I was very troubled by something I heard a priest say in a sermon recently. He said that he decided to call some of the people in his community who were involved in charitable work of various kinds to ask them why they did what they did. As he recounted his question in the homily, it went, “Why do you do these things? After all, all you really have to do is show up in church on Sunday, so why do you do these other things.”
I’m going to give the priest the benefit of the doubt and believe that he didn’t really mean to convey by that statement the message that all people really have to do is show up at Mass once a week and they are covered. (In no version of the Bible that I have ever read did Jesus say, “Go to Mass once a week and you shall inherit the Kingdom.”) But I am concerned that some people might take that meaning from his words.
I am all in favor of expressing gratitude to people for the good words that they do. But it is too easy for people to think that charitable and other activities we engage in for the sake of our brothers and sisters are “extra credit projects,” things that are “above and beyond the call of duty.”
Jesus is quite clear that taking care of the least of our brothers and sisters is our duty. And in the parable of the servant in Luke’s Gospel that a servant it owed no special gratitude for doing that which he was commanded to do.
We need to be sure we are demanding enough of ourselves. The question is not why do some people do good works, but are we all doing as much as we can.