Jesus sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
I was twenty years old in 1965 and a sophomore at DePaul University in Chicago, when I got a call from my good friend, Fr. Joe Van Leeuwen, C.P. He was just appointed assistant Pastor at the Monastery Church where I grew up and wanted to know if I would teach a religion class there for him and the parish. I told him I didn’t know anything about teaching religion. He said that was all right, he didn’t know anything about running a CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) program, but he had 200 plus high school students coming next Tuesday, and he still needed a couple of teachers. He asked if I’d just take a class of twenty students for the coming year or until he could find someone to replace me.
I met Joe when he was a Passionist seminarian at the monastery connected to the parish in 1957. I was a seventh grader at the parish school and had joined the Bosco Club which was sponsored by the monastery for 7th and 8th graders thinking of becoming a priest. (We started early in those days.) In 1959, I went off to the Passionists’ Prep in Warrenton Missouri, and while there, Joe wrote to me and kept in touch. I doubt that I would have stayed at the Prep if Joe had not written me. All that goes to say, I considered Joe a good friend, and I couldn’t say “No” to Joe. Besides he assured me it was only for the coming year or possibly shorter. I said ok, I’d take the class, but only until he could find someone to take my place.
Twenty years later, Fr. Joe had moved on from his position as assistant pastor at the parish and I was still teaching religion classes at parish. A lot happened in the meantime. After all it was the ‘70’s. Vatican II was just taking root. We had changed the name of our classes from CCD to ICE (Institute of Christian Encounter) where rather than teach doctrine, we tried to create experiences where students and teachers alike would experience the Christian Community. I could and probably should write a book about that.
Anyway, looking back I think I felt like the widow who tells Elijah in today’s selection from First Kings: “As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug.” (1 Kgs 17:12). My simple “Yes” led to a lifelong association and love for the Passionist Community, many friendships, and a career in teaching, and as Jesus suggests in today’s gospel selection, we each give what we can.
Today, I can truly say with the widow: “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God, and it is truly the word of the LORD that you speak.” (1 Kgs 17:24). God help me see You at work in my world today and respond: “Yes!”
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.