Once when I was a postulant, we were trying to raise money for something. (Some things never change.) I had been in religious life all of about a year. Having witnessed and experienced my parents’ generosity, I decided to write and ask them to help out. With all the zeal of a neophyte, but less than half the sense, I did them the "honor" of scribbling those words to them. That such episodes never soured them testifies to their goodness and sense of humor, as well as pure parental indulgence. If I’ve acquired any grace under fire over the years, I got it from them.
This verse from the first letter of Peter is one of those Christian proverbs that goes way back to pre-Christian days, but spoke to the early Church as it prepared itself for the final coming of Christ. Of course, like many oft-repeated bits of popular wisdom taken out of context, it has been applied in one or two ways that cause listeners to stop dead in their tracks and wonder what they missed in ethics class.
|"Be reconciled to God!" (2Cor. 5:20)|
Last week I picked up some ribbon at a local fabric store for a project. At the counter, I spotted some craft paper on sale, but since I hadn’t brought enough money for both, I put it back. The check-out clerk noticed and asked me if I was Catholic; turns out, he himself was not and hadn’t darkened the doorstep of a church in a while. No matter; he was chatty and not at all intimidated. He offered to buy the paper for me, and as he attempted to ring it up, the register refused to cooperate. After three attempts, the words slipped out: it was quite mild as profanity goes, but he rushed to apologize. “That’s OK,” I said, spinning the proverb, “everything’s forgiven with a full discount!” He laughed, then asked for prayers. “Anything in particular?” I ventured. He hesitated. “Oh, I can tell you,” he finally answered, his eyes filling. “I have HIV.”
You can’t say a whole lot in the check-out line, and it’s probably just as well. He managed to say that he was living with someone, then added, “I know the Catholic Church doesn’t approve….” “Well,” I answered, “I don’t agree with the lifestyle, but persons are important, and I pray for persons.” He invited me back and agreed to pray for me, too. Without minimizing the precariousness of their condition, I figure that even if people don’t pray for themselves, if they pray for me, they’re connecting with God. Then I leave it to God to work out the details.
|Ash Wednesday 2011,|
our Boston chapel
Ash Wednesday, with its prescription of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as an antidote for our self-centeredness and self-righteousness, appeals to donors and beneficiaries both, to re-examine how we love. These practices are meant to hollow out within us a space for God and others, so we can more easily and clearly reset the priorities we opted for when we made our baptismal commitment to follow Christ. When we give, it’s not just because the IRS is looking over our shoulder or because we profit from the world’s esteem. When we receive, it’s without competition or a sense of entitlement. Love partners with repentance to help us recognize our interdependence and to reach out to others with respect and genuine compassion.
Lenten message this year, Pope Benedict XVI offers the image of Baptism and the Word of God from the Sunday readings as our reference points for celebrating this season. Love has been the underlying theme of his three enclyclicals. He picks up this thread in his reflections for Lent and guides us into opening ourselves to the charity proclaimed in the Gospel and first infused in us at Baptism for the forgiveness of sin.
Near the conclusion of his letter, Peter sums up his exhortation to love with practical advice on making charity feel at home in our lives: “To the extent that each of you has received a gift, use it to serve one another….so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ…” (1Pt. 4:10-11).
Pictured above, beginning at top: Jaymie Stuart Wolfe, PBM associate children's editor, Sr. Denise Cecilia Benjamin, FSP, marketing director, Anthony Ruggiero, acquisitions associate, Sr. M. Mark Wickenhiser, FSP, Rev. Joseph Mozer, Sr. Fay Josephine Pele, FSP.