water bottles - photo by Debora Cartagena, USCDCP on Pixnio

On the front porch, perched upon a worn wooden table and leaning against a bowl filled with water bottles, stood the sign: “Delivery Folks: Cold Water. Thank you!”

Waiting there in the shade, I marveled at my friend’s kindness. “Kathy, you are so thoughtful!” I said, as she swung open the door.

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just a little something. They work so hard every day.” She glowed as she recounted how seeing the delivery people happy made her happy. She would vary the offerings, sometimes including candy or whatever else she had at the moment, but always there was cold water.

She said one delivery person gave her a hug. She grinned as she recounted how the garbage man was now bringing the pail all the way back to the side of her house. “He doesn’t have to,” she said, “but I really do appreciate it.”

I turned away as I swallowed the tears welling up in my eyes. I couldn’t help but think that this must be the stuff of which heaven is made.

As I left Kathy’s little alcove a while later, I witnessed a scene my boys would have gone wild over when they were little. The town garbage truck was rumbling up the hill, the driver wore a broad smile, and the man hanging off the side, who also bore an ear-to-ear grin, was waving enthusiastically.

I smiled and waved back. Of course they’re smiling, I thought, they’re going to Kathy’s house! Her small acts of kindness were inspiring warm interactions throughout her neighborhood.

Later that afternoon, I curled up on the couch to read my new book, Always Discerning, by Joseph Tetlow, SJ. In it, Tetlow proposes a new take on the Examen. He calls it the “Gifts Examen.”

Here is the proper matter for the Examen in the twenty-first century: all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Take the first gifts of faith, hope, and love. Spend a day or a week—or a longer time if you are weak in it—practicing that virtue. Then patiently work through wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (courage), piety, knowledge, and fear of the Lord…

But never think that living these virtues is merely of personal interest. “These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 130) …And wouldn’t the Church in my place and time be wonderfully attractive if all of us went through the week displaying the “fruit of the Spirit,” walking in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

I reflected on this sentiment in light of the events earlier in the day. My friend was indeed “displaying the fruit[s] of the Spirit.” Kathy’s love, kindness, and goodness were renewing and building up those who entered her world. It was absolutely, as Tetlow says, “wonderfully attractive.” Kathy’s Spirit-infused compassion and thoughtfulness were changing the world one “Thank you” and one refreshing sip of water at a time. Her seemingly little sign and gesture spoke volumes: You are seen. You are loved. You matter.

And isn’t this the same whisper we hear when we really listen in prayer? You are seen. You are loved. You matter.

This is how it’s done. This is how we build the kingdom among us: one small gesture at a time.

Photo by Debora Cartagena, USCDCP on Pixnio.

Pray with Fr. Joe Tetlow, SJ, in our Living Lent Daily e-mail series for 2022.