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.

Temples of the Spirit

At Sunday Mass, the weekend before Lent, the priest asked the congregation during his homily what we planned to do for Lent – how were we going to use this holy season to grow deeper in our faith, to become better persons?

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Among his suggestions, he included saying a decade of the Rosary each day. As Lent arrived this past Ash Wednesday, I thought about that homily, and, while I was driving to work I decided to pray a decade of the Rosary.

I find the Rosary prayer to be very contemplative, and often my mind wanders from the visualization of the particular Mystery intended for the decade prayed. As I thought about the Annunciation and what it have took for Mary to say yes to God’s will, I had a moment – a sort of awakening about how I should approach prayer, how prayer creates tangible benefits, and how prayer strengthens the life of the Spirit in us.


Praying

For the most part, I realized that most of my prayers have been about asking God for things – for peace, for good health to family members and friends, for our children’s success in life, and so on. I have also prayed in thanksgiving for blessings that have been given to family, friends, and myself.

To a much lesser extent, I rarely prayed for acceptance, for recognition that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Prayers of acceptance, of allowing God to work within and through me crystallized in my mind.

Benefits of Prayer

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Prayers that focus on acceptance of what might not be within our control and on those aspects of ourselves that might be improved or changed, offer us an opportunity to strengthen our mental and spiritual capacities. Scripture passages and images ran through my mind – do not worry about the things of this world. A temple of human hands is destroyed, but Christ rebuilds the temple in three days.

Prayer helps our minds focus beyond the temporal world around us. It builds up in us a reservoir of strength, of peace and calm to manage our way through this life focusing not only ourselves but also on others whom we allow to enter into our lives.

Life of the Spirit

When we practice the discipline of prayer, we become better at identifying those aspects of ourselves that can stand improvement. For example, becoming a better person – one who interacts most favorably with others and is comfortable in his or her own skin – ironically is one who has developed a life of the Spirit.

This journey of prayer brings us closer to the reality of death – the transforming moment when our lives transition entirely to Spirit. I believe that the more energy we devote to preparing for this moment, we will be less anxious when the time arrives and have a more fulfilling experience.

These 40 days of Lent provide a time for us to consider how we will invest the time we have in our lives. This upcoming week, both the Fathers’ Club and Mothers’ Guild will embark on their annual retreats on March 8 and March 12, respectively. May the time they invest in meditative prayer and spiritual reflection enrich their experiences during this Lenten season. On Tuesday, March 11, the student body will bless the Lenten cross in the center of the Quad.

I believe that if we devote some of our time to the development of a strong prayer life, we will have made a doubly rich investment – one that provides us with contentment in this life and the ability to embrace life after death as the joyous gift that it is.

All of these thoughts rushed through my head as I prayed one decade of the Rosary on the way to work on Ash Wednesday morning. I prayed a second decade immediately after.