When Meet the Press host, Tim Russert was a student at
a Jesuit high school in Buffalo, NY, he and some pals called their tough
Jebbie 'prefect of discipline' from a coffee shop at a major bus transfer
location to say they were absent because a blizzard had stopped the buses.
The prefect not only questioned their story but hopped on a bus to the transfer
center, spotted the gang and hauled them off to school. Then he threw the
book at them.
Russert remains grateful for the prefect’s tough love. It laid the
groundwork for Russert’s success by teaching him to be responsible, even when
the demands seem harsh – much like today’s first reading.
“For we did not act in a disorderly way among you. Nor did we eat
food received from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and
day we worked so as not to burden any of you… In fact, when we were with
you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should
that one eat.”
Taken out of the context of responsibility to community, the last sentence
can be misused punitively. However, the key word is unwilling, not unable.
God never demands more than people are able to deliver. He does, however,
demand that they contribute to the extent they are able.
It strikes me that there is a corollary demand on communities: to invite
all willing members to contribute even when it is easier to pass over people
in the name of misguided compassion.
My grandfather taught me an unforgettable lesson about this when he visited
a saintly elderly man to solicit his donation to a major parish fund drive.
It would have been easier for Grandpa to skip calling on Mr. Davenport since
his donation would be so small. However Grandpa knew that Mr. Davenport would
have been devastated to be left out. He accorded this poor but proudly willing
gentleman the same respectful opportunity to contribute as any other responsible
member of the community.
At times it isn’t enough just to contribute. We must extend that invitation
to those who might be overlooked. That’s a “willing” contribution in itself
that St. Paul would surely sanction.