One of the challenges of Lent is that we are tempted simply to admire Jesus, his dying to self and living for others, but to forget to imitate him! Sometimes even keeping our Lenten penance can make us more self-conscious rather than less self-conscious. That’s why it’s important to constantly be on the alert for people who really do live for others.
One such person was Bob Ball. I had never heard of him. He was featured in an article on the editorial page of The Sun during the first week of Lent. The title of the article was something like: “The Man Who Saved Social Security – Three Times.” He had spent 35 years working at and for Social Security. When he “retired,” he spent his 35 years of retirement protecting Social Security from the various “reforms” that would have greatly harmed Social Security.
The article was not a polemic against certain politicians. Rather it showed how one individual could find ways to compromise. He found ways to put the oft forgotten “common good” above partisan politics. Just think of the hundreds of millions of lives that were touched by a man who did it all behind the scenes.
That’s imitating Christ. That’s dying to self!
Ultimately we all will be forgotten. As Father Anthony de Mello put it: “Ask yourself who stood or sat 10,000 years ago where you are sitting or standing at this moment. What do you know about them? The answer is obviously nothing! Then ask yourself who will sit and stand where you are currently sitting or standing 10,000 years from today. What will they know about you? The answer, again, is nothing. All of us will ultimately be forgotten. But 10,000 years from now you will still be loved by God – you will still exist in God’s presence. Only God will remember us!”
A powerful meditation, isn’t it? The challenge of Lent is not to continue to identify with the ego-driven world of separateness, fear and competition, but to identify with the spirit-driven world within us and around us that brings peace, compassion and joy.
Let me tell another story. While checking out at a Rite Aid before Valentine’s Day, the young woman working the register said, “My son’s birthday is tomorrow. He’s my Valentine!” She got it didn’t she? Valentine is not supposed to be about feelings hurt because someone didn’t give or receive the right card or gift. St. Valentine would prefer us to focus on love given, not about our ego needs being met.
Let me tell another story. I have the privilege of saying weekday Masses at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. On the day after Valentine’s a message was received from one student’s father. Let me quote a few sentences: “I would like you to say Mass for (my daughter) to give thanks to God and the Virgin Mary. She can give testimony to the hand of God in her life. I also want to thank you for all the help she is getting from the School Sisters of Notre Dame. I pray that they will give her prudence and humility so that she can be a good disciple of Jesus. The Mass will be a surprise for her. It is like a gift for Valentine’s Day.”
Isn’t that a sweet letter? The father was writing from Ecuador. I wonder how many fathers gave Masses for Valentine’s Day.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that so many of our vocations to the priesthood and religious life are coming from Third World countries. They seem to still relate to the world of the spirit than just to the world of material possessions.
In closing, allow me to quote one of my favorite sayings about dying to self: “When you are born, you cry, and others rejoice. So live that, when you die, others will cry, and you will rejoice.”