There’s a great Christian Science Monitor profile of Don Ritchie, an elderly Australian man who has saved countless lives through a little Christian charity. He own a house near the edge of a cliff that’s popular for suicide jumpers, so he does his best to invite anyone suspiciously close to the edge in for a cup of tea or a meal. These little acts of kindness, over the course of years, have saved hundreds of lives. The article profiles one:
Over the decades, Ritchie says, many of the faces of the people he’s saved have blurred. But some he still remembers clearly, such as the woman he spotted from his bedroom window early one morning, sitting right on the cliff’s edge.
“I quickly got dressed and went over,” he recalls. “She had already put her handbag and shoes outside the fence, which is pretty common. They very often leave something behind – sometimes it’s a note, but generally a piece of clothing.
“I said to her: ‘Why don’t you come over and have a cup of tea?’ She came with me, and Moya made her breakfast. When she got home, she rang to say she was feeling much better. Two or three months later, she walked up the garden path with a magnum of French champagne.”
It’s a wonderful, inspiring story, although it’s tainted by the grim fact that there are some 50 people a year he’s not able to save.
Yesterday, I was talking with Fr. Arne Panula about these tiny acts in our lives that have disproportionately large effects. The context there was on entrance into the Church: a surprisingly high number of ex-Catholics left for interpersonal reasons. A curt reply, some brush-off, or potentially something much worse, tainted their vision of the Faith as something ugly. On the other hand, a little Christian warmth goes a long way, particularly when someone is discerning whether they’re being called towards the Church. We can shake our heads at these tiny acts, and argue all day that these little actions don’t prove or disprove the central claims of Christ and Church, but the truth remains. Whether we like it or not, our entire lives bear witness for or against Christ, and most of the time we’re not even aware we’re bearing witness. Like I said to Fr. Arne, I shudder to think of the number of people I may have turned off to Catholicism because of my own sinfulness.
I’m reminded of Matthew 25:44-45, in which we hear the damned say:
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Of course, it’s preceeded by the saved saying the same thing, where the Don Ritchies of the world ask:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40).