Dedication – Pastor’s Reflection (March 5, 2017)
If you are reading this, you probably received “your ashes” a few days ago, and you became
thereby a public penitent. An essential part of our Christian practice is the admission that we do not live up to our own teaching, and this is because Jesus did not give the kind of straightforward,
easily-mastered morality that would allow us to celebrate proficiency. The law of Jesus is less a code of behavior than a preparation for being with God, and so it is a work never finished.
If we take Christ’s teaching as a dynamic practice and not as static legislation, then we will
perceive spurs to growth more often and more deeply. To opened eyes, moments of ordinary life mete out inspiration and challenge all at the same time. Recently my own trajectory of awareness has focused on dedication, and I have been invited to ponder how ordinary people set themselves to a task beyond their self-interest, with as much energy and focus as if it were.
In my seventh year as Pastor, the dedication of parish volunteers still amazes and humbles me. Last Saturday evening we celebrated an elegantly and lovingly executed Mardi Gras. From beginning to end, the evening was parishioner dreamed and driven, and the success of the evening flowed from equal parts talent and grit, all of it contributed. So at 11 pm I am watching people in their good clothes hauling loaded garbage bags and mopping floors, all the while smiling, and I am thinking to myself, “this is the real face of Christ in the world.” Perhaps this is an ordinary part of parish life, but I find it an amazing testimony to the power which the Gospel has to re-orient life. I cite the example of one event, but it typifies happenings I see all the time, but will not attempt to list for fear of omission. The vitality of the living Church flows from what God does with the leisure time parishioners dedicate (oblate) to Him
We set this contributed generosity alongside Christ’s own self-gift in the offering of each parish Mass. But also resting there on the altar is the dedication people have to their “day jobs.” With each passing year I am more aware of the self-donation people bring to their work.
On Friday of last week, I stopped by the Waldorf-Astoria for a last good-bye before it closed on March 1 for a three-year renovation and conversion. During my visit I spoke with a desk clerk, a
white-gloved bell captain, a host, and a waiter. Even with their jobs set to end in a few days’ time, each of these people showed smiling attentiveness to hotel guests and to strays like me. (The New York Post reported that the closure of the Waldorf will put 1,441 people out of work.) In them I encountered nothing perfunctory, resigned, or even fatigued. How much sense of self these people have: they
maintained their own standards to the end. These are people who valued their work, which made their work valuable.
I bring these two vignettes to the beginning of Lent and recognize how they invite me to
dedication as a way of life. Lent brings me once again to the Sermon on the Mount, the great text of the dedicated person. Here, Jesus as the “New Moses” shows me my own capacity for an ever-widening circle of availability, generosity, and focus. Each year He seems to show me a horizon of growth I could not have imagined the year before. Chapters 5-7 of St. Matthew’s Gospel will definitely repay the effort of a reading at the outset of this holy season.
The mechanics of becoming more dedicated consist in connecting more and more aspects of life directly to the Gospel and of segregating fewer parts from it. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving work
powerful effects in us when ordered to this purpose. They reveal that each of us has a need to grow, but also a longing to grow. When allowed to surface, this desire for holiness gives the most eloquent of
testimonies that Christ is present in the world, and at work in us.
In a world of shouting, we offer a true witness when we live as those who seek.