Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 20, 2003
Peace starts with your own smile
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
When I first arrived at my parish six years ago, I got reacquainted with the demands of pastoral life after serving in other diocesan ministries.
As priests, we have the special privilege of sharing the most joyous and most challenging times of people's lives.
They open to us both the pain and the delight of human living. We might witness the marriage of a young and very much in love couple right after we offer a funeral mass for another family's loved one.
Just a few weeks after settling in, I received a call to visit an elderly woman who was close to the end of her earthly journey. As chance would have it, my sister Joan called me just before I left for the woman's home. I mentioned the family name I was about to visit. Her next words were mysterious: "Be especially kind to that family."
When I asked why, she replied, "I'll explain next time we get together."
Off I went.
The dying woman, a person of profound spiritual beauty, was surrounded by her adoring children and grandchildren. A widow for a number of years, she was someone who loved life and being with her family. But at the same time, she was unafraid of meeting God face to face.
Being good to this wonderful family was no hardship. We prayed together, talked together and then embraced before departing.
The good woman died a few days later and was buried after a faith-filled funeral celebration.
Some weeks later, my sister Joan came to visit. We finally got around to discussing that family about which she'd been so concerned.
Many years before, our own family had moved from Brooklyn to this suburban parish where I now work as pastor. It's never easy for kids to uproot and move to a new community, but Joan, at age ten, found it particularly difficult.
At that time she was both shy and not a little awkward. (That image is changed now. She's a confident woman, a lawyer who writes for the Washington Post.)
Joan remembers in painful detail the first days of attending a new school. The children were wary of this stranger in their midst. Joan stood very much alone in a far corner of the playground at lunchtime. That is, until a little girl named Margie walked over.
The lunchtime conversation between the two ten-year-olds was an icebreaker. It made my sister feel more at ease and opened up the possibility that this strange new community might actually become home.
Margie's walk across the playground was an act of kindness that made all the difference.
It seemed like such a little thing, but it meant so much. And it was young Margie's mother I visited that day, some forty years later.
We all wield so much power in our words and gestures. We influence other people's experiences for good or for ill. But we don't need to do great things for every person we meet.
We can make a huge difference for the lonely, the uncomfortable, the anxious and the wary just by offering a friendly smile, a warm handshake or a short visit.
Mother Teresa was fond of saying that "peace starts with a smile." And she was right. Next time you wonder if you should bother to make an extra effort, just do it.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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