I recently reconnected with a childhood friend. When we met for lunch, within minutes we were laughing and sharing stories from the old neighborhood. As we visited, I recalled the day Kevin announced that he would be leaving the area for college. He had been accepted at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Within a year or two of his departure, Kevin made another announcement. He had decided to join the Benedictines for the long haul and eventually to be ordained a priest. After a wonderful journey with the Benedictines who continue to be counted among his friends, Kevin eventually left them to pursue a different career. As we talked, I recalled the leg of my own journey which took an unexpected turn much as Kevin’s had.
I had celebrated my twenty-first birthday late as this milestone had arrived before my broken ankle healed. Perhaps it was the realization that I was just a year from college graduation, my recent convalescence, having never lived away from home or all of the above. Whichever the cause, I suffered from an extreme case of restlessness. I couldn’t afford to backpack across Europe or anywhere else because I was responsible for senior year’s tuition. So it was that I picked up the phone to seek a less costly remedy for my unrest.
I was almost disappointed when Father O’Connell answered. I wasn’t at all sure of what I was going to say. My uncertainty vanished when Father greeted me with happy surprise. Without hesitation, I asked if there was something I might do to help at his parish during the coming summer. I explained that it was time for me to leave the comforts of home, at least for a while. Father surprised me with his excitement as he explained that he had already arranged for two nuns to spend the summer there. Father had asked them to teach “survival” English to Spanish-speaking children entering school in the fall. Since I had studied Spanish and was a teacher-in-training, Father determined that I would be a natural in the program. With that, I asked Father when I could start.
When the sisters and I arrived, I discovered that Sister Liz had grown up in my neighborhood. Though they were a generation ahead of me, I was very much at home with her and Sister Rose. We immediately delved into planning, gathering materials and setting up house in the convent. Father provided a car for Sister Liz who served as chauffeur. Our morning routine included Mass, breakfast and school. The children happily endured our lessons on those hot summer mornings, likely in anticipation of the mid-morning snacks we provided. Afterward, the sisters and I spent the afternoon planning the coming day’s lessons and visiting parish families. When we returned to the convent, we enjoyed dinner and relaxed. Occasionally, I spent the evening at the rectory answering the telephone and door. It was on one such occasion that I met my husband -but that is another story.
While I was away, I didn’t handle a bit of currency. Father provided for our groceries and other necessities. I didn’t shop because my seven-plus-one outfits lasted through each week. Six weeks later, when I left the children, my new sister-friends and that convent, I worked extra hours at my job to make up the money I hadn’t earned toward my college tuition. Still, I wouldn’t have traded that time away for anything. It was truly freeing not to worry about myself and to concentrate on the children. I treasured this experience more than anything else I might have done with those six weeks.
I share my adventure away from home with you because, in today’s gospel (Mark 10:17-30), we encounter a young man whose life also took an unexpected turn. This rich young man had spent his life carefully following The Law. He seemed to have had a plan in place much as Kevin and I did. His well-intentioned heart and his desire to do more drew him to Jesus. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at him, loved him and said, “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me.” Sadly, Jesus asked more than the young man was able to give and he walked away with a heavy heart. You know, neither Kevin nor I had all that much when he joined the Benedictines and I spent that summer in the convent. Yet, I think we both agree that our lives were changed forever by these experiences. I wish we could have told Jesus’ young friend that letting go is not as painful as he thought. I wish we could have shown him that when he opened his hands to let go, he freed himself to embrace the authentic treasure which Jesus offered. Though it is a little late to share this wisdom with the rich young man, it is just the right time to remind ourselves that what we have is not nearly as valuable as what we give.
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