Our Pastor's Corner, August 31, 2014, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
As we conclude this month honoring our patron St. Dominic, I am reminded of one of the stories of his youth. By nature, St. Dominic was a curious lad. He enjoyed reading and the delights of thoughtful conversation. As a young man, he studied at the University of Palencia and his prized possessions were his books. In an age before the printing press, manuscripts were laborious to produce and the vellum (sheepskin) that formed the pages was particularly expensive. St. Dominic would spend long nights in study, filling pages with annotated notes and insightful gloss. In the course of his studies, a devastating famine ravished the countryside and left many starving and destitute. When the response from the local authorities and the wealthy was notably indifferent, Dominic responded passionately. Against the counsel of his classmates, Dominic sold all of his personal books for a tidy sum and gave the money to local charity. His explanation for this generosity was as delightful as the act itself, “I could not bear to prize dead skins (vellum), when living ones were starving and in want.” In fact, St. Dominic attempted several times to indenture himself and use the money to help those in need, but was impeded by his professors and friends. St. Dominic’s passion for preaching which founded his Order was fueled by his compassionate generosity.
It was in this spirit of generosity that we held our St. Dominic’s clothing drive last week. When some folks from our Friends in Christ group asked about sponsoring a parish clothing drive with the St. Vincent DePaul Society, I thought it was a fitting initiative for St. Dominic’s month. Since this was a new enterprise, the expectation was that we might fill a few bins that could be easily stored and transported. This expectation was wonderfully shortsighted: The response to the drive was astonishing. When I helped transport a few bags from the Church to the Aquinas Room after the 9:00 p.m. Mass on Sunday, I was met with a room full of clothing-stuffed satchels. A quick count tallied almost 200 bags filled with socks, shoes, blankets and other articles of clothing. The generosity of the parish was on full display. Many thanks to all who coordinated this effort and for those who contributed clothing. St. Dominic comes alive through such generosity.
And yet, there are times in our life when generosity is not easy or spontaneous. In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus rebukes Peter when Peter suggests that Jesus avoid Jerusalem and the cross which awaits. Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For the Son of Man will come and repay all according to his conduct.” (Matt 16:24-27) Following Christ is not simply a matter of being kind when it suits us or giving when we have abundance, but also entails cultivating the habit of kindness and generosity. We grow in virtue precisely when we are called upon to be kind in the midst of unpleasantness and to give even when it is difficult. In a particular way, I think of the response of those who came to the aid of those in need in the aftermath of the Napa earthquake. Moments of emergency and crisis calls forth nothing less than the whole of our efforts and energies.
St. Paul summarizes this attitude of giving in the 2nd reading, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) Being a disciple calls us to a way of life. We are not Christians only when we are in Church or are involved in some charitable project, but at all moments of our lives. God wants the entirety of our minds and hearts, that He might come alive in and through us. The ways in which we let go our ego and selfishness contributes to forming an attitude of love. May the end of St. Dominic’s Month be the beginning of a rejuvenated sense of God’s manifold grace. When we face the crosses and trials of life with a generous heart, God’s love flows through us and renews our lives.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.