instead of a problem, Facebook provided a means to a solution.
When people talk about a “win-win” situation, they often refer to a business solution or a sports play, not a life-threatening night with below zero temperatures on an impassable highway with cars strewn about like a Monty Python parking lot. These people were “saved” from possible hypothermia, hunger and emotional trauma through the efforts of a priest, a sister and a good number of generous St. Theresa parishioners and of other faiths as well.
While we don’t need a crisis or disaster to confirm our faith, it does create an opportunity to live that faith in a way we don’t normally live it day in and day out. This story in this time provides a real reminder to everyone that believing in the Gospel requires action, and everyone actively participated in welcoming these strangers, some of whom had never met a Catholic, let alone spent the better part of a night with one or more of them. What an opportunity for dialogue!
And then, as the clock ticked just past midnight, the people in the St. Theresa shelter sang “Happy Birthday,” to Father Robert. Definitely a night he won’t forget, and they probably won’t either.