Column: Have a questionable Lent

by Father Mark Goldasich

“What do you want to be remembered for?”

Management expert Peter Drucker was asked this question by a teacher when he was 13 years old. In fact, the teacher posed the question to each student in the class. Not surprisingly, none could come up with an answer.

The teacher chuckled and said, “I didn’t expect you to be able to answer it. But if you still can’t answer it by the time you’re 50, then you will have wasted your life.”

When Drucker attended his 6oth class reunion, one of his classmates asked, “Do you remember Father Pflieger and that question?”

Everyone there did. And each said that it had made a difference in their lives, even though most couldn’t honestly answer it until they were in their 40s. They’d begun wrestling with the question while in their 20s, but the answers didn’t stand the test of time. It took longer to discover what really matters.

Drucker found that that question induced him to constantly renew himself, because it pushed him to see himself as a different person — the person he could become. (Adapted from a story found in “Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement: Fifth Planting” by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR.)

Lent, it seems to me, is the perfect time to ask ourselves Father Pflieger’s question: What do you want to be remembered for? Lent pushes us to see ourselves differently: not as hopeless sinners, stuck in a rut, but as redeemed children of God, on a journey to becoming saints. And saints are remembered for bearing good fruit.

There was a famous American for whom that was literally true: John Chapman was born in Leominster, Mass., on Sept. 26, 1774. He was a skilled nurseryman, devoted to the Bible, and lived a simple life. He’s remembered for his gentle nature, his gift of peacemaking, his curiosity, his travels, and his generous spirit. He died at the age of 70 in 1845 and is buried in Fort Wayne, Ind.

He even has a special day in his honor that’s celebrated on March 11, the day of his death . . . or not. (There’s still some dispute about this — the date of his death, that is, not the fact that he died. Some insist that the proper date
is March 18.) In any event, though he’s not one of the great March saints (like Patrick or Joseph) — or even Catholic, for that matter — still, in a spirit of ecumenism, maybe we can consider him an unofficial, honorary Lenten “saint,” the patron of those seeking to bear good fruit.

Oh, by the way, you might know John Chapman better by his nickname: Johnny Appleseed.

So, why should we look to him for some additional inspiration as we continue our Lenten journey? Well, in addition to being a lifelong traveler, he can also teach us the value of patience and persistence. You don’t plant a seed and then enjoy its fruit the next day. There’s a lot of hard work between the planting and the harvesting. So, too, with Lent.

Secondly, Johnny Appleseed can teach us about the value of doing small things for others. Planting seeds or selling trees to pioneers may not have seemed like such a big deal at the time, but the trees that resulted, the smell of apple blossoms, and the fruit that people eventually enjoyed had a big impact, long after Johnny Appleseed had moved on. Our small deeds of kindness — a hug or smile here; a word of encouragement or helping hand there — may not seem like much. But, with God’s grace, they can produce incredible results.

To celebrate Johnny’s special day, treat yourself to an apple. As you enjoy it, thank God for all who had a hand in producing it and bringing it to you. Take out the seeds and put them in a little dish, where they can serve as a visual inspiration for these remaining weeks of Lent. When you’re tempted to abandon your Lenten journey, let these seeds call you to persistence, patience, and generosity.

What do you want to be remembered for? Being the apple of God’s eye wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

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