The godfather and the metal detector

Author’s note: You will note that beginning this month I have asked that the title of this column be changed to “By the Rivers of Babylon.” This is in reference to Psalm 137, one of the most introspective passages in the entire Bible. While my articles tend perhaps towards introspection with a touch of melancholy, Christian hope always prevails. It is in this hope that I present these simple reflections from my heart to yours.

Recently I visited some very dear friends of mine. Their only child, a little girl of 7, is my goddaughter. And as you well know, we Italians take this whole godfather thing very seriously. Sometimes too seriously. Anyway, I have watched her grow up and it has brought me great joy seeing her enthusiasm for life! And she has, like many little girls her age, a very active and rather exotic, marvelously disjointed, imagination.

When I arrived at my goddaughter’s house, I caught sight of her father in the backyard throwing objects into the grass. As I drew closer, I noticed that indeed he was throwing coins onto his lawn. Finding this to be a rather odd and potentially expensive form of recreation, I asked him what exactly he thought he was doing. He told me to keep my lips sealed about what I had seen and come inside the house with him. Bemused, I complied.

Upon entering I heard my goddaughter giggling with joy over her latest toy, a large, pink-trimmed, and rather whimsical-looking metal detector. She promptly announced to me that there was buried treasure somewhere near her house, and like a pirate she was going to go find it. With her pink metal detector. Right.

My adult mind immediately sized up the situation. We are land-bound here in our part of the country. There are no pirates here. And if there were, they would certainly not survive our winters. The tropics are more their style. Furthermore, there is certainly no buried treasure around my friend’s house. The best one could hope for is a hidden gas line or a dead animal, both of which are better left where they are. No treasure here, young miss.

But then it hit me. My goddaughter’s dad knew of her imagination and out of love for her, he had intentionally spread the coins in his backyard for her to “discover.” She knew nothing about this and would have the experience of the joy of discovery. A dream come true! “You see, Dad, there really is treasure here!” And indeed, I had the wonderful experience over the next few hours of a little girl discovering buried treasure in her own backyard. And for a brief moment, we all shared in her wonder at discovery and her imagination come delightfully alive.

I suppose a cynic might say that her father really lied to her and she was simply tricked into believing something that was not true. I disagree. What I saw that afternoon was a dad who loved his daughter so much that he wanted even her wildest dreams to come true. He wanted to shield her from the disappointment and disillusionment that often comes with adulthood and to preserve her innocence and her wonder. And I wonder … I wonder if God does the same for us? In fact, I’m sure he does.

Divine Providence is the technical name for this. It is God’s loving care for us in our lives, where often by night and in secret he showers graces upon us, and places his treasures in the grass surrounding our lives. Perhaps our Lord puts a wonderful friendship in our path at just the right time in our lives. Or maybe a lovely piece of music which lifts our soul out of the doldrums.

Another day we might discover the treasure of the beauty of nature with our pets. And, of course, our vocation in life is a rich treasure indeed. And naturally, the profound mercy and forgiveness that comes after a good Confession. Let’s not forget the greatest treasure of all — the Holy Eucharist. And the blessed treasure of God’s Word in the Scriptures, the satisfaction of a job well done, a good laugh at a joke, and, and, and…

All of these are gifts of God’s Providence — sprinkled throughout our lives. We sometimes smugly try to convince ourselves that all of these things are our own doing, that we discovered them ourselves and by our own efforts. With our own pink or blue metal detectors! If only we could see that God has spread his blessings out in front of us, treasure gently buried throughout our lives. His grace — his loving care — is there for us. All you and I have to do is respond to his initial gift of grace, open our hearts to his will, and follow him.

As I watched my goddaughter laugh with delight over her newfound treasure, I remember the famous words of St. Augustine that “in crowing our own merits, God is really crowing his own gifts.” Like my goddaughter’s loving dad, God our Father has placed treasure in our backyard. From start to finish it is his gifts that we discover, which sustain us in life. Hardly imagination or make believe, we Christians call this grace. And that afternoon, in watching this little girl discover the treasure of coins secretly placed around her house by her own dad, I realized that I, too, had discovered yet another treasure from God our loving Father.

Fr. Girotti, who serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Green Bay, is author of “A Shepherd Tends His Flock.”