Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 29, 2003
Strike a match and watch the love glow
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
You probably know our motto here at The Christophers: "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." But did you ever wonder how our founder, Maryknoll Father James Keller, came to select it? He tells the story himself in his autobiography, To Light a Candle, published in 1963 by Doubleday.
One evening in 1945 he was at a Second World War rally in the Los Angeles Coliseum, part of a crowd of over 100,000. At one point, the master of ceremonies asked those in the vast audience if they ever felt their jobs were insignificant, that they contributed little to the overall war effort.
To show how wrong they were, he had every light in the Coliseum turned off. Then, in the darkness, he lit a match and its tiny flame could be seen throughout the arena. Next he invited everyone to light matches of their own.
"From every corner of the stadium came the sound of matches being struck," Keller wrote, "and, faster than it takes to tell, nearly 100,000 pinpoints of light suddenly glowed in the summer night." The story figured prominently in the early days of The Christophers, founded that same year.
Keller made the rest of it sound easy: "Launching the Christopher movement was like dropping a pebble into a pool. The circles just went on widening outward by themselves."
Of course, there was much more to it than that, and most of it had to do with the hard work of Keller himself.
But the stories of the glowing matches and the widening ripples in the pool illustrate exactly the points he wanted to make, and I thought of them recently as I read a note from a long-time friend of The Christophers.
Ellen Gambatese of Kendall Park in central New Jersey was writing in response to a Christopher invitation to let us know what people are doing to improve the world. She told of her son, Frank Jr., and daughter-in-law, Mickey, and how their work on behalf of poor people had grown and grown - just like ripples in a pool, in fact, or like the light from matches in the dark.
Some years ago, Mickey, a dance teacher, began organizing an annual dinner, with entertainment and gifts, for battered, often homeless women and their children. In time that led to an association with a group in Mercer County called Homefront, which renovates housing and otherwise offers help for the homeless.
Her efforts encouraged her husband, manager of a Home Depot in West Windsor, N.J., to get involved, and soon he and a team from his store were providing Homefront not only with manual labour but with donated material as well.
At his annual managers' conference, Frank was honoured with his company's community service award, with a $10,000 contribution to be given to the charity of his choice. It went directly to Homefront, to help provide housing for the homeless.
As Ellen Gambatese sums it up: "Together, Frank and Mickey have given hundreds and hundreds of people a big boost to a new lease on life!"
Matches in the dark. Ripples in the pool. Good deeds have a way of growing and growing. I know that Father Keller would have loved Ellen Gambatese's story. I hope that you do too.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.