The lesson here is trustworthiness: those who can be trusted in small things can also be trusted in great things. Benedict knew this lesson well – that’s why he instructs us: “treat all things as vessels of the altar.” If we handle furniture, dishes, sewing supplies and a paint brush with the same respect that we exhibit toward a chalice it is more likely that we will have that attitude of caring will extend to people. When we hear stories of violence, abuse and disregard for persons, the root “red flag” behavior was often evidenced in childhood and behavior toward siblings or parents: hitting out, slamming doors, the classic “kicking the dog” behavior because the young person was mad at a classmate or the teacher. The parent who withholds violence against an over-powering boss but deliberately runs over the bike in the driveway, or slaps his son or screams at her daughter for a triviality – that behavior can usually be traced back to disrespect and disregard for the toys, blocks and body-slamming in the guise of “we were just having fun.”
Respect has its seed in Benedict’s “treating all things as vessels of the altar.” Think about it … look at how you treat and handle your belongings and community goods you’ve been given for use … your personal spaces, the car you usually drive, “common spaces” you use … are they as neat, clean and orderly as we expect the altar vessels and the chapel to be?
Respect for things matures into respect for persons which leads others to know they can depend upon us and trust us to “handle” them with respect. We are trustworthy with the little things in life, thus we can be trusted in our interactions with each other.
The story goes that a little girl and her father were crossing a bridge. Her dad was actually kind of scared of heights so he asked his little daughter, ‘Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don’t fall into the river.’
The little girl said, ‘No, Dad. You hold my hand.’ ‘What’s the difference?’ asked the puzzled father. ‘There’s a big difference,’ replied the little girl. ‘If I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let go of your hand. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go.’
In any relationship, the essence of trust is not in its bind, but in its bond.
When I was growing up in DeLand we lived 3 blocks from the main boulevard the best way to get from home to church – we had no car, we walked the two miles. When, as an adult I drove the distance from the highway to where our house had been it seemed much shorter than my memory. Why does that matter? As is still typical today in parishes, our high school catechism classes were in the evening. Until my 9th grade year, (I came to the academy when I was in 10th grade) my brother, three years my junior, and I had attended afternoon classes together. Now, it was October and daylight savings time had ended and the walking home after class was in the dark – felt like the dead of night. It wasn’t too scary until I reached the turn off to our street – no street lights, barking dogs that sounded like wolves, creepy noises of a rustle in the bushes. I don’t know why, I didn’t have a flashlight. I don’t recall that I talked about being scared … maybe rushed into the house like a banshee was chasing me? But, the second week of classes, and every week thereafter until our clocks were sprung forward to daylight savings time, my father would magically appear at the corner of the main road to continue the journey home with me. He sometimes made remarks about the foolishness of attending those classes when I already knew as much as the teachers… but he was there, and I knew I could depend on him to keep his vigil for my return. And, I am sure that continues to confirm my belief that God is trustworthy and simply is “always there.”