Driving home from the University of Kentucky Wildcat’s defeat in the last seconds of the game with Ole Miss made Jack Guthrie and me a bit despondent. I imagine a last minute victory would have had the exhilarating opposite effect.
Sports competitions and the related emotions affect the whole body. The big news to me, however, was that these emotions disappeared the next morning as I readied for a double visit to St. Martin de Porres Church that Sunday: first to celebrate the parish patron close to the Nov. 3 calendar date reserved each year and then later that afternoon to return for a prayer service highlighting November as African American Catholic History Month.
What struck me was the way our bodies react or respond so differently to charity and gratitude than to an ephemeral victory or defeat on the ball field. Thus, my insight: When momentary victories on a football field come and go in our memories, works of charity stay with us in a very satisfying way long after the event. Of course, they often (but not always) stay with the person helped — witness the 10 persons healed of leprosy with only one returning to give thanks in that memorable parable of Jesus we often recall each Thanksgiving Day. But they also linger in the hearts of those who are charitable or who hear about these acts.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits or Companions of Jesus, is said to have had a conversion experience while healing from a war wound. He would read novels of exploits (the football of his day) and find the thrills from this activity short-lived. Then he picked up a copy of “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis and found the humble experiences of faith, hope and charity not only satisfying for the moment but also providing great inspiration as he recalled them the next day.
The two figures about whom I reflected when I visited St. Martin de Porres Parish that Sunday both display those lasting qualities of charity and gratitude.
St. Martin de Porres, born in Peru in the year 1579 to a Spanish nobleman and an indigenous ex-slave mother, grew to be known simply as “the charitable one,” a name that came with a pattern of daily acts of helping those who were down and out. He was a lay Dominican and a trained nurse/pharmacist who gave such a good name to charity.
For the afternoon talk, I focused on Daniel Rudd, an African American Catholic born in Bardstown in 1854 who went on to become an eloquent journalist, speaker and publisher. He was the one without whom the first Black Catholic Congress in 1889 would never have happened. He also was the one who spoke both boldly and with love and charity.
It was easy for me to think of Martin de Porres and Daniel Rudd on the same day — both embracing lasting values that speak to charity and thanksgiving. (Check out a good and easy-to-read book just published by Liturgical Press called “Daniel Rudd: Calling a Church to Justice” by Gary B. Age.)
Every month is a good month to contemplate those lasting virtues of charity and gratitude. No month is more fitting than November in which we begin by thanking God for the saints on All Saints Day and then conclude with the public holiday of Thanksgiving.
Yes, it is the time of football and turkey! Often these are occasions for family and friends to come together in peace and harmony. But the really lasting realities are those acts of charity from people like St. Martin and Daniel Rudd.
When you think of another and share, you are part of that noble tradition with lasting sentiment: give onto others. And, as we give thanks this month, I would like to thank you for your gifts to the Catholic Services Appeal, through which you extend charity to family, friends and strangers alike. May the memories of your charity and gratefulness live long in your memory.