$100 for God
The challenge to go the extra mile for the Lord
One Sunday as I stood in the sacristy speaking to the lector and music minister before Mass, a man who appeared to be homeless stepped through the sacristy door and in a very calm, dignified and even prayerful way, said to me, “Father, can you give this to Father Bill or Father Jim for the building fund?” He extended his hand and placed in the palm of my hand what appeared at first to be a $20 bill. I told the man, “Certainly, sir, I will make sure your kind donation goes to the right people.”
As quickly as the man appeared, he walked from the sacristy, down the steps and out into the parking lot. After he left, I gave the money to the music minister, knowing he would encounter the pastor later that morning. To my great surprise, however, what the man had placed into my hand was not a $20 bill but five $20 bills.
I asked those in the sacristy, “Am I correct, is that man homeless?” They responded with a collective, “Yes,” which prompted me to say, “How can he afford to give the parish $100 when he is living on the streets?”
Again, those with whom I was conversing answered, “He has done this in the past. The priests here have helped him, and he wants to show his gratitude.”
It happened so suddenly and unexpectedly that it prompted me to pause. The depth of what happened and what I was planning to communicate to others amplified its meaning for me. Knowing that the basic theme of my forthcoming homily was centered about doing more, going beyond our comfort zone, and giving not only from our excess but from our own wants and needs, the whole incident provided much food for thought.
How far are we willing to go, how deep can we dig in order to meet the trials of ministry that come our way? This challenging question is certainly raised by the above narrative, but it also is described in sacred Scripture. Jesus puts the challenge very forthrightly when he said to the rich young man who had followed all the commandments: “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mk 10:21).
We are told the young man went away sad, for he had many possessions. Tradition tells us that St. Anthony of the Desert heard these words, followed them literally and became a hermit, an anchorite, the forerunner of monasticism and, by extension, religious life in general.
The challenge to dig deeper and go further in our discipleship is expressed by Jesus in other ways. Jesus says that if our eye or hand is problematic and causes us to sin, we should rid ourselves of the offending organ (cf. Mt 5:29-30). I believe Jesus is speaking metaphorically of priorities, proclaiming that nothing should come before our relationship with him.
The Lord also speaks very clearly that the Christian life and, thus, our life of discipleship — and for those of us who are religious and priests, our ministry — will not be easy. On the contrary, we are promised just the opposite: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:24-25).
In other words, Jesus taught us to dig deeper, go farther and do more. We are challenged to go beyond our comfort zone in our service of others. We should not forget how Jesus challenged his disciples to go the extra mile: “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles” (Mt 5:40-41).
The Extra Mile in Practice
Quite obviously the applications of Jesus’ challenge, manifested in my unexpected Sunday experience before Mass, are many, but general ideas can be addressed. How have we gone the extra mile in our efforts to be present to people? We all have experienced those parishioners and others whom we might label “high maintenance.”
The tendency, from our past experience, is to avoid such people and situations, claiming to ourselves that we have better and more useful things to do. While in some cases — even many cases — this might be true, our ministry as priests and religious is to be present. We took our vows and positively responded to the questions posed to us by the bishop on the day we were ordained.
In essence, we said that our time was no longer our time. Rather, we proclaimed that our time is others’ time.
Going the extra mile often necessitates using the precious time we have and giving it to others. Often we are exhausted from our work. We certainly do not need to be martyrs, and we do not need to save the world; Jesus did that once and for all on the cross. We need to rest and reenergize in order to be effective ministers, but if we are honest, too often we guard our time severely; we are not as present to others as we should be — or can be. Going the extra mile means being more generous with our time. A friend of mine has an expression: “We have 24 hours in the day; how we use it is up to us.”
Another clear way to go deeper is how we prepare for our ministry. I recall as a young priest being rather shocked when the pastor of the parish in which I was serving announced to me after dinner on Saturday evening that he was going to the office to prepare his homily for the next day. While people work in different schedules and prepare in various ways, it seems to me that Saturday night preparation was the last minute.
This event raises the question of preparation for our work as ministers of Christ and his Church. We must all individually ask ourselves, “What is the depth and degree of our preparation?” I recall many years ago attending a reconciliation service. As the confessors gathered in the sacristy and were conversing, one pastor, referring to his method of preparing homilies, commented, “On Sundays I give some effort, but Monday through Friday, why even try?” Going the extra mile means to always give 100% in our preparation. We all know when we have given our best, and we know when we have given less than we should. The People of God deserve our best effort each day.
Digging deeper in ministry also may require us to do more, go to unexpected places and engage people and situations we might not want to encounter. It may be the case that we do not possess the requisite skills for certain ministries. Not everyone can be a hospital chaplain, minister in a foreign land or directly serve the poor on a daily basis, but that does not mean that we should intentionally remove ourselves from ministerial situations that we might find difficult or challenging.
People in every vocation periodically find themselves in situations they never wanted and probably felt totally inadequate, but whether it is a family situation such as addiction, the need to serve as a caregiver or a business situation that requires time, travel and gaining new talents, those who were required to change, accommodate or add another dimension to their life did it because it was necessary. So, too, we who are ministers to God’s people in the name of Jesus also are called to adapt as necessary and do what the situation necessitates.
Preparation for the Extra Mile
Ministry, like many aspects of life, at times can be routine, but the challenge to go the extra mile can arise without notice or warning. Thus we need to be prepared. We need to take the time that is necessary to prepare for the unexpected. Recall the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Those who were prepared while the bridegroom was delayed entered the wedding feast, but the foolish, those who were not prepared, were left out (cf. Mt 25:1-13).
While most see this as the need to prepare for the unexpected call to life eternal, it also can be applied to our day-to-day ministry as well. We prepare for such eventualities by our daily prayer, mental and physical preparedness, and working constantly to advance our relationship with God.
Busyness cannot be an excuse to not find time for our daily talk with the Lord; spiritual direction should not lapse in our life. We need the counsel of those who can check on our spiritual foundations. Similarly, we need to keep mentally and physically in shape. Reading and some physical exercise should be part of our daily routine. Matthew Kelly, the popular Catholic writer and lecturer, puts it simply yet profoundly: “Be the best version of yourself.” If we prepare well then we can answer the call to go the extra mile.
A chance and totally unexpected encounter with a homeless man who dug deep, giving all he had to assist the local parish, should prompt all who are privileged to minister to God’s people, the Church, to consider how we go the extra mile for others. It probably will not be easy, but then it was not easy for Jesus. If we seek to be his disciples and do his work in our world, we must expect nothing less than his experience.
But we have his promise as well. Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35). St. Paul puts it so powerfully and beautifully: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
May we never tire of going the extra mile for others. Jesus willingly went to the cross so that we could find life. How far we are willing to go for others is totally up to us. May we be generous in our response.
FATHER RICHARD GRIBBLE, CSC, is a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross and presently serves as a professor of religious studies at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts.
Saints on the Importance of Service
“No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbour a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.”
— St John Chrysostom
“As long as any one has the means of doing good to his neighbours, and does not do so, he shall be reckoned a stranger to the love of the Lord.”
— St. Irenaeus of Lyons
“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen away and to bring home those who have lost their way. Many who seem to us to be children of the devil will still become Christ’s disciples.”
— St. Francis of Assisi
“We must show charity towards the sick, who are in greater need of help. Let us take them some small gift if they are poor, or at least let us go and wait on them and comfort them.”
— St. Alphonsus Liguori