Imagine walking through a garage sale dotted with forgotten toys, 1980s videos, tired-looking clothing, and there — sitting between grandma’s old dishes and Tupperware — is a case containing an ill-used Communion chalice and a paten. Luckily, the person who saw the vessel realized that it needed rescuing, and it ultimately ended up in the hands of Fr. Bradley Neely, pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in Lewiston, Idaho.
Why not valued?
How a sacred religious article landed in disrespect at a common garage sale will probably remain a mystery. Fr. Neely says religious vessels are more likely to turn up in pawn shops because they were somehow acquired or stolen.
“The likelihood is that it was a personal set versus one owned by a parish,” Fr. Neely surmises. “Parish vessels tend to be put aside and kept after they are no longer actively used.”
He continues, “If the chalice ended up in the personal effects of a priest, perhaps someone in his family inherited it. If the party inheriting the vessels, or anyone thereafter, was not particularly engaged in the faith, it’s possible that they lacked meaning and therefore ultimately fell into a yard sale.”
Whatever the reason, sacred objects should not end up in yard sales or pawn shops because of their use in the Mass and because they’re blessed.
Fr. Neely was grateful that someone realized the preciousness of their garage sale find. He felt relief seeing that it was not damaged beyond repair — it only needed its gold plating redone.
“I knew it was a great candidate for a refurbish,” he recalls.
The vessel was repaired by Reilly’s Church Supply in Boise, Idaho, and came back to Fr. Neely looking like new and ready to give as a gift to John Kucera, a young man from his parish who was approaching ordination to the priesthood.
The night before Kucera was ordained, during Evening Prayer, Bishop Peter Christensen placed the now pristine chalice on the altar at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise, and he re-consecrated it to God.
Fittingly, Fr. Kucera was assigned to St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Nampa, Idaho. (St. Paul, whose angry soul was redeemed by Christ, and was made bright and shiny like the refurbished chalice.)
Months later, Fr. Kucera’s chalice would be the centerpiece of a powerful homily given by St. Paul’s pastor, Fr. Caleb Vogel. While Fr. Kucera was on a pilgrimage to Rome, Fr. Vogel shared the history of the chalice in a Jan. 14, 2018, homily with the theme “Jesus Our Redeemer.”
Holding up the shinning chalice, Fr. Vogel told his parishioners, “This is redemption in a nutshell.”
In his homily, Fr. Vogel relayed the story I have just told you. He demonstrated how the once neglected object was an example of God’s power to restore, to make new, to redeem — not just the chalice — but each of us.
Fr. Vogel, a gifted orator, explained, “This chalice has a mission. Its mission is to serve God. It serves God by holding the precious blood of Jesus.”
Each of us also has a mission from God.
“We were all created in God’s image and likeness — created beautiful, wonderful — but sometimes we too can fall into the wrong hands. Sometimes we too can wander from the path so to speak and become desecrated,” Fr. Vogel explains.
“The good news is that Christ is our redeemer, and he has not only the desire but the power to redeem us. Jesus can redeem us and restore us again and return us to our fundamental mission, which is service to the kingdom of God.”
How are we restored? Most Catholics know the answer.
“If the chalice gets dinged up, it can be restored; if you happen to stumble and fall, God won’t throw you away. God has given us the great gift of [the sacrament of] Reconciliation. To be forever be restored and be made new,” Fr. Vogel emphasizes.
A missing part
The next day, after Monday morning Mass, I approached Fr. Vogel in the sacristy and told him how touched I was by his homily, and that I wanted to write about the finding of the chalice.
Taking the golden cup down off the shelf, he pointed out something interesting. On the vessel’s stem, there’s a cross shape, and in the center of it, there’s a round hole. Fr. Vogel explained that empty hole is meant to hold a diamond — and most likely did before it ended up at a garage sale.
Traditionally, after the priest’s mother dies, the diamond from his mother’s wedding ring is placed in that hole. Each of us also has such a hole in our souls, that is waiting — yearning — to be filled with the brightest and clearest diamond — God.