Shy Tokens

The joy and meaning of receiving gifts from those we serve

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Years ago, at a summer assembly of Holy Cross priests and brothers, a mentor offered us an image of our possessions I will never forget. He spoke about all the trinkets, gifts and knickknacks on our bookshelves in our rooms and offices. He said how quiet they are because only we know their sentiment or their value. He called them “shy tokens.”

In July, many of us make our moves to new assignments. It is in this month that we usually take stock once again of our possessions, of what has value in our ministry. We clean house, offices, classrooms or sacristies. I have learned over the years to value the shy tokens offered me by preschool children or by elderly folks. In July, I take stock of my connection with people as I sort through many notes and cards and small reminders that God’s life in me makes a difference in the world.

Our possessions as priests often remain concealed in value and meaning. We hold the gewgaws and ornaments in our hearts recalling a wedding day or trip to a cemetery or graduation of a young person. The value intrinsic in these items on a desktop brings us to the relationships in ministry, which are fleeting. Many people in our lives are not so for the long haul. The refrigerator art, the handwritten notes and the sports paraphernalia are reminders that laughs, grace and connection are key to our lives as priests.

I usually carry my hymnal with me as I leave the altar after Sunday Mass and greet folks outside. The hymnal becomes a place for me in which I tuck phone numbers or addresses or reminders that a wife is in the hospital. I often include small pieces of art from a young girl who loves to give me a present after Mass. Sometimes, a thank-you card is handed to me as I offer people a handshake and greeting on the sidewalk. I carry the hymnal back to the sacristy and so often it is filled with the shiest of tokens. I love to read them after Mass, or sometimes they pile up between the hymns until I can find time to sort through them over the following weeks.

Sometimes, we are offered gifts that we just do not know what to do with. Some gifts remain in our lives; we hold the reasons for the gifts deeply in our hearts. Some gifts we carry from one parish to another, and others will be given away. We cannot hold every gift in our offices or rectories; we also cannot carry every gift in our memories or even in our hearts. However, in the moment the gift is given, we know that people desire to be seen by us. People want to express gratitude to us. People want from us an acknowledgment that we all exist, and that we all make a difference in relationships. Sometimes the gifts given seem inappropriate, and sometimes they speak to us with gentle love and connection.

I try to live a simple life. However, I carry tokens with me, some for years. When I retire, I will hold some as treasures. Some will not fit into my life when I will be confined to one room when I can no longer minister. I will sort through them in old age, offering other people a chance to remember with me. In these simple gifts, I will appreciate the reminders that I was on the earth and that priesthood made a difference. No one will ever know of how my shy tokens have offered me memories, laughter and graced pauses that I will keep until my death.

In July, I invite you to dust off your bookshelves and treasure the simple gifts given you from your people. I invite you to sit with the memories, both beautiful and painful, of your shy tokens. Allow your shy tokens to speak loudly. I invite you to pray for the people who wanted you to notice them in the gift-giving. I invite you into prayer for people who still grieve even after the gift was given to you. I invite you to take stock of how our ministries remain important in people’s lives even through the smallest reminders housed in your hymnal or on your nightstand.

FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as religious superior at Holy Cross House, a medical facility and retirement home for the Congregation of Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana. Learn more at

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