Not long ago on PBS there was a show on Masterpiece theatre. It was about an older woman in London who owned an antique shop. Her store was filled with many beautiful and expensive items. This woman longed for retirement. She’d been selling antiques for decades and she was tired. In her shop she had this expensive table, kings once dined on it. It was regal, and perfect, there wasn’t a scratch on it, and it shined so much that you could see your reflection. It was worth thousands of pounds. And the woman would think, “If only I could sell that table then I can retire.” But it never sold.
Now every Sunday afternoon this woman did a bit of charity work. She would bring a meat pie to a home bound woman. This woman was very old and confined to her bed. Now the antique dealer had an ulterior motive because the older woman was all alone in a huge mansion and this mansion was filled with beautiful antiques. And every time the woman visited with her meat pie she’d spy the different things in the mansion and think, “Oh that mirror is worth 1000 pounds,” or “That chair I could sell in a day!”
And so it went week after week, month after month year after year. Meat pie after meat pie and all the while that table would not sell. That table where kings once dined would not sell. “I’ll never be able to retire,” thought the antique dealer.
Eventually the old woman in the mansion dies and she leaves everything to a niece in America, everything to a niece in America, a niece that no one knew about. Except for one thing, one thing did not go to America. The antique dealer received a small drawing of a finger, a pencil sketch of a finger, more of a doodle than anything. It was in a crummy frame with a cracked piece of glass covering it. The antique dealer didn’t even want to keep it, a crummy picture for all those visits with meat pies, she thought. She put a price on the finger and put it up for sale in her shop.
A week later a tourist from Canada enters her shop and he’s very interested in the table. He comes back three times to look at it. He doesn’t even quibble about how expensive it is. The Canadian on his last trip to the store spies the finger drawing in its crummy frame and asks, “How much?” The antique dealer replies, “Oh that’s nothing, 20 pounds,” the Canadian buys the drawing and leaves. He doesn’t even buy the table. The woman is disappointed.
Another week passes the woman opens the newspaper and turns to the Arts section and the headline grabs her attention, “Canadian finds long lost sketch of Michelangelo’s Finger of God, and sells it for two million pounds.” That doodle of a finger was sketched by Michelangelo in preparation for his Sistine Chapel Masterpiece, “God creates Adam” where the finger of God reaches out to the finger of Adam. The old lady in the mansion had left the antique dealer a fortune, enough to retire many times over. She was not forgotten.
In that doodle of a finger there was more there than what the eye saw. The eye saw a crummy frame a pane of cracked glass, and the sketch of a finger that looked like an afterthought. But in reality it was the work of a master. There was more there than the eye saw.
Every time we celebrate Mass there is more than meets the eye. We have been left a spiritual fortune in the Eucharist; we have been left a spiritual fortune in the Mass. We have not been forgotten. A little piece of what looks to be bread and a little drop of what looks to be wine is the wealth of God. There is more here than what meets the eye.
When we think of the Sistine Chapel, the first thing we think of is that famous work of art where the finger of God reaches out to the finger of Adam. Some writers will say that the Mass occupies the gap between their fingers. At every Mass Heaven meets Earth, the Mass occupies that space between the finger of God and the finger of Adam.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley