By Barb Arland-Fye
Before Mass one Saturday night, my son Colin struck up a conversation with someone he didn’t recognize. His autism causes him to express his thoughts freely and to assume that everyone knows every aspect of his life. After inquiring about what he does for a living, his conversation partner asked Colin jokingly, “Are you a doctor?” “No,” Colin responded dramatically. “I am a janitor!”
As I witnessed this interaction, a smile formed on my face. He loves his janitorial job and is so proud of the tasks he performs. Through the years, I have prayed for Colin to enjoy meaningful, satisfying paid employment with a good living wage. In many ways, his current career is an answer to my prayer.
The memory of this interaction from about a month ago came to mind last weekend when we attended Saturday night Mass at our parish, Our Lady of the River. Our pastor, Father Apo Mpanda gave a homily on the meaning of success. The rich man in Luke’s Gospel (12:13-21) for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time certainly thought he was successful. However, his greed and self-absorption earned the wrath of God, who declares, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom do they belong? Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in the matters of God.”
Father Apo gave examples of the ways in which we measure success in our culture: possessions, careers, the brilliance of our children and their prestigious occupations. I plead guilty to falling into this trap while also striving to be more attentive to Christ’s definition of “success.”
“The value of a person does not depend any more on the role they have, the work they do, the money they have in the bank,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus from Sept. 19, 2021. “No, no, no, it does not depend on this. Greatness and success in God’s eyes are measured differently: they are measured by service. Not on what someone has, but on what someone gives. Do you want to be first? Serve. This is the way.”
To serve means to “act like Jesus,” the pope said, and “that often costs, because it ‘tastes like a cross.’” However, “The more we serve, the more we are aware of God’s presence. Above all, when we serve those who cannot give anything in return, the poor, embracing their difficulties and needs with tender compassion …we in turn discover God’s love and embrace there.”
Service, as the definition of success, causes me to reflect on the examples I’ve witnessed or read about, especially in these trying times of pandemic and devastating natural and human-caused disasters. Catholic News Service posted a story Aug. 1 about the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, responding to the needs of Kentuckians harmed by torrential rain and flooding in the eastern part of the state. Catholic families make up less than 1% of the population in eastern Kentucky, according to the story. “But the Catholic Church works closely with community partners and is an important part of the community.”
I think about the staff and volunteers I met at Transitions DMC (Divine Mercy of Christ) in Burlington, which provides a shelter for people without a home. “The Lord put me in this one,” said Tammy King, a staffer who serves on Transitions’ board. “I go wherever I’m needed.” Donna Darey, a board member and the shelter’s secretary, said, “It’s helping people in my own way. It’s like the Gospel said today (July 26). Whenever you help, you’re helping Christ.”
Colin has a job shadow, which allows him to thrive in his career and to be of service to others. I thank God for my son’s success.
(Contact Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)