by Father Mark Goldasich
What a sad start to Respect Life Month.
The early morning on Sunday was filled with news of the shooting of five people in downtown Lawrence, with three fatalities. That tragedy would be followed Sunday night by the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, with at least 59 deaths and over 500 injured. And between those two events, only the Lord knows how many other acts of violence occurred in the archdiocese, the nation and the world.
My heart has been heavy, imagining the shock and terror of the victims as well as the devastating grief of those who mourn their loss. While it’s comforting and appropriate to respond immediately with prayers, our concern cannot and must not end there, especially as Christians.
And there’s no better time than this Respect Life Month to commit ourselves to doing more than just “talk the talk.” Although there are many ways to pursue issues that promote larger, systemic change, that’s not my intention here. I want to bring things as close to home as possible.
In a sense, the violence in our world today is not surprising. It thrives when there is a general loss of respect across the board — personally, societally and environmentally. What can break the cycle of violence, though, is respect . . . and that starts with cultivating humility in our hearts.
Last Sunday at Mass, St. Paul issued a daunting challenge: “Do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.” If you look around at the world today, we’ve got a lot of work to do in making this vision a reality.
The scene below, reported in the Los Angeles Times some years ago, shows that sense of selfishness so widespread today:
A commercial airline canceled a flight, which resulted in a long line of travelers trying to get booked on another flight. One man grew increasingly impatient with the slow-moving line. Suddenly, he pushed his way to the front and angrily demanded a first-class ticket on the next available flight.
“I’m sorry,” said the ticket agent, “but I’ll have to first take care of the people who were ahead of you in the line.”
The customer pounded his fist on the ticket counter, yelling, “Do you have any idea who I am?”
Immediately, the ticket agent picked up the public address microphone and said, “Attention, please! There’s a gentleman at the ticket counter who does not know who he is. If anyone in the airport can identify him, please come to the counter.”
Hearing this, the humbled man retreated, while people in line burst into applause. (Found in William J. Bausch’s “A World of Stories.”)
Well played, ticket agent, well played. Yet I have to wonder: Is humility dead?
My mom and I went out to eat last Sunday. As is our custom, Mom and I smiled at our waitress, thanked her whenever she refilled our drinks and complimented her on a job well done. Though we didn’t do anything unusual or extraordinary, she thanked us for being “so nice” — once at the table and later before we left. I began to wonder: If we stood out as being “so nice,” how in the world do other customers treat her?
My proposal for Respect Life Month is simple: Pursue humility in your daily dealings. Take St. Paul’s words to heart. Be conscious of how you treat those often overlooked or taken for granted: homeless people, fast-food workers, store clerks, wait staff, janitors, immigrants and people of different races. Do you regard them as more important than yourself and speak and act accordingly?
Pope Francis urges us often to “go the peripheries.” He knows that interaction with those who are not normally in our social circle can lead to greater understanding, a deepening sense of community as a human family, and, most importantly, respect for one another.
The good Sisters of Charity featured here show one way to do more than “talk the talk.” They “drive the drive” and model the humble service we Christians are called to exhibit.
And they’re helping one corner of the world to smile again.