One day I picked up a man from the gutter. His body was covered with worms. I brought him to our house, and what did this man say? He did not curse. He did not blame anyone. He just said, ‘I’ve lived like an animal in the street, but I’m going to die like an angel, because now I am being loved and cared for.’ It took me and another sister three hours to clean him. Finally, the man looked up and said, ‘Sister, I’m going home to God.’ And then he died.
“I’ve never seen such a radiant smile on a human face as the one I saw on that man’s face. Do you see what love can do? It is possible that the young sister caring for him didn’t think about it at the moment, but she was touching the body of Christ. Jesus said so when he said, ‘As often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me.’ This is where you and I fit into God’s plan. Let us understand the tenderness of God’s love!” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta, No Greater Love).
This moving story from Mother Teresa can speak to all of us, even though were weren’t there when she picked up that poor dying man or when the man passed on into God’s loving embrace. It tells us that love makes a difference. It tells us that anyone who is on the receiving end of our love and attention will be moved by it—possibly in a very powerful way. It tells us that God wants to use us to share his love, just as he used Mother Teresa.
God can use me! What a noble thought! But we should be clear: God will use us only to the degree that we want to be used by him. It’s up to us to decide whether we will accept his invitation to be filled, molded, and used by his Spirit. By choosing to care for that dying man in Calcutta, Mother Teresa was responding to Jesus’ generosity toward her. She could have walked away and done nothing. She could have just bent over him and prayed for him. She could have tried to hail an ambulance. She could have done a number of less demanding things, but, to use her own words, she chose to become “a pencil in God’s hand.”
In Season and Out of Season. One day, while walking to Jerusalem with his disciples, Jesus became hungry. He saw a fig tree in the distance and hoped to find fruit on it, even though figs were not in season. When he came to it, he found that the fig tree had only leaves. Seeing this, he said, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!” (Mark 11:14). The next morning, on the same route, he and his disciples saw the same tree—only it had withered down to nothing (11:12-14, 20).
Such an unexpected response from Jesus! Clearly, he expects fruit from us, and it doesn’t matter if it’s “in season” or “out of season.” It doesn’t matter if we think the time is right or not. For instance, a young adult can say, “I have to get through school. This isn’t the season for bearing fruit for the Lord.” A parent can say, “I have to spend my time raising my children. This isn’t the season for bearing fruit for the Lord.” And a grandparent can say, “I’m in my retirement. This is the season to relax a bit, not to bear fruit for the Lord.”
Of course Jesus wants students to work hard. Of course he wants parents to devote themselves to their children. And surely he wants to see us reap the fruit of all our years of hard work. In God’s eyes, this is good fruit indeed. But God is always asking us to rise above our own cares and responsibilities. His heart burns for the elderly, the poor, the prisoners, and the unloved, and he is asking us to bring his love and his presence to these precious children of his.
No matter what season of life you are in and no matter how demanding your schedule is, there is no “off season” for the kingdom of God. It’s always the right time to bear fruit for him, even if all you can offer him is just a couple of figs. There are always opportunities to make time for people who may not be in our family circle or our everyday friends and colleagues. It’s in these places that God most wants to use us.
“I Will Work through Him.” Jesus is looking for ordinary people who want to do extraordinary things for him. He is willing to put up with all of our weaknesses, flaws, and excuses. Remember, God used Moses even though Moses protested that he was not equipped to set his people free. He used David even though David was a murderer, an adulterer, and a negligent parent. He used Mary Magdalene, Mary of Egypt, and Angela of Foligno—even though they all had troubled pasts. He used Augustine, Thomas Becket, and Charles de Foucauld, despite their scandalous lives. And today he wants to use all of us, no matter where we have come from.
It’s not the condition of our outward lives that matters—it’s the condition of our hearts toward God and toward the people around us. When someone asked St. Francis of Assisi how he was able to accomplish so much for the Church, he said, “I have thought about that myself and this may be why: the Lord looked down at the earth from heaven and said, ‘Where can I find the weakest, the littlest, the meanest man on the face of the earth?’ Then he saw me and said, ‘Now I have found him, and I will work through him. He won’t be proud of it. He’ll see that I am only using him because of his littleness and his insignificance.’”
God used all of these people, as well as many more, because he wanted to show everyone that holiness is not beyond anyone’s grasp. If these people, sinners that they were, could turn their lives around and become beloved saints, then anyone could.
So you may think of yourself as unworthy. You may think that you are incapable or untrained. But history tells us that it’s the lowly ones, the least ones, the weak ones, and the unworthy ones, who end up doing great work for the Church.
Lord, Use Me! One of the most discouraging things we could say to our pastor is “The parish is your responsibility, not mine.” By contrast, one of the most encouraging things we could say is “I want to be on your team. How can I help serve the mission of the Church here in my parish and in the community around us?” It’s offers like these that help make the Church into the light of the world that Jesus wants it to be.
We all know the statistics. Church attendance is decreasing in many places. But rather than lose hope, let’s decide to go out and love, because love is the foundation of true evangelization. More than anything else, love will bring people back to the Church. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit for the attitude of a servant so that we can make a difference.
St. Paul once said, “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We have all been appointed by God to do something special for him. Each one of us has been created to add to life, to build people up, to give and not just take. It’s built into our spiritual DNA, and we won’t be at peace until we discover what our calling is. If we don’t step forward, the job won’t get done.
A Big God for a Big Job. Jesus wants to use us to make his Church even more beautiful than it already is. He wants to use us to make the Church even more warm and appealing to the lost, the needy, and the doubters. It’s a big job, but we have a big God. It’s a demanding job, but we have been given all the grace we need to accomplish it. It’s a complex job, but we can rely on each other’s support—and we can rely on the Lord!
So let’s pray together, “Lord, as we begin this new year, we ask you to help us grow in holiness. Come and fill us with your love. Melt our hardened hearts, and mold us into your likeness. Use us to build up your Church. Jesus, we love you!”