When I was a little kid, and I started to speak, I had a speech impediment. When I was in elementary school, I could not pronounce “r” or “s”, and as someone whose name begins with the letter “r”, it was going to be problematic.
In my elementary school, there was a speech therapist named Mrs. Diggle. I will never forget her name; I remember learning the rhyme, “Mrs. Diggle makes me giggle.” This woman was amazing.
My mom will tell you that I hated going to visit Mrs. Diggle at first. I didn’t like thinking that there was something wrong with me, that I was somehow less than other people because I had trouble forming words correctly; I dreaded when she would come to my classroom and pull me out to walk to her office.
But of course, look what God has done with my life. A major part of the work that I do involves speaking in public, sometimes, to your chagrin, at length! It would be very hard for a priest to preach, to encourage his people, to speak to them about the difficulty of life if he isn’t confident about the way his mouth forms words.
I have no idea where Mrs. Diggle is today, but there is a part of her that is always with me. A long time ago, I decided that I would ask God to take a little bit of the graces that might come my preaching and teaching and give them to Mrs. Diggle, wherever she is, for whatever she needs.
Mrs. Diggle is a woman who has a passion for helping people, who wants to play a role in someone else’s life in a very meaningful way. She did not start helping young children to speak so that she could receive accolades and awards; she got in it to help and to give little kids a gift that they will continue to use for the rest of their lives.
She took the risk of doing this knowing full well that she would never see her work come to its full completion.
For me, Mrs. Diggle is a perfect example of what it means to serve God and not mammon. Mammon, that funny word, simply refers to things that are worldly. As soon as we invest ourselves into things that are purely worldly, that have no connection to God’s will or plan, to a virtuous life, or to the building up of the lives of others we undo ourselves. Those things, like the world itself, are passing away; we may as well have not even done them. Serving God means to say, “You, God, are the man! You are the one I love and want to serve! You are the one who has put me here in this time, in this place and now I ask you to use me. I want to serve you, in whatever way you want.” In the smallest and simplest ways, use us, O God, even if that means teaching a second grader with buck teeth how to say the letter “r”.
The gift given to me by Mrs. Diggle is something I will never lose: she gave me the confidence to know that I am seen and known and loved in my weakness, but that I am not defined by my weakness and that when I really put my mind to something I am capable of doing something huge, something great. That to me is what it means to serve God and not mammon. I am called to give myself, like Mrs. Diggle, in total, selfless service to those around me.
Tonight we gather to celebrate the closing of the Promised Land Community Garden Season. I think we can all agree that this undertaking has proven to be far more successful than any of us could have predicted!
This land has given been given to us, but promised to someone else. I want to say that I am so proud of you for the work and sacrifice you have given to that little plot of land in front of the rectory. It has been a gift for me, personally, to sit on the porch and meet so many of you and to watch you form friendships and partnerships in service for the poor.
When we set out on Planting Day in May, we knew full well we would never taste the fruit of this garden. We knew that our bellies would never be nourished by what was grown here; every morsel would be given to the poor of our city. That food is promised to someone else.
Together, we grew:
162.75lbs of beans;
271.25lbs of peppers;
620lbs of tomatoes;
453lbs of zucchini.
Together, with God’s help, our tilling of the ground and the sweat of our brows produced 1,507 pounds of food in over 230 donations to 12 service agencies in Joliet! 1507lbs of food was given away from this land.
We were Mrs. Diggle for these people. We don’t know the end of our labors, we don’t care about the end of our labors because, in the spirit of the Gospel, we simply labored in the service of another. I can’t think of anything better than that. I am so proud to be your priest because of that. Through the power of God who fills and inspires us, we have done something beautiful together.
Tonight we make an ode to Mrs. Diggle. We make a little ode tonight to those who have taught us what it means to be poor, what it means to lowly, what it means to be simple, what it means to serve another person for the sake of serving the other person.
We learned this summer what it means to give ourselves in a way that others can be edified and built up by. We’ve learned to serve without expecting repayment, awards, or accolades, and without cutting the cost.
I don’t know a better way to explain, a more fitting or proper way to explain, what it means to serve God and not mammon. I am so proud of you.