Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Finding Jesus at the Dump

by Patrick Murphy-Racey


Earlier this year, because it was my son Patrick's last day at school, I decided to participate in the 8th graders' last all-school Mass. I joined Fr. Chris, Fr. Gerry and Fr. Bill at the altar and assisted at the liturgy. Afterward, I took off my vestments and walked to my dirty truck in the parking lot, using great care not to brush my alb against the side of it as I hung them up in the back seat.

While Mass was great, I knew I had an unpleasant job ahead of me. I needed to haul a truckload of construction materials, junk and garbage to what is called the "transfer station" here inKnoxville. There are things you are not supposed to throw into the normal trash dumpsters, like concrete, sheetrock, steel, etc.

Our tradition tells us that many of the saints lived in such a way that they spent every minute of their day with God, no matter what they were doing. So, as I pulled into the transfer station, I began to think sarcastically how I might invite the Lord to join me as I emptied my truck full of junk. My smile turned serious as I began to actually work at the task.

Then a funny thing happened in my heart.

A question came to me as I dropped the tailgate: What am I hauling around that I should get rid of in my own life? What garbage should I throw away?

The chunks of sheetrock were painted on one side and, thankfully, were broken into small pieces. I thought, "Sheetrock is a simple cover to the real structure that makes a house strong. Sheetrock is for looks and keeps the insulation in the wall and hides all the wiring and pipes."

There are many things that I sometimes put in front of the real structure of my life. I sometimes hide my strengths as a person by not showing my true self to others.

There was a long piece of rebar lying back there too. Rebar is solid steel and designed to strengthen concrete slabs and walls. It helps to keep foundations from cracking as buildings settle over time and shift as they age.

My faith is kind of like the rebar of my life. It is the unbreakable strength that is beneath everything; it carries the weight of my problems and holds the very foundation of my life together, no matter if my life is going well or badly.

There were all kinds of trash items back there, a lot of dust, screws and nails, fast food bags, some scrap PVC piping that had been cut out of a wall, and the remnants of a box spring mattress that someone in the past had burned so all that was left was the rusty springs.

Garbage is something I carry around with me, too. Everyone hauls around things that we don't really need - broken relationships in need of repair, cross words said in anger to our kids, talking behind someone's back at work or school. These are things we all do that lack virtue in our lives.

And so I asked the Lord to be present with me as I emptied my truck bed full of stuff I no longer wanted laying around in my life. He tells each of us to "ask and you shall receive," and so it was that Christ joined me there at the transfer station and helped me empty my truck.

The funny thing is that there were many trucks there doing what I was doing, and heavy equipment operating, pushing our trash into huge dump trailers below. It was loud and noisy and smelled pretty bad. As I worked alongside my Lord, I began to think about what a contrast this place was to church, where it is quiet, there is good light, art, stained glass, and people come to pray and worship.

Then it was time to dump that last thing that I had been dreading. It was a treated lumber 4x4x10 post that had a concrete footer still attached at the bottom. It was really heavy, full of splinters and lacked balance, as it weighed 80 pounds on the heavy end due to the concrete.

I dragged it to the tailgate and then had to twist the end of the post to move it toward the abyss. Finally, I used the other end of the post as a lever and jumped back as the whole thing headed toward the concrete floor of the transfer station and made a loud crash. The concrete footer held strong and didn't break.

Then, as Jesus and I looked down at the post, I realized that it was my pride that lay there. I nodded, looking at the floor as my eyes could not reach His. I thanked Him for joining me and, surprisingly, He got into the truck on the passenger side.

As we got to the on-ramp to head north on I-75, He had a big smile on His face and so I asked him what was so funny. He told me, "This is the best part!" Then I realized what He meant and I punched it. The old Dodge V-8 came to life and we rocketed down the ramp at 60 MPH.

As I looked into the side mirror to merge, all I saw was a swirling, white dust cloud behind us leaving the last particles of mine: "From dust to dust" came to me. Jesus was hanging out the window whooping and hollering with joy, flailing His hands in the wind. He was having a big time and the joy I saw on His face was pure. Note to self: Get to Confession soon.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.