Messages about who we are apparent in everything

    Last week Team Catholic -- specifically, teens from St. Francis By the Sea and St. Gregory the Great churches -- attended Catholic HEART Workcamp in Tampa, Fla.

Teens from all over the country participate in these weeklong service camps, sleeping on floors, eating mediocore food and taking cold showers so they can help those in need. (This same camp will be held in Bluffton next week. Watch for groups of teens painting, doing yard work and playing with children.)

Our group was assigned to sort clothing donations at a local homeless shelter.

As one of the largest ministries in Tampa, the warehouse we were working in gets truckloads of donations hourly. This required us to swiftly tear open the bags of donations and divide the clothes that could be resold in their thrift store, used by the homeless, sent to developing countries or thrown away.

Since each bag was, presumably, assembled by the same person, we were able to make assumptions about the donors. Some were incredibly conscientious -- clothing was clean, pressed and folded with no stains, holes or controversial messages. Some were families -- babies and children's clothing that had presumably been outgrown. Some were more... intriguing, shall we say? The fraternity T-shirt collections with various drinking slogans, the collections of sports T-shirts, the show-choirs and stage production shows.

We began making stories up about the items' previous owners, to break up the monotony of the job. For example, picking up some designer jeans and a trendy plaid button-down that was in a bag with college T-shirts, we theorized that the donor was a recent college graduate who just landed a job in a bank and would now wear only starched white shirts and khakis.

We never met the people whose cast-offs we were sorting -- and this is probably a good thing. You would not believe how much used underwear people donate. Really. But we could tell an awful lot about the donors based on how they chose to present themselves to the world. It was an interesting reminder of the old adage that "actions speak louder than words" -- that people learn a lot about us, for better or worse, just from our appearances.

As St. Paul reminds the early Christians, we are to be a role-model "of good deeds in every respect, with integrity in your teaching, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be criticized" (Titus 2:7-8).

Sorting clothes reminded me how much our habits, interests, possessions and appearance say about us. An examination of our homes, closets and cars can show us where our priorities are, what is important to us and what messages we're sending to those around us.

Hopefully, we are the same person our friends, family and strangers perceive us to be.