by Alvin Peters
The last thing Josephine wanted to do on Easter Sunday was to help others. She had plans: attend Mass, have the traditional Easter family lunch, and then join her friends at the Roseville movie theatre, and hopefully talk to one particular boy from her school. It was going to be a wonderful afternoon.
Her parents, however, had other activities in mind. They announced the evening before that they would join the other parishioners in distributing items to the needy and the homeless of the town.
Josephine didn’t mind helping others during Lent. After all, almsgiving was one of the things you are expected to do during that time but now it’s Easter. Shouldn’t those kinds of sacrifices come to an end by now?
She protested about the unfairness of it all; she was looking forward to having a good time with her friends. Her friends would be upset if she were not there. Her social life (and the chance to have a conversation with that one particular boy, though she didn’t see the need to mention that) could be in jeopardy!
Her parents said the parish needed everyone’s help and that it was important they were there to aid and comfort others. She wondered why her parents were being oblivious to her plight.
She pleaded to be excused this one time; she would make up for it somehow. Her father replied firmly and finally that they were all going to be there. She felt defeated.
Her mother smiled, put an arm around her and said, “Don’t worry. Your friends won’t be terribly upset especially Ronald Dominic Bhartsingh. You can have fun with your friends next week.”
“And I’m sure Ronald won’t consider the situation so dire either,” added her father, winking at her.
Josephine tried to pretend she was not surprised that they knew the truth. Parents were at times imbued with uncanny powers of perception. She plopped on the sofa, texted her friends the grim news and resigned herself to her fate.
That Sunday afternoon, Josephine glumly helped carry the hampers from the family car to the tents where they would be distributed. She was worried that her friends would ostracise her. Maybe she would end up being an outcast. She thought about what her parents said. Were they right? Was she being overdramatic?
Then again, was it really that important to be here today? She tried to cheer herself up. It was the celebration of the Risen Lord, and she and her family were doing a good deed. It didn’t seem to work.
She carried her burden while weaving among some playful children and gloomily responding to the parishioners’ cheerful Easter greetings. She tried again to appreciate the meaning of what she was doing today by recalling what Fr Stephen Michael had said in the homily, “We believe in the Resurrection because we believe that Jesus didn’t just roll away the stone from the tomb to conquer sin and death but also the stone of sin and selfishness from our hearts. The stone being rolled away from our hearts not only opens the way for His love to enter our lives but to also to open the way to express that love for others.”
Fr Stephen then said something she found perplexing, “If we don’t truly love our neighbour, then we have not fully experienced the Resurrection.”
She was thinking about that while carrying another hamper when one of the children ran into her. The collision jolted her from her thoughts, and she dropped the hamper.
The little girl fell backwards to the ground. She blinked as if stunned and looked up and the somewhat annoyed teenager who was giving her the little-children-should-neither-be-seen-nor-heard-especially-around-teenagers-who-should-be-having-fun-elsewhere look.
After a few seconds, Josephine sighed, stretched out her hand and said in a tone she didn’t mean and wished she could’ve taken back, “Sorry about that. Let me help you.”
The little girl crawled backwards, got up with a sob and ran away as fast as her little legs could carry her. Josephine looked on perturbed as the girl ran away. She wanted to pursue the child, to let her know she was really not that upset but the stares of a few parishioners and Josephine’s parents stopped her in her tracks. There will probably be an inquiry once they got home. “Am I a bad person for wanting to be with my friends?” she wondered and sighed again.
She stooped to pick up the hamper when Fr Stephen approached her. When she was younger, she was a little scared of the priest with the mysterious eyepatch. Her younger self wondered what was under there.
After a few weeks, his warm, friendly smile, and his penchant for walking around holding his white, blue, and gold rosary won her over. Blue and gold were her favourite colours. Maybe one day she’ll ask him if they were his favourite, too.
A sign of the Resurrection
“Hello Josephine and happy Easter,” he said as he grabbed one of the hampers from the car.
“Happy Easter to you too, Father,” she replied hoping he did not see what just happened.
“I’m sure you didn’t mean to frighten that little girl,” he said. “She did bump into you.”
“Thanks, Father,” she replied. Thank goodness he was witness to call upon if there was ever a case of ‘The Parents vs Josephine Simone Callender’.
“Don’t worry,” Father assured her. “Maybe you will have a chance to make things right.” “Maybe,” she said softly.
As they walked towards the tents, Fr Stephen remarked, “You don’t seem happy to be here.” “Not really. I had plans to be with my friends but my parents thought differently,” Josephine responded.
“Well, I for one am glad you’re here with your family celebrating the Resurrection this way,” Father said hoping to cheer her up.
She considered for a moment whether she should ask him a question and then pressed on. “Father, when you said that if we don’t truly love our neighbour then we haven’t fully experienced the Resurrection. What does that mean? Jesus did rise from the dead. We celebrated that at Mass. That is what we believe, not so?”
“Yes, that is our faith,” Father said, “but Jesus’ Resurrection must be shown in our lives, every single day.”
They placed the hampers under the tent and went back for the others.
He stretched his arms out, prompting Josephine to look around.
“Look at all the good that is happening here. This is a sign of the Resurrection. We don’t have to worry anymore. He has made us free. Free to show our love for God and for each other. If the burdens and worries we carry prevent us from truly loving each other, then we haven’t experienced Christ’s Resurrection. It is in serving our God and each other that we are truly free. We must ask God to put his hand in ours to help us overcome our sadness and fear so we can reach out to others and say ‘He is risen! Take my hand. Be at peace!’.”
Josephine did look around. People were giving not only food, medicine, toiletries and other things but of their time as well. They didn’t look resentful or angry but happy.
These people, in their giving, have also received. Perhaps her charity during Lent doesn’t have to end there. Maybe Easter is the time when it can become something new, something better and perhaps experience what Father was talking about.
The priest looked at Josephine, his eye searching hers, “Do you understand?”
“I think so, Father,” she answered.
“Pray about it,” he said, clasping her hands in his. She felt the beads of his rosary.
“Thanks for coming Josephine and helping us out. I am sure God will reward you for this.”
Father then looked at something just out of her sight. “Perhaps that is a sign that He has,” he pointed towards a group of people.
She turned and to her delight she saw some of her friends and Ronald Dominic Bhartsingh. She smiled broadly and looked at Fr Stephen who grinned as he walked away.
Does he know about her feelings for Ronald?
Was it that obvious? Did her parents tell him? She would find out later.
She cheerfully greeted her friends. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Going to the movies wouldn’t have been fun without you,” one of them said.
“Ronald suggested that we come here to help,” said another.
A short distance away, Ronald looked at her and smiled as he awkwardly shook hands with Mr Callender.
“Ah! Ronald is such a good soul,” she thought.
She was about to thank them when she felt someone touch her arm. It was the little girl she “met” earlier. She cautiously looked up at the teenager. Josephine bent down, smiled and said, “Hi, my name is Josephine. What’s yours?”
“My name is Lisa. I’m sorry for bouncing you,” the girl said.
“Aww…that’s okay. I’m sorry I snapped at you,” Josephine replied. Perhaps this was a chance to begin to understand what Father said. She took the little girl’s hands into hers.
To those who work in Catholic Charities