Annual Appreciation Dinner
June 6, 2018
Philippians 2:1-11; Psalm 86:1-11; Matthew 25:31-46
Deacons, as you know, are very holy people. Sisters are very holy people. Even priests are very holy people. But we’re not holier than you are.
We’re not holier than thou.
You are the body of Christ, as Paul says, and I take that literally. You are. You are the Church, and I’m always amazed by your faith and your service and your wisdom. I really am. People are always talking about how corrupt the Church is or how dogmatic the Church is but what I see day after day are all these quiet acts of heroism and sacrifice and practical problem-solving, most of them behind the scenes, where you can’t get credit for them or acknowledgement or reward—and I don’t know how many times you’ve bucked me up and given me hope, and I know Father Ignacio and Father Maximo and every priest we’ve ever had would say the same.
Deacons come and deacons go and priests come and priests go but the Knights of Columbus remain, and the Catholic Daughters remain, and St. Vincent de Paul remains, and all the faithful people doing the work, enduring our homilies and putting up with our failings and acting with such charity and good humor and good will.
And realism, too. Dorothy Day famously said that the problem with the poor is that they’re ungrateful and they smell bad—Dorothy Day, who worked with the poor and for the poor every day of her adult life, unfailingly. But she was a realist, and she knew it was hard, and she knew that it would often seem fruitless–that many days there’d be no chance for the gratification of
our ego but rather repeated opportunities for the mortification of it. That’s just the way service is.
The projector doesn’t work. Only three people show up—for something you’ve worked and worked on. The kids are running down the halls at religious ed and you can’t seem to get them under control.
Welcome to the Church. Welcome to ministry.
In a famous letter Thomas Merton cautions us against trying to “build an identity for ourselves” out of our work in the Church, trying to create an image of ourselves as good people. “That is not the right use of your work,” he says.
All the good that you will do will not come from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.
“Without you knowing,” Merton says, and that makes me think of this parable from Matthew. When did we feed you, when did we shelter you, the people want to know, because they don’t know, and we can never know. The real good we do is always invisible to us, because finally we are the “least ones” ourselves, we the servants. God works through our limitations and our mixed motives as he works through all things, and if the projector doesn’t work or no one shows up, that’s the least of it, too, and the grace, because what matters to God and what matters in the life of the spirit can’t be measured or counted up or proven by numbers.
And I know you know this, all of you. You’ve shown me the truth of this again and again, by your faithfulness and in your actions. The hungry are fed and the grieving consoled and the inquiring introduced to the truth, year after year, and of course there’s great, great joy in this, too, great satisfaction, great reward. Sometimes it’s just fun. It’s just deeply satisfying, which is really why we do it in the end. It’s for us. We do it because it makes us happy, because it gives us joy.
“Do whatever most kindles love in you,” St. Teresa of Avila says, and this is why we are here. We love God, we love the Church, we love the people we serve, and I want to thank you for this service, and praise you for this service, and ask God to continue to bless you in this service.
Give joy to your servants, Lord, for in you we have put our trust.
Give joy to your servants, Lord, for without you there is nothing.
Give joy to your servants, Lord, for to you we have given our lives.