“Tree Removal” By: Andrew Scala, Fiat Ventures

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Flickr User Cindy

At 7 pm this evening, I scheduled a service event at an assisted living community for some middle school students of mine. I arrived slightly early to help set up crafts and activities for the youth to do with the seniors. After I parked my car and walked inside, I was led down the hallway, past the café, and toward the meeting room. As I rounded the corner, I was taken aback by what I saw: 10 sets of gentle, smiling eyes, eagerly awaiting the arrival of “the kids.”

I checked my watch. It was 6:38pm.

There was so much time to kill, and these residents were so clearly craving interaction with the youth that they were willing to sit for 30 minutes with nothing to do! So, I sat down and began to chat with a man named “Charles”.  As I had inferred by the look on his face, he was willing to share about his life. I found out that Charles was an NYPD Police Officer for 25 years, and got 2 wrongly convicted men back out onto the streets. He was a lifelong Yankee fan, and was able to see Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and even Ted Williams play. Most incredibly, Charles met the Great Bambino himself: Babe Ruth.

And yet, Charles’ greatest line to me was undoubtedly his simplest: “My life has been great because I like people.”

In this weekend’s Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus is telling his disciples about hypocrisy.  “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite.”

I almost immediately began reflecting on my day today, examining how I may have neglected the wooden beam in my own eye. I tend to consider myself fairly open to other ways of thinking, and would even say that I’m hypersensitive to my own actions so as to avoid being hypocritical. However, I recognize that I believe that I’m correct in most every situation, which is never hailed as a great personality trait. A self-righteous man never leaves hypocrisy far behind.

Then I began to think about Charles, and how I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a man with less of a splinter in his eye. What an amazing gentleness he had to him and at the same time strength.  In his 90 years, he has lived a life of joy and pain. Of momentous professional achievements, such as guarding President Eisenhower, and profound sadness, such as losing his wife and son to Huntington’s Disease. So how did he get to be such a great man?  Probably by carefully removing lots of splinters from his own eye along the way.  I could learn a thing or two from him.  I went there looking to serve him, and in the end it was him who served and taught me.

As the night was winding down and the room began to empty out, I caught Charles’ eye and said goodbye. He turned to me and said, unprompted, “I believe in God. I think you have to. I hope that I’ll see you again sometime.”

He will. I hear he’s good at removing splinters.

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