When I was a child, my family used to go camping at a nearby state park. It was one of the newer state parks, which basically amounted to a few fields with some small trees planted about. In the middle of the park was a huge water tank, much bigger than any town’s water tower, but sitting on the ground. In an attempt to help it blend in with the natural setting, they built up dirt around it, nearly to the top, so that only the top of the tank could be seen. This construction created an imposing central hill with a flat metal surface at the top.
One evening, just as it was turning dark, my brother and I asked my parents if we could go up and play on the top of the water tank. “Why?” my mother asked. “Because it’s fun. We run around with all of the other kids and play tag and catch lightning bugs.” She looked over at the hill, which stood in dark silence. “What other kids?” she asked.
Finally she agreed, and we grabbed our flashlights and ran to the hill. We climbed the dark, quiet path to the top. Out of breath, we sat on the top and looked down. We could see the campfires and the lanterns dotted out from all directions. We shined our flashlights around, seeing how far the beams traveled, and trying to spot a skunk or a rabbit.
Then it started. First one flashlight, then another, then a few more. Soon, dozens of flashlights bobbed as they moved in the direction of the hill. From every direction, lights ascended the hill, until the entire top of the hill was filled with flashlight-bearing boys and girls running around, playing tag, and catching lightning bugs.
Today’s Gospel passage is normally used to inspire us to share our talents, to “let our lights shine.” This, of course, is necessary and good.
But what about those situations where we know others with talents that are not – through chance or dance – being called into service?
Everyone knows that funny guy who is the life of the party, that lady with a flair for words, that senior citizen with a head for numbers. Sometimes we know our friends’ and acquaintances’ gifts better than they do.
Saint Anthony of Padua, honored today, lived in a dark place – a cave – and only left it to attend daily Mass and sweep the floors at a nearby monastery. As legend goes, when the scheduled speaker failed to appear, the monks invited Anthony to speak. They were so enamored with his insights, that he was immediately pressed into service to travel, speak, and teach theology. It was said that even the fish loved to listen to him speak.
In the first reading, Elijah must come out of hiding to find water. The Lord instructs him to find a widow that He has chosen to provide for him. Widows in Elijah’s time had a pretty tough life. The widow’s line from that passage says it all: “Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
The widow does not strike me as the ideal hostess for an extended stay. Yet, the Lord sees what we do not, and Elijah instructs her to use her remaining staples to make him a cake. She does, and through the miraculous power of God, they were all able to eat for a long time afterward.
The widow obviously did not think she had anything to share. Elijah – and the Lord – knew better.
Saint Anthony of Padua remained silent as he swept the monastery each day. The monks – and the Lord – knew that Anthony’s insights were better than his silence.
Do we know people who do not think they have anything to share? For all those who have been invited to share their gifts, there must have been people who sent the invitations, people who acted as instruments of the Lord.
Could that be us?
We all know a few silent, dark, hills that need a little light.
Maybe it’s our calling to carry our own flashlights up there. Maybe it’s our calling to invite others to bring theirs.
Either way, my guess is that the hill will be a little brighter – maybe a lot brighter.
Consider this an invitation . . .
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