Sunday, June 12, 2016
What Should I Choose?
Choice is such an important topic these days in our culture. What should I do? Why? What will people think? Is it really as easy as they say: “Just do what’s best for you”?
This past week I met some people, and heard of their choices. And through their choices I feel greatly blessed. And they don’t even know it. It wasn’t in their plans.
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They chose to love God.
As mass began Sunday morning, Father Ed introduced two young men who stood on the altar beside him. They would celebrate their first mass in the parish with him, after their recent ordinations. They were two of the four ordained from our small parish this past week. They looked like teenagers up there on the altar, like someone we’d more likely see in a McDonald’s choosing which hamburger to order. But we and they were there to celebrate a much bigger choice they made, and the applause at their introduction was loud and long.
They were our kids. They chose well. We were proud of them.
When it came time for the homily, the one who looked a bit older (he wore a beard) got up to speak. The Gospel, from Luke, had been about the woman who followed Jesus to the Pharisee Simon’s house, and while Jesus sat, the woman shed tears on his feet, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and applied ointment. And Jesus told her: “Your sins are forgiven.”
The young priest confidently placed us in that Gospel scene. He speculated about the events leading for this woman, this known, talked-about sinner, to choose to enter Simon’s house. She had to have known Simon and the others would look down on her. Why did she come for the abuse? The new priest speculated it must have had a strong pull on her, whatever happened, and yet it was probably something simple: Jesus walked by, and looked at her. And in that look she saw love, she saw understanding --- as no one understood her, and then she probably saw herself --- and was ashamed. And so humbly, no longer an arrogant sinner, she cried. She recognized her sin, and repented.
Father then spoke of a man who he told us is being considered for sainthood, someone he admires. The man was a convicted felon who had done many terrible things. Yet while in prison, God came to him, he acknowledged his sin, and he converted. He had many mystical events surround him there in the prison, where after some years he died. He’s up for sainthood? Father told us that it matters not how much we sinned, or even how much good we’ve done, but how humbly we’ve loved God, doing what He would have us do, even if it’s just a little thing. On that will we be judged, and rewarded.
This new priest did not sound like a young teenager, but rather someone who chose well, what he should do with his life.
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Last week, I had led our monthly Caregiver’s Support Group Meeting. A woman came who hadn’t been around lately, and I was glad to see her there --- and her smile.
When she first came to the group (with her husband) last summer, she was often very nervous. An intelligent, confident business owner, she spoke of her problems with her mom, who lived with her and her husband. Fortunately, her mom’s behavior (and her reactions), were familiar to some of the other caregivers, and they offered suggestions to help her mom, and herself. I remembered that she smiled through tears at the end of that first meeting.
At the next couple of meetings she described how some of the suggestions had helped her mom, and her, but there came a point where she spoke of the difficulties in her marriage, and her husband’s anger and how it scared her and her mom (he no longer came to the meetings). There was no ready advice for that, just prayers. And then there came a meeting where she told us: “I took mom to my sister’s, and moved out of my home into mom’s house.” She had been abused by her husband badly, and decided not to put up with it anymore. And things seemed to get worse. Her husband was stricken with a major disability, and there were fears he might never walk again. Her problems seemed without end, and I know she was the focus of many prayers by the other caregivers.
When she appeared last week at the meeting, she looked … healthier. She told us that mom was now at her brothers, but that had to change in September when he would go in for major surgery, with a long rehab. A decision had to be made on what to do with mom, and the alternatives being discussed among her siblings were outlined, as was the fighting among them, and their frustrations with her.
She said she still lives in mom’s home. She has repainted and redecorated it: “Mom would like it if she came back --- if she could.” The group discussed the caregiving options, and then the discussion turned: “And how are you doing?” And she smiled for the first time. “My husband is in anger-management counseling, and we’ve even done some marriage counseling. And last night we went out to dinner, and for the first time in a very long time, we laughed together.
And she positively beamed.
After congratulations and her saying, “well, it’s a start,” we moved on to another person’s situation. But later in the evening the conversational focus led the first woman to comment:”Well, yesterday I fed 156 people.” And then, somewhat reluctantly, she told us of other events in her life.
After she moved into mom’s house, she was returning from work one night when she passed a small park near mom’s home. She saw a line of people there and someone dispensing something, and she decided to stop. It was a woman handing out sandwiches to the homeless. She had been doing that, one night a week, for years. Our caregiver friend asked her: “What about other nights; where do they go?” She didn’t know, but only that they were there every week when she came.
And then, this woman from our group, this businesswoman with so many personal cares and worries, went out, bought food, and prepared a hot meal for the homeless in that small park. “It started with only 25 that first day, and has grown since. I come the same day each week, from 5 to 6PM. She told us that her nieces and nephews now come every week to help serve, and how proud she is of them. When asked, she pushed aside questions about cost, and relative to the weather she said: “Yeh, some nights were pretty cold this winter, but I showed up, and so did they.”
And then someone asked: “What made you decide to do this?” And she answered that she had perceived a need, and she chose to do something about it.
She chose to love her neighbor.
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The young men dedicating their lives to God, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, and the caregiver who serves food to the hungry: Why do they do these things? Do you think they asked the culture’s questions I opened with: “What should I do? Why? What will people think?” Did they “do what’s best for themselves”?
I don’t think so.
They saw a way to show love, a love so needed by so many, and they chose to love, and gave it no further thought. That is called trusting in God.
And the young priests were applauded (for the first of many times, I’m sure), the woman’s sins were forgiven, and the caregiver’s husband decided to change. Coincidences?
I don’t think so.
They made choices to love, and Jesus made choices to love them back, according to His plans, not theirs.
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One other thing …
Remember how I wrote that I cry every Tuesday, as the young kids of our parish silently line up to be blessed by Father after the noontime mass? This Sunday as I walked out of the church after mass, I saw another line. It was of people lining up to be blessed and prayed over by our two young priests. And I was reminded of the saying: What goes around, comes around.
Nah, I didn’t cry. Much.