The other day I went to the local bakery to buy a cup of hot java and a muffin. I do this often. Their coffee and snacks are a tad pricier than in other shops, but the quality is top-notch and well worth the extra investment. Imagine my surprise, then, when the baristas that day told me the coffee was free. I was taken aback. Although I do visit this bakery often, the baristas know little about me beyond my name. Yet they looked at me and treated me with such kindness that day. I left buoyed by my encounter with them. I felt appreciated. And, not surprisingly, this unexpected moment provoked a reflection on my faith. I wondered what Christ would do in such a situation.
Sign of Contradiction
“Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” G.K. Chesterton
We are surrounded by confusion in our work, in our world, and even in our thoughts. How do we live as a sign of contradiction? I do not think it is simply a matter of rebelling noisily against the status quo—which might appeal to our vanity and need for attention but do little else. Rather, I think being a sign of contradiction involves a surprising amount of silence and watching. Hard things to do. Sometimes when I talk to people, I discern a great deal of confusion in their thoughts. My question to them is always the same: “Who are you following?” It is a question I often ask myself, in fact. But I do not simply answer, “Oh I follow Christ,” as if He is some abstract entity in the sky. No, He is real and we see Him in everyone we meet.
“True charity consists in doing good to those who do us evil, and in thus winning them over,” said St. Alphonsus Liguori. The gift of a free coffee is only a small gesture, but from these small gestures great things might happen if only we get out of God’s way. God wants even those who wish us harm to be saved. I have had a few negative experiences with people at work and school, and in my weaker moments I have though they wished me harm. Providentially, some Carmelite Sisters live near me, and they always redirect my gaze. When I have negative feelings about people who have treated me badly, the sisters always remind me gently that we need to pray for those who mistreat us. We need to pray for their conversion. A tall order, for sure. I do not do this so easily, if at all. It’s easy to preach about it but much more difficult to actually live it.
Work is a Challenge
If we really do work for Christ and want what He wants for us, then the challenge is much greater. Where I volunteer, many of my friends who come make a concerted effort to be there on time and work diligently—especially during the pandemic. They travel around the city where I live and even take the bus if they must. Volunteer work, praying for our enemies, helping those we meet—this takes an effort, and maybe even a tremendous effort. I know well that, as the mystic St. Faustina said, “the greater and more beautiful the work is, the more terrible will be the storms that rage against it.” There will be obstacles set against what we want to do for Christ, but it is effort well spent. Many parts of society might not be supportive of our efforts, but that does not mean we stop doing what needs to be done.
“I am not capable of doing big things, but I want to do everything, even the smallest things, for the greater glory of God,” said St. Dominic Savio. The reading at mass recently was about St. John the Baptist baptizing in the Jordan. He pointed to Christ. He must increase and I must decrease. Who are we in front of the infinite? Really. Our work, our families, and our daily life all need to be centred on Christ. This cannot be done in an abstract way but by looking at someone we can follow and help us along the way. I think of the great saints who went into the world on mission and faced so much persecution, yet they never relented. I want this for my life. I want to live every moment for Christ, and I need to be helped along the way.
“You will never be happy,” said Venerable Fulton Sheen, “if your happiness depends on getting solely what you want. Change the focus. Get a new center. Will what God wills, and your joy no man shall take from you.” We seem to have all the answers to everything, yet still we search for happiness. We do an awful lot of talking and very little listening. Only in silence can God speak to us. Once I start listening in that silence, I find some peace in my day. The next time I get a free coffee, I will be more attentive to that kindness—however small it is.