My Dad passed away about a month ago. The pain of losing him is still pretty raw and deep, but I’ve been reflecting on how fortunate I was to be able to spend lots of time with him over the past few years, especially after my Mom died in 2010.
Caring for elderly parents is one of those parts of life that can be a blessing or a burden, and is usually a bit of both. Dad had a habit of phoning me at inconvenient times. I had to shout at him because his hearing wasn’t very good, and sometimes that was frustrating. He’d often ask me to do him a favour that didn’t fit very well into my schedule. But I can also honestly (and thankfully) say that we had lots of really good times together…going to concerts, our regular weekly power-walk and coffee, watching old movies at his place, going out for breakfast, kayaking on the river, teaching him how to knit. He was a great guy, and I miss him.
Hanging out with your elderly parents is one of those things that isn’t very heroic or courageous or spectacular. You just do it. And I think, in the general scheme of things, those common little loving things we do that are pretty ordinary and sometimes even a bit boring might have more significance than we realize.
In a recent homily (on the Vigil of Pentecost), Pope Francis encourages us to “make present in society the leaven of the Kingdom of God”, primarily through “the witness of brotherly love”. But he also warns us to beware of the risk of “falling into the trap of hyper-efficiency.” It’s very easy to start thinking that we must be “wise” about where we spend our time and energy, to make the most of our efforts and bring about “maximum results”. But there is danger in that way of thinking. As the Pope points out, the Church is not an NGO. God’s Kingdom isn’t about being politically correct or well-organized or specially qualified – it’s simply about being connected with others. It’s about loosening your grip on your ego, instead of feeding it. When we just naturally (without strategizing and weighing the benefits) are helpful and kind and loving to the folks around us, something cosmic is going on. We’re bringing more of God into the world, because God is love. We’re doing combat against the darkness.
This week I listened to a talk by Peter Kreeft, and he speaks about how much easier it is to love “humanity” instead of your neighbour or, as he puts it, “the idiot you live with”. The truth is that Jesus is not looking for high achievers, or winners in some moral attainment contest. He is looking for people who are willing to help each other in simple, ordinary ways; willing to walk the talk; willing to open their hearts and be led by the Holy Spirit; willing to “do the right thing” even if it’s inconvenient or not very exciting.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. It puts a spotlight on the fact that God is all about relationship – a giving and receiving of mutual love. The universe is held together by that kind of love. Through the mystery of the Trinity, God Himself invaded our world disguised as a homeless carpenter’s son who roamed the countryside dispensing friendship and hope and forgiveness to whoever came across his path. He connected with people. We are called to do the same, because friendship and hope and forgiveness actually have the power to change the world. And, not incidentally, change us, too.