Be gracious in receiving the love of others


By Father Joseph Breighner 

The other day I saw a little toddler walking across a field following her daddy. Her steps were cautious and unsteady. She seemed very tentative with each movement.

Then she reached out her hand to her daddy. He held his big finger down to her, and she grasped it, and then her face lit up with a smile. She began to move confidently and excitedly. She obviously felt safe and secure. Her daddy extending his hand to help was all that she needed. Is life possibly that simple for all of us?

At times, we all need a hand out and a hand up. There are times when we all need someone else’s help. Our culture often works against that idea. It holds that we are all rugged individuals who should be able to make it on our own.

I agree that we are indeed responsible for our own lives. I’m not shrugging personal responsibility. Yet, how many of us built our own cars? How many of us built our own houses? How many of us built our own computers? We may be able to run all of them, but none of us built all of them.

Ironically, as I tried to start my computer to write this column, my computer kept shutting itself down. Without phone assistance from my brother in law, Mike Eder, this column would not have appeared. Possibly none of my columns would have existed. As I have shared with others, I have a creative mind, just not a practical one.

Not long ago, during a retreat, a lady approaching 90 came to speak with me. She had been a hard working employee all her life, and, in her retirement, had been a hardworking volunteer.

Now, however, she was experiencing more and more personal limitation. She felt dependent and useless. She wanted to die. She asked me why it was wrong to take direct measures to end her own life.

Obviously, I said many things to her – including asking if she had liked helping other people. She said that she loved it, and now was frustrated that she had to depend on others for help. Then I simply asked her, “So you would deny to others the joy you experienced of helping someone else?”

My words were an echo of Sister Justa Walton’s comment to me in 2002 when I experienced the strokes in my eyes, and the limitations that came with them.

“Father Joe,” she said, “be as gracious in receiving as you have been in giving.”

There are times when we are the helping hand, and there are times when we need a helping hand. It’s OK to receive as well as give.

Theologically, I think the same is true of God. Jesus taught us to call God “Abba,” the word for daddy. Our intimacy with God is to have the same loving trust in God as the little girl had in her daddy. God is not there to beat us up, but to pick us up.

The 12-Step programs all address our need for a “higher power,” a surrender to God as we understand God. Flesh and blood simply are not enough to make it through life. The human ego, on its own, finds it only too easy to get stuck in despair, depression, fear, lust, anger and pride. We need the hand of God to lift us to our higher energies of courageousness, trust, peace, love and joy.

Life is not always easy. To quote a classic expression, “The world, the flesh and the devil all challenge us.”

Life is too long to walk alone. But life is just the right length when we allow God to help. As a dying 94-year-old man said to his daughter, Patti, right before he died, “I’m OK. I’m under the cover of God.”

God’s hand is always there for us. We all need that hand. And often we are that hand.

Copyright (c) Oct. 4, 2012

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.