It was after morning Mass. I was just getting into my car when a middle-aged man came up to me and with eyes wide, said: “Father! Wait a minute, I have something for you.” I said fine, thinking that if I were in luck, I’d be munching chocolate chip cookies and drinking tepid coffee on my twenty-mile return trip home.
The man returned carrying what looked like a small card-board box, just about the right size for a dozen or more cookies. With joy he opened the box and showed me a shoe. Not any kind of a shoe, it was a simple, slip-on black walking shoe. “This is the shoe Bishop Sheen wore on his last day on television,” he said. I thought, “Well, this is interesting. I am being given a gift of Bishop Sheen’s own, personal shoe. How many people have a framed shoe that the great preacher wore? But, I was wrong. He wasn’t giving me the shoe; he was giving me an opportunity to touch it. Thereby I would somehow receive what he called a “Miracle.”
This man was rapt in his idea that a kind of good luck would come to me with the veneration of the shoe. So, I touched the shoe (actually the frame which held the shoe) with, I hope, proper reverence, thanked the man and drove off in wonder. I’ll try to explain.
I’m afraid that the man who wanted to bless me with Bishop Sheen’s shoe has somehow mixed belief in miracles with a talisman or good luck charm. I am not demeaning the man but I think he is mistaking the meaning of the shoe.
Some of our people have drifted into peripheries. What has a third class relic to do with building the kingdom of God? And, the spectacle of a holy shoe in a frame, hung on a wall, I think, is more than a distraction. It’s a diversion. Our impulses of reverence toward the holy aren’t always healthy. A shoe, is a shoe, is a shoe. No matter who wore it.
The story goes that the old preacher was sitting on his porch on a particularly hot and humid morning. He was fanning himself with an old piece of cardboard. The young preacher stopped by and they got on the subject of preaching, how long, how dramatic, how emotional. The old preacher finally said just remember this: “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” Shoes are for walking,