Do Something Good

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September 3, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

September 3, 2017
Matthew 16:21-27
Fr. George Smiga

There is a difficult line in today’s gospel. Jesus says, “If you wish to save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it.” Now what are we to make of this saying? Are we not supposed to try to save our lives, and how can we find something by losing it? There are many ways than one might try to understand this passage, but here is the one that makes most sense to me. If we try to save our life by turning inward, it will lead us nowhere. But if we lose our life in service to others, we can find happiness.

I was probably ordained about two years and serving at St. Clare parish in Lyndhurst, when a woman of the parish made an appointment to see me. She was in her late fifties, with two grown children who were living out of town. She came into my office, and the first thing that she said was, “Father, tell me why I should go on living.” Now that was a dramatic opening, and she caught my attention. “Why, what’s wrong?” I said. “My life is empty,” she replied, “It has no meaning.” As we talked, it became clear that she had no crisis in her life. There was nothing wrong with her health or her marriage or her finances—just emptiness. As she continued to talk on and on about her search for meaning, I thought, “This woman is bored!” But I was not sure I should say that to her. Yet I was becoming more and more frustrated trying to figure out what I should say. As my impatience with myself grew, I heard her say, “Father what should I do?” Without thinking I blurted out, “Do something!” Shocked by my blunt remark she said, “But do what?” Again, without much reflection, I said, “Do something good!”

Now you can tell by this brief description that I am not a very good counselor. But we had stumbled into a direction, and I followed it through. I suggested maybe she find some volunteer work, and see if that helped. It made some sense to her, and she left. But I had no idea whether I had helped her in any way. A couple months later after Mass she told me that she had begun to bring food to people who were homebound through Meals on Wheels. She said that she felt much better. If we try to save our life by turning inward we may only find emptiness. But if we lose our life in generosity to others, we can be happy. Jesus’s words in today’s gospel are a reminder that the true meaning of life is found in giving ourselves to something beyond us. Losing our life in doing good is the surest way to happiness.

Now at many periods of our life the good thing before us is clear. When we are raising children, when we are in the midst of a demanding and satisfying career, when we are dealing with family problems, there is no doubt that we have a direction and a purpose. But as the children grow up and move out, as our career comes to an end, as health issues begin to limit our possibilities, we can find ourselves falling into an empty routine and begin to ask, “What am I living for?” Jesus’ words in today’s gospel tell us that when we face this kind of emptiness, it is not time to turn inward, to watch more television and drink more beer. It is the time for us to lose ourselves in some kind of new service, to find something good and do it. This is the way to happiness. This is how we find our life again.

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