Before I met the Catholic Church, I was selfish. I am still selfish, but sometimes my selfishness takes on another face. I still indulge my appetites. (This Lent has been a failure in the fasting dept.) I still want to win arguments. Even if my wife disagreed with that statement, I would try to prove her wrong. But my selfishness now sometimes takes the form of loving myself by loving others.
In the past couple of years particularly, I have taken an interest in other people that surprises me. I think it surprises my wife too. At first, I think it scared her, in the way anything new and paradigm-shifting can scare you. I started seeking out people’s company in a way I never had before, especially of men friends, like Ferde, in my parish. I like being alone, really like it, almost more than I like being with my wife, who is a partner in my solitude, although she is the most happily social person I know, whose cross to bear is my preference for solitude. Then, about two years ago, I began seeking others’ company in lieu of the best company in the world, me.
Which reminds me of a famous riposte by George Bernard Shaw. As he was leaving a party, a hostess asked Shaw if he had enjoyed myself. “Yes, madam,” he answered, “and that’s all I enjoyed.”
Let me try to describe a new friendship in my life dating from just a few weeks ago, as an example of what I call my new selfishness. I am changing most of the personal details because I do not want to embarrass my friend, although one or two of our mutual friends will probably recognize him. But they will be sympathetic.
Let’s call my new friend Bill. He is a fellow parishioner and, like me, a convert. I didn’t know even this much about him when the story began.
(Editor’s note: Bill is not in the photograph at the top of this post. That is The Dropkick Murphys. See below.)
This is how the story began. At the beginning of Lent, our pastor announced at daily Mass that there was a man who wanted to attend daily Mass during Lent but could not do so without a ride to work afterward. If anyone was willing to volunteer to give this man a ride, would they please let our pastor know? I ignored this request the first time it was made. (My old selfishness often gets the upper hand.)
A few days later, our pastor made the announcement again. After that Mass, I walked back to the sacristy and volunteered to be one person on the man’s list. Then, after another short conversation with Ferde, I left the church and walked across the street to my office. As I did so, I noticed a young man standing in front of the coffee shop a few doors down from church. I had noticed him at previous daily Masses, and I had an immediate intuition that I should recross the street and introduce myself. But I did not. (That old devil selfishness is still there. I had my work to do at the office.)
Two hours later, I got a Facebook message from someone. Here is exactly what this message said. (YIM Catholic is my former blog, “Why I Am Catholic.”):
I've been reading through a couple years worth of YIM Catholic the past few days, and I wanted to say thank you for being so open about your experiences of coming to and living your Catholic life. It takes on an extra bit of warmth because I know St Mary's and I recognize a lot of the people you're talking about (including you). I was at Mass this morning and was going to stop and introduce myself after mass, but you were mid conversation with someone I now know to be named Ferde. I'm hoping to make daily Mass a part of my life starting soon, so I'm sure we'll have a chance to chat sometime soon. God bless.
You’ve probably guessed. The message was from Bill, who was also the guy in front of the coffee shop.
After an exchange of Facebook messages, I drove Bill to work the following day. And the day after that. And the day after that. The one day I couldn’t drive him, I asked Ferde to do it. I quickly developed a liking for Bill that has nothing to do with anything we have in common—except the Church. Otherwise, we are different in a thousand ways.
I continue to drive Bill to work and hope to do so for the rest of Lent. (This assuages some of my guilt for breaking and then redefining my Lenten fasting guidelines, and then breaking the new guidelines. But then I figure, Lent = the sum of fasting + prayer + alms, so if fasting is a negative quantity, prayer + alms just have to make up the difference.)
Let me tell you one more story involving Bill that I think says grace can run both ways, but always from above.
Yesterday, I was meeting some friends next to the church to drive into Boston for the Red Sox home opener. Two “little miracles” happened along the way.
Little miracle #1: I decided before meeting my friends that I would spend a few minutes at Eucharistic Adoration in the lower church, and particularly to use the time to pray for Bill, who had told me he faced an important meeting later in the day. As I was praying—I mean really, right in the middle of the prayer—I felt the vibration of my phone in my pocket telling me I had a message. I finished the prayer for Bill and looked at the message. It was a text from a family member who is very, very dear to me, of whom I have not seen enough in recent months. She is busy, thriving, and happy in another city, and it has been hard to make connections, through no fault of hers or mine. The text invited me to spend a day with her. I almost cried for joy.
Little miracle #2: Four hours later, the Red Sox were beating the Yankees, 9-6, to snap a season-opening six-game losing streak. We were all singing “Shipping Up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys, as relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon came on in the 9th inning to slam the door. You can thank Bill for the inspiration for this post and therefore for this musical Red Sox–Dropkicks link.
I thank him—but most especially the Catholic Church—for many similar little miracles in my life in recent years.