Some years ago, I happened to be passing through the church late one evening. As I was walking through the gathering space, I crossed paths with someone who was bringing a donation of food for the parish food pantry. As I greeted her, she said, “Oh, I wish you hadn’t seen me here.” Puzzled by her reaction, I asked, “Why is that?” She said, “I don’t like anyone to see me when I drop off my gift to the food pantry. I love knowing that I make a difference–I just don’t like the spotlight on me. I’d much rather work behind the scenes.”
I suspect that’s true for many people. The work they do to build up God’s kingdom is important to them. In fact, it’s vital in the truest sense of the word–it brings their faith to life and it adds life to their faith. At the same time, most folks seek no recognition for what they do because, for the vast majority, they are doing what their hearts tell them is the right thing to do; and for them, doing the right thing doesn’t merit any extra attention or adulation.
That’s a very positive way of thinking about the Tenth Commandment. You see, this commandment, which states, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s property,” is really all about our inner disposition toward others and their property–it is about where the focus of our heart is. As Jesus reminds us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt 6:21) Is our focus–what motivates our inner self–on amassing goods and goodies? Or are we focused on what is good, not for self, but good for others, in such a way that we work with humility to build one another up, rather than tearing each other down?
The drive to get ahead at the expense of others is a cancer that has infected our American society for a long time. Yet, with God’s help, we can overcome that pressure. At a parish mission, I heard a story that helped put everything into perspective: There once was a young family who tried to live an upright life. The husband was a hard worker, while the wife stayed home to care for their children. They lived in a modest home in a small community, and the family was active in the life of their parish. The husband, who was the bread-winner, had an office job at a local company. While he was not part of the upper echelon of management, he worked hard each day, earning enough so the family could be considered middle class.
One day at lunch, several of the husband’s co-workers challenged him, saying, “You have a lot of potential. You have good skills for your position, the boss appreciates your work, and you work hard. But you don’t work any overtime. In order to get noticed, you need to be more willing to spend late nights here or come in earlier in the morning. Of course, it would also mean that you’d have to give up some time with your wife and kids – maybe not go to as many school activities or be less helpful around the house. That’s what you need to do if you want to get ahead.” To which the husband simply replied, “Ahead of what?”
As our hearts and minds move deeper into the quiet of Advent, preparing for the great feast of Christmas, perhaps we can spend time simplifying our lives rather than making them more complex. Perhaps we can focus our attention and energy on others–to do what is good for them because it is good for us. And so our journey in FAITH continues.
Father Dwight Ezop is editor of FAITH Magazine and pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Fenton. Email: editor@FAITHpub.com.