Last week I spent a couple of days working with a community of women religious. These wonderful sisters are engaged in some thoughtful planning for their future. For well over 150 years the sisters have spent their lives in service to others, “going to the peripheries,” as Pope Francis describes their vocation. Now their needs are different, so their response must be different, too.
These women have hearts for service. They give themselves to others and respond generously when asked to help. They are strong, smart, fearless. They give hope and strength to others. They’ll gladly ask for help if it is for others in need.
The problem is – which they readily admit – they do not want to be seen as the ones in need. They easily reach out to those in need, but they hesitate to reach out to others in their need.
Are they really any different than we are? Americans especially are very uncomfortable with showing our vulnerability. We have a hard time asking others to help us when we see ourselves as autonomous and self-reliant. It’s an odd twist that we are honored when others ask us to help. We want to help others. But asking others to help us seems to suggest weakness that makes us very uncomfortable.
In today’s first reading, Queen Ester lies prostrate beseeching the Lord’s help: Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord, my God. And in the gospel selection from St. Matthew, Jesus enjoins us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Surely is it easier to serve than to be served; help rather than be helped; give rather than receive; even love rather than allow ourselves to be loved. In Lent, though, we name and acknowledge our need. We admit our weakness and ask for God’s help. We really are not all that self-reliant, and Lent offers us an opportunity to find the humility within ourselves to be able to ask for God’s help.
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and is the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.