Saturday, August 27, 2005

Theological Calculus or Why the Guests At Lunch Can Change Your Entire Outlook

This is the second try at this post. The first version was eaten by Blogger. Granted it will probably be better for the mental fermenation, but the first version was better for its being written. Also, discussion during Spiritual Direction has helped some points as well.

There is a pitfall which every person of serious faith falls into. It is the confusion of success with fidelity. The assumption runs something like this. "I did everything right; why aren't I getting results?" This last Tuesday was a key exercise in such a matter.

The day started late as it was the kickoff for the Campus Ministry Program at the parish. This meant that Mass was delayed until noon thus making it possible for me to cover a pair of errands first. First stop, the country jail.

Now, for sake of privacy, I am only going to mention absolute essential details. There is a young prisoner incarcerated in the county jail, whom I have known in better and certainly different circumstances, who wanted a visit primarily for confession. So I went and heard the confession and then stood around a chatted for a while. I find working with prisoners both rewarding but difficult. I think I know why. It's because going to the prison is going to encounter Christ in His weakness before the Passion. The souls in prison are people who are receiving what is their due; this makes them different in one sense from our Lord who suffered imprisonment and mistreatment despite His innocence. But the fact that the Lord was imprisoned suggests that, as Matthew 25 would suggest, the Lord has thrown in His lot with these who are treated by us on the outside as expendable and lost. They are people who must live in the present moment because there is nothing else. Look to the past and you recriminate yourself for your actions; look to the future and wonder when or if that sentence will end before you die. As the prisoner looks across the iron bars, the look behind their eyes inquires of you, the viewer, "Where are you going?" In short, the hell of prison is the confrontation with conversion. To stand in the present moment be speaks a confrontation with reality. To confront reality, especially the reality of one's own deeds, means confronting the meaning and destiny of one's life. Again, the prisoner asks, with new depth, "where are you going?"

(N.B. This is not the place to discuss the appropriateness of sentencing policy in the jails regardless of what side you stand on. The sentence the prisoner in question will receive is not germane, precisely, with my point.)

So, after the jail, I sped off to the Wal-Mart. I had to pick up the last of the food and drinks for the luncheon after Mass for the college students. As I walked around, I encountered an older woman whom I had met on a previous occasion but couldn't recall the name. She related to me how she hadn't come to Mass for various reasons because she had felt isolated and hurt about somethings that had happened. Again, I am trying to be circumspect, because while we had this conversation in public, I am not sure she would want it public on the internet level of public. As the end of the conversation, all I could say was, "I am sorry that you feel that way, but if it makes you feel better, I would want you to come to Mass." But the time I saw the woman again, we were preparing to check out and she hugged and thanked me again for the time.

Then came the moment I was anxiously awaiting. Our kickoff for college ministry at Sacred Heart was fast upon me. I had a good list of kids and we were doing this in the midday because many students commute and therefore aren't around on weekends or evenings. I had a list of about 20 kids and an equal number of Catholic faculty so it boded well. When it was all said and done, three folks showed up, two faculty and one student. It was very disheartening. The best part? The student wasn't Catholic. He was a young man with whom I have played rounds of phone tag with and thus have known him for about a year, if you can call phone contact actually knowing someone. He is interested in becoming Catholic so there is one person for RCIA Catechesis, assuming he stays the course.

The failure of the campus ministry kickoff left me a little blue. Okay, a lot blue. I mostly spent the afternoon reading and reflecting. To put your minds at ease, I have worked up the beginning of an alternate solution, but more on that later.
The day concluded with Holy Mass at Cherokee. As I came back to Alva, I wasn't in much a mood than when I left. I stopped to get gas (that was unpleasant to say the very least) and noticed two folks sitting on the front stoop of the gas station. They were talking and smoking. As I took furative glances both at the escalating price at the pump and the couple, I began to think about them. I don't know why the thought came to mind, but began thinking about the problems of the day and seeing them from the point of the persons.

It is not a matter of numbers which set up success or failure. All that matters is one more soul is saved. Okay, so almost none of the people who could show up did, but there are three, at least, who are set back on the way. And I was able to do this because I had been faithful to the vocation I was given. Big numbers can be deceiving. You might have lots of people because you are telling them what they want to hear. The question must return to do what did I do with the talents, opportunities, and gifts given to me. And that is the only measure of lasting success.

Allow me to give the last word to Evelyn Waugh. In his Sword of Honour trilogy, Guy Crouchback's father writes him a letter after Guy responds harshly to what he sees as shabby treatment of the Church by worldly powers. Guy's father writes: "When you spoke of the Lateran Treaty did you consider how many souls may have been reconciled and have died at peace as the result of it? How many children may have been brought up in the faith who might have lived in ignorance? Quantitative judgements don't apply. If only one soul was saved that is full compensation for any amount of loss of 'face'."

It may have felt like a "loss of 'face'" to not have a good turn out, but there was nothing lost and for some, everything to gain.

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