Michael, doggie bags and a journey of repentance, glory to God & love for neighbor

I have garnered a curious reputation at our home parish for picking up trash in the walkways and parking lot. I get a few odd looks, some encouragement and, even praise from one of our Priests, Father Garcia. It’s a bit embarrassing, and I hate to seem like a do-gooder, so I try not to put on a display. But when, as my wife and I stroll up to the front doors of the back entrance to the Cathedral, and she points to a soiled napkin or cigarette butt, sometimes people see it. It’s also a little strange for them when we walk out of Mass together, trying to chat while I’m constantly bending down to pick up something mid-conversation.

We have dogs, two now, four not long ago. So I am always walking them, which means I always have a pocket stuffed with doggie bags and, more importantly, I am extremely cognizant of litter that might harmfully interest the dogs. Before the Holy Spirit guided me to the Church, I would curse the source of half-eaten sandwiches and chicken bones I had to pull from the dogs’ mouths, or the broken bottles whose shards might become caught in their paws. I looked upon it as attempted murder of the dogs.

My conversion to the Lord had various steps and challenges, but this business I kept hearing about commanding us to love one’s neighbor was especially daunting, as it is for most of us. Gradually, though, scripture, homilies confessors, and the Holy Spirit awakened me, and I started to turn my anger into love. Rather than dragging the dogs away and angrily trampling on while swearing calumny at the source of the trash, I learned to take a breath, pick up the trash myself, and move on without resentment or ill-will towards my brother or sister who left it there.

With a calm that can truly be described as the Holy Spirit taking over my heart and soul, I have actually begun to feel joy at these encounters with the messes of others (and, sometimes, my own.) As I pick up the trash, I praise God while harborng little or no thought as to the source or reason for the trash. (Some things people leave around make you wonder, though, LOL.)

I trust others won’t judge my intentions wrongly, but no matter, for every little wad, cap, bottle, or scrap that I pick up makes the world a little less imperfect, while allowing me to atone for my prior anger and resentment at others. It does leave my neighbors bewildered when they compliment me for “being so sweet” or whatever (got called “nice” for picking up a dead squirrel in the road the other day), and I reply, “Praise God!” They shake their heads and turn away. I’m doing this for the Glory of the Lord, and not for me or anyone around me.

Best of all, Father Garcia, who noticed my little habit, instructed me to say his words of thanks when he picks up other people’s trash,

“Senor, estoy limpiando tu obra, la tierra.”

(“Father, I am cleaning up your masterpiece, the earth”)

So now I say that or, “For the glory of God, and the love of my brothers and sisters,” Then, as I tie up the doggie bag, or, frequently, bags, throw them in the back of the truck, then slather my hands in sanitizer. Not bad for a germaphobe — but that’s also part of the penitence.

Update 8 Aug 2023:

After today’s noon Mass, as I hustled back to the parking lot from chasing down a lunch carton that was blowing down the street in the wind, a fellow parishioner smiled at me and told me that she tries to pick up the trash around her, too. She said she learned to stop getting angry and just grab whatever others have left behind, especially at her local park.

I explained what I’m doing and told her that it’s rather embarrassing, actually, and doesn’t really matter much, anyway. She said, “Well, you’ve changed at least one person: yourself.”

God bless you, my friend.

I went off to grab a catsup package I left behind by the Cathedral for lack of bags in my pocket, and contemplating our conversation, I rehearsed in my mind today’s optional reading (which our pastor did not choose), in which the Lord explains to his disciples that,

Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted
will be uprooted.

Mt 15:1-2, 10-14,

Of course! Without over-thinking sidewalk trash, like all our sins, Our Father “has not planted” it — so to retrieve may well restore, as Father Garcia told me, a little something to God’s wondrous creation.

Update 21 Oct 2023:

I’ve been working recently on the Beatitudes with high school Confirmation candidates. The meanings of “poor in spirit,” “meek,” and “mourning” are difficult for the kids, as these are not qualities the world upholds. And, as with most of us, they’ve expressed how difficult it is to forgive others. We then turned from what the Beatitudes are to what they are not, and, sadly, they saw so much of it around them: anger, resentment, ingratitude, hating, acting cool, and so on. We then turned to the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit, which we considered as rewards and beatitude that the Lord endows upon us for embracing his lessons, I felt it within myself. It’s a small start, anyway, and with so much more in my life to fix and do, but I thank and praise God for inviting me in. Picking up trash is one thing; embracing God is altogether another.