Faith & Thought
Something strange and wonderful happened in my life in relation to my previous column. Just before writing that column, I had lunch with some people in service professions.
Just to make conversation, I announced that after lunch I planned to write a column, and I wondered if any of them had any suggestions about what I should write. They reacted immediately and responded seriously. All of them agreed that I should stress in the column the importance of saying “Please” and “Thank you.”
I was stunned by the fact that all their responses stressed what I would have presumed most people consider common acts of courtesy. I began to wonder if I had inadvertently touched on something important, perhaps even a serious problem.
I took the advice of those with whom I was having lunch and wrote the entire column about what I usually refer to as “small acts of kindness,” stressing that, as I have noted more than once in this weekly column, I don’t believe that there are any small acts of love.
All acts of love come about through free choices inspired by the Holy Spirit. I admitted that in one sense, these acts of kindness do not change the world. However, that does not make them insignificant or unimportant. These acts of kindness and courtesy can change a portion of the world. They change the atmosphere.
I see that at St. John’s University when I hold a door for a student or when I say “Thank you” to some student who holds the door for me. When I finished writing the column, I was pleased with what I had written.
When I retire for the night on a Saturday evening, I always hope to have an outline of my Sunday morning homily in my mind. After finishing the column, I was not certain what I would preach about the next morning.
Late on Saturday evening, I thought that I might be able to use some of the ideas I wrote about in the column. In my homily, I told the members of the congregation my experience at lunch, and I added some experiences from my own life, some in which people said “Please” or “Thank you” and some in which people said neither.
For almost 40 years, I have been celebrating Sunday liturgy in this parish, but I never received reactions like those I received concerning my homily about “small acts of kindness.” I was stunned.
It seemed as though everyone leaving the church raved about the homily. Apparently what I thought of as a small problem many parishioners considered a serious problem. That experience underlined for me the importance of never forgetting when we are dealing with others that they are persons, unique images of God, freely created and loved by God.
How we treat others makes us who we are. In Pope Francis’ vision of a revolution of love, there are no unimportant persons, no insignificant persons. God could not create an insignificant person even if God wanted to create such a person. To be a person is to be important, even sacred.
By some strange logic, thinking about what I had previously thought of as small acts of kindness led me to think of acts of kindness that are enormous acts of kindness and generosity.
Among those acts, one has been in the forefront of my consciousness during the last few weeks. That is the Kathie and Christopher Lawler Extraordinary Needs Fund for Senior Priests. What is it? The following is the description in its statement of purpose: “The Goal of the Kathie and Christopher Lawler Fund is to supplement and enhance the Diocese of Brooklyn’s efforts to assist our senior priests during their golden years. The Fund meets the expenses associated with the extraordinary needs of the senior priests of the Diocese of Brooklyn, including medical, social, and recreational needs and/or activities. Retired senior priests, age 71 or older are eligible for benefits from the fund. The Department of Clergy Personnel will inform Deacon Matt Oellinger when new priests reach retirement eligibility.”
About 18 years ago, a plane crashed into the Lawler home in the Rockaways, killing Kathie Lawler and one of her sons, Christopher. One response of Kathie’s husband, Tom, was to establish the fund. What an enormous act of faith and love!
I knew Kathie, a beautiful person. If happiness can increase in heaven, Kathie’s joy may increase every time a senior priest is helped through the fund. The love that Kathie and Tom shared is now extended to senior priests because of Tom’s generosity.
Lauder presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.