Using Our Gifts For The Good Of All – A Lenten Reflection

Ash-WednesdayThere was a story in the news recently about a waitress at an Applebee’s in southern New Jersey who turned 90 years old. She had been working for the last 13 years at that restaurant, having worked at other eateries over many years. When interviewed, she said that she planned to continue working because she enjoyed her job so much. When interviewing the regular patrons who attended a surprise birthday party for her at the Applebee’s, they said that she was very special and very good at her job because of the “little things” she did. She knew their favorite dishes and their tastes; she attended to the details of their meal, checking in on them, making their dining experience a positive one. Her manager said that she had an exemplary work ethic, consistently performing her job exceptionally well.

When I was in college, I was offered the position of organist at Christ Our King Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Over the years, I voluntarily took on more roles in what was then a city parish declining in the number of parishioners. On one occasion, as I was dropping off programs I had created for the Holy Week liturgies, Father Fallers, the pastor who hired me, greeted me, and, after looking very impressed by the box of programs I had assembled, asked if I had offered my work to God. I said that I had not thought about it. He said that I should consider the smallest task or act of kindness that promotes good as something that would be pleasing to God.

Years later I would begin working with Father Justin Diny, O.Praem. at Archmere. Father Diny was the headmaster of Archmere from 1946 to 1983, and had accomplished much in his years of leadership. I had the fortune to work with him from 1984 until he died in 1989 in the development and alumni relations office of the Academy. He often had sayings and small pieces of advice he would offer from his years of experience. He would say, “There’s no job too small or insignificant.” And he would add, “In a school, every job is important and anyone can be replaced.” Living this refrain of humility, I would often see Father Diny on summer afternoons pruning the bushes or weeding on campus, often times coming into the office in the following days with poison ivy up his arms.

Over the last couple of weekends, the Scriptures at Mass have included excerpts of Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In the second reading on January 24, Saint Paul says, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. Some people God has designated in the church to be first of all apostles; second prophets; third teachers; then mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:27-30) Saint Paul was writing to the Corinthians, asking them to appreciate one another for their differences and talents that, when brought together collaboratively, create a satisfying, creative force in the world – the body of Christ.

The following week, Saint Paul continues his words of encouragement to the Corinthians, which are now probably the most popular passages couples use to express their love for one another at their wedding ceremonies. He talks about love for one another, saying, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes, all things, hopes all things, endures all things. . . . So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:4-6, 13)

In reflecting on these Scriptures at Mass and thinking about how each of us has something to contribute, I consider Archmere to be a place of community where we truly have the opportunity to become the eyes and ears and hands of Christ’s body. Each of us, in our own way – students, teachers, staff, parents, alumni, grandparents, and friends – contribute to sustaining a mission that is founded in the Gospel message of love and hope for all. No job is too insignificant or unimportant, and we need each other’s skills and talents to be the best that we can be.

I often joke that when I have to repair something around the house, no matter if it is an electrical, plumbing, or some other problem, the first question I ask is if we have “Liquid Nails,” because my family knows that my talents do not lie in those areas. I respect that others are much better in all of these areas, and I rely on them for help.

A lesson for all of us, I think, and especially for many of our students who may feel the pressure to be “perfect” or “excellent” or “A+” in everything, is to recognize that many of us are called to share specific talents over others. If we were all “hands” or all “ears” or all “eyes” as Saint Paul says, wouldn’t life be boring and what would we accomplish? But because we are all different with different talents to share, life is wonderfully rich and diverse, and the contributions of each when assembled are like a stained glass window. The individual pieces, when illuminated, create a beautiful picture, and the leading that hold the pieces together remind us of the challenges, the bruises, the failures, and the concessions we have had to overcome to arrive at consensus.

As we enter the Lenten Season, I pray that each of us can pause to appreciate the gifts we have been given and consider how we use those gifts for the good of all, recognizing that no kind act goes unnoticed, no job is too insignificant, and each of us can humbly take up the work we were called to do in our families and in our communities.