The Song and the Singer


The Song and the Singer

I’m going to be honest. It’s hard to come up with anything original to say about this week’s Gospel (Mt 25:31-46). It’s either already been said, or most of us know it intuitively. But perhaps there’s something to be offered in simple observation, because I suspect (and hope) that at least one other person out there has had similar feelings about it.

Whenever I hear this particular scripture passage, it unfailingly reminds me of the song that we used to sing all the time in Sr. Jackie Chénard’s Grade 2 class.  Whatsoever you dooooo to the least of my brothers, thaaaaaaaat you do unto meeeeee.  (Disclaimer: I grew up in the early 80s singing the old version before the gender equity thing really hit the radar.)  We loved it. We knew it by heart.  And through the lyrics of that song, Sister taught us about how friends of Jesus care for others.

When I was seven years old, it meant bringing my allowance to school and putting it into the tin can on Sister’s desk marked “Share Lent”, or bringing a box of macaroni to the bin in the hallway destined for the Food Bank. Because that’s what the song said. When I was hungry, you gave me to eat…

When I was a teenager, it meant organizing a homeroom clothes drive challenge with the Student Leadership Council. (And trying to sing the verse about when I was naked without giggling.) It meant going with the parish youth group to sing Christmas carols at the seniors’ care home. Because that’s what the song said. When on a sickbed you cared for my need…

But when I reached adulthood, what the song said caused me a certain amount of stress. You see, Jesus’ criteria for separating the sheep from the goats were pretty clear.  “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.”

Enter the guilt. I wasn’t doing much of that at all. Not for lack of will or intent, to be sure. But as a wife and mom of three young kids, teaching full-time, it was all I could do to help make ends meet while keeping my nose above the waterline. I knew I wasn’t earning much sheep cred.

I tried to allow myself a certain amount of grace – it would get better when the kids got older. But it didn’t really. The kids had soccer and piano and after-school band, our old minivan needed a transmission, the oldest needed braces, and I was working on my Master’s degree. I assured myself that I was doing what I could… but was I really? The guilt stuck around.

It would get better when the kids got older, still. It had to. But then I became an administrator, and we were paying for post-secondary, and the car needed brakes, and my parents got sick. Offerings to the Christmas hamper at work or the clean water fundraiser felt obligatory, and token at best. And the guilt still stuck around.

The internal conflict was real because it felt as though my vocation, my calling as a parent, a teacher, a Catholic school administrator, was actually what was preventing me from doing the things we used to sing about, full voice, in Sr. Chénard’s class. And I would ask with a certain amount of trepidation, “Lord, when it was that I saw you hungry and gave you food, or naked and gave you clothing, or in prison and visited you?”.  I’d dread the answer. And I couldn’t sing the song anymore. It’s hard to sing when you’re headed for the bench on Team Goat.

But Jesus, unfailingly kind, would gently remind me. “Don’t you remember? Last week, your hug fed a student who was hungry for acceptance. Yesterday, you clothed a teenager with dignity when you took the time to greet him by name with a smile in the hall. Just this morning, you sat with a youngster, imprisoned by their fear of discrimination for who they are, and spared them judgment because you simply listened with love.”

And he would finish the song by singing the words that stuck in my throat:

Now enter into the home of my Faaaaaa-ther.

By Darcie Lich
Vocation Team – Oblate Associate
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