Fr John A. Jillions
When I was 17 or so I was in a car being driven by a Protestant high-school friend who already knew he wanted to be a pastor. I wasn’t inclined that way at all, though I did like going to my Orthodox church, singing in the choir and reading at services. As we were driving along and talking we saw a car that had broken down on the other side of the road. I didn’t think anything of it but my friend immediately pulled a u-turn to see if we might offer assistance. That incident stuck in my mind as the natural reaction of a good Christian. That’s what Christ did. “He went about doing good” (Acts 10:38.) But it wasn’t natural for me.
As a priest now for 35 years I’ve learned to do good things for people, even if it doesn’t come naturally. I’ve learned from the examples of scores of people along the way, especially my own parishioners, who constantly demonstrate in many and various ways what it is to serve others even when it’s not your job. Driving someone to a doctor’s appointment. Visiting the sick and shut-ins. Cleaning up the trash around our inner-city church. Feeding the homeless living under a nearby bridge. Caring for abandoned animals. Or the teams of people from several Bridgeport-area parishes who pulled together supplies for two different FOCUS projects for needy children last year: “St Nicholas Sacks” and “Back to School Backpacks.” I have to admit that I agreed to take these on out of a sense of obligation, but time and again I was surprised by how joyfully our parishioners participated in collecting, packing up and delivering these gifts and school supplies.
Lent is a time for being honest about ourselves, and learning—especially from the examples of those around us— to do good to others as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am reminded of The Little Prince. In the story, the boy Prince devotes much care to the cultivation of a rose. And he learns that it is all that time and effort that made the rose precious to him. Like me, you may not be a natural Christian do-gooder, but I’ve found that caring for others—even when it begins out of a sense of obligation—has a way of making them precious.
Fr John Jillions is pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Bridgeport, CT and the author of Divine Guidance: Lessons for Today from the World of Early Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2020).
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