Sunday, August 17, 2014
On Saturday, I drove two hours to attend the mass at which two sisters made their Profession of Perpetual Vows. Invited by the men from the Fund for Vocations which I support, it was a blessing to be asked to attend --- an opportunity to do God’s will, I thought.
The drive began with my body feeling anxious --- perhaps I had too much coffee with breakfast. I took a pill to relax, which worked after a while. Despite printed directions, I had some further anxieties as I watched for the proper exits and turning points --- but they were needless worries. I arrived in plenty of time, entering the parking lot just as those who invited me were also arriving, and so we entered the small cathedral in Saginaw Michigan together.
The mass and commitment ceremony were attended by Cardinal Rigali and two bishops, along with the forty or so sisters of the order. The parents of the two young ladies and about a hundred or so others also attended. The ceremony itself was very moving and brought tears of joy to my eyes. It was good that I was there.
In his homily, the bishop spoke about commitment to community and its importance --- and its decline in our society. “’Selfie’ is a new word added to Webster’s Dictionary this year,” he said; they’re pictures we take of our self, alone or with people around us. “It used to be,” he lamented, “that we’d ask a neighbor or even a stranger to take our picture, but we don’t talk much to strangers, or even our neighbors anymore. We do so much alone.” He didn’t say so, but I perceived in him sadness to some degree, that it now takes a special vow to live in community, replacing that which was once called “just being neighborly” and caring about one another.
After the mass and ceremony, all were invited to a reception in the building across the street. My friends asked me to go with them. “No,” I said. “I don’t know anyone there, and I have chores to do at home.” (I felt going there would be to partake in food and gratuitous socializing, and an unnecessary focusing on me on this day of the sisters’ joy.) And so I said a goodbye to my friends and drove home to cut the grass.
I now think I was wrong in my declining to attend that social gathering.
In the quiet of the adoration chapel late Saturday night, I again thanked God for the two new sisters, and prayed for their joy, and God’s, at their vows. But as I lay before the Lord my thoughts drifted to the journal I had begun this week. “Yes,” I thought, “this attendance at the vows ceremony was a great ‘God Opportunity’ presented to me.” I would make note of it in my journal writings for today, with a check mark next to it --- an opportunity given me, and correctly answered. But then, unbidden, came further thoughts, about the question inviting me to the reception. Someone had asked me to go somewhere, and I turned down their request. Was this too a God Opportunity, but one I hadn’t considered? Why had I turned it down? And looking at my response, I saw I turned it down because of me --- my desires and, perhaps, my false humility.
I thought I was being humble, not wanting to attend and have anyone waste any focus on me, feeling compelled to make polite conversation with me, a stranger in their midst. Excusing myself, I thought enabled greater focus on the sisters. “I’m just being humble,” I thought.
What an egoist am I!
There, in the quiet of the chapel, my eyes were opened. Going to the reception I was afraid would cause people to focus on me?! No! Going to the reception was an opportunity for ME to focus on people, and on those two sisters in particular. The invite offered for me wasn’t God’s Opportunity for me to receive some pleasure for myself, but to GIVE some pleasure to others.
Opportunities from God, true opportunities, aren’t there so I can receive some love, but so that I can GIVE some love. Giving love requires someone be there besides me --- but I chose to go home, alone. My eyes were opened, I think, to better being aware of real “God Opportunities” in my life. They are first and foremost opportunities to be with other people, people whom God has put in my life, and I should willingly accept invites to be with other people. Whether I am tired, or it is noisy, or even if they are people I don’t particularly like being around, how can I love my neighbor if I first consider myself? How can I love my neighbor if I avoid him, choosing to be alone?
If I ever had an opportunity to see Christ’s presence in my neighbor, surely it would have been in the eyes of those two sisters. And I passed it by.
I thought back on the bishop’s homily on “selfies.” I didn’t use a camera, but surely I had focused a selfie that afternoon. In my journal I’ll include a note on the reception invite, and categorize it under God Opportunities I had that day, and give myself a failing grade. Did I really fail in an opportunity to love someone, to encourage someone, or perhaps to just smile at someone --- someone who may have needed to be smiled at? I’ll never know, because I turned down that opportunity for a community gathering, for a selfie.
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If I love my neighbor because he is congenial, renders me service or sympathizes with me, or because I enjoy his friendship, if I love him because of his fine qualities and pleasing manners, my love is merely human, and is not the love of charity. If I am good to my neighbor and help him because I am sorry for him or feel bound to him by human ties, my love may be called sympathy or philanthropy, but it cannot be called charity, because the characteristic of charity is to love one’s neighbor “propter Deum,” for God. My love becomes the virtue of charity only to the degree in which the love of God enters into it, only insofar as this love is inspired by my love for God. The more my love is based on human motives alone --- like congeniality, natural gifts, ties of blood --- the more it is simply human love which has nothing of the merit and value of charity. “If I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor --- and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1Cor 13:3)
Divine Intimacy, (p.752)
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Pope Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi described the Church as “a community which is in its turn evangelizing, meaning that those who have experienced the love of Jesus and live within the Church can and must communicate and spread it.:
Encountering Jesus, by Peter J. Vaghi (p. ix)
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Lord, let me see Your presence in every person I meet. Let me desire to be in the company of others, in community, for there I can love and serve You, present in every human being. Let me see every encounter as an opportunity for You to sow Your seed, through me. And let me be aware that You wait for me, in every person You place in my path.