Today I had one of those encounters with folks that leaves me feeling a mix of deep thankfulness and some embarrassment. The auto repair shop I use has frequently undercharged or not charged me at all when I bring the car in. The owner chalks it up to “getting points in heaven” and asks me to pray for him – which I do!
When I go to the Mexican restaurant around the corner the owner is always giving free drinks or appetizers as she once prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe and her mother was healed. On the train, I have gotten free train rides (which I often ask be given to someone with children on the train). I have had restaurants get out tables for me when the place was full. Occasionally people cross themselves when they walk past as they give a friendly nod.
After ordination, some of this troubled me. I chalked it up to a clericalism and was a bit ashamed of it.
Yet, I realized that my initial discomfort had its root in one of the challenges of ministry – too much focus on self. I interpreted these gestures of kindness as being about me and wondered whether I merited that kind of generosity.
Yet these small moments are all about God and the Church and have nothing to do with me at all.
In a busy, hectic, and confusing world, I think people look for ways to connect to the Church and to give back in some small way. These gifts are an offering of sorts that, with our prayers and thankfulness, we join to those we offer up in Mass.
I thank God and am humbled that in some small way these generous and kind strangers, friends, and neighbors that I meet can feel a sense of giving back to God by being kind to me.
I am not worthy of these kindnesses but God most certainly is and I treasure these moments when I can offer a prayer in exchange for kindness – which is really the project of the Christian life as we offer up some portion of all that God has given us in thanksgiving. We exchange kindness for Kindness, generosity for Generosity, and love for Love.