A few weeks ago, a student from a nearby high school approached my pastor to ask if we might help her to collect supplies for a school on the West Side of Chicago. Father Greg was touched by the young woman’s willingness to take on this project and he agreed to allow her to seek our support. Though Mari’s heartwarming talk at each of the weekend Masses was certainly worth our attention, my ears perked up further as soon as I heard mention of St. Malachy’s. It was then that I knew precisely where our donations would go. I’m the product of a West Side of Chicago Catholic School. I attended Presentation School which was located a few miles from St. Malachy’s and I attended high school with several St. Malachy alums.
As Mari spoke, I couldn’t help mentally revisiting those years at Presentation. Mine was one of many blue-collar families who sacrificed whatever was necessary to provide a quality education to their children. At the time, our neighborhood wasn’t much different from that of St. Malachy’s today. Influences on the street compelled even non-Catholic parents to enroll their children in our parish school. When my dad passed away just after I was promoted to third grade, my mom went to work full-time. She did her best to provide the things we needed. This meant that we reused book bags and crayons, pencils and notebooks from the previous school year if they were still serviceable. We purchased only what was truly necessary. Our mandatory uniforms were often hand-me-downs as well. Persnickety rule-follower that I was, it bothered me to wear white blouses which were different from those sold by the uniform company. As far as our teachers were concerned, the blouse’s collar style didn’t matter. For my mom, price tags guided her selections in that regard. When I returned to Mari’s talk, I began to strategize my school supply purchases in an effort to get as much for my money as possible. After all, I knew firsthand the importance of new school supplies!
I admit that I chuckled to myself when Mari set up her collection bins after the services that day. Though she and her mom brought two good-sized plastic containers, there was no way they’d be large enough. By the time I left church, some of you had already returned with school supplies in hand. Every time I stopped in during the week, I noted that the assortment had grown exponentially. The second weekend proved even more amazing. When Mari saw all that you had given, she said that she had enough supplies for two schools!
I’m writing about Mari’s school supply project for two reasons. First, this adventure illustrates once again just how amazingly giving my parish family is. It seems that no matter what is requested, a contingent from of people responds in full force. Sometimes, some of us can respond. Sometimes, others of us can respond. Always, some among us step up to do what needs to be done. Always, this giving is humbly anonymous and overwhelmingly generous. It is also remarkably life-changing for all concerned. This is just the way it is here at my parish and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Secondly, today’s scripture passages describe this phenomenon to a T. In the first reading (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29), Sirach reminded the people, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God…” Sirach hoped to remind God’s people that living humbly would lead them to true happiness. In his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul reminded the people of their good fortune in following the loving ways of Jesus: “…you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God.” Luke’s gospel (14:1, 7-14) tells us that Jesus echoed all of this with, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled… blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
You know, that mountain of school supplies Mari collected won’t bring about world peace or eliminate poverty. It won’t even guarantee one evening free of violence on the West Side. Still, that mountain of school supplies will empower a school full of children in ways we can only imagine. Perhaps another third grader who’s life has been turned upside-down will be forced to smile when she begins the new year with new pencils, new crayons and a new notebook. This is what humble living is all about: Making this world better one grateful soul at a time.
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