Originally published in the Columbus Dispatch
Being 'Unselfish' Essential
Saturday, January 2, 2010
By RANDY IMWALLE
Most people have heard of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean, but I hadn't heard them mentioned at Mass. Deacon Andrew, a young man studying for the priesthood at the Pontifical College Josephinum, began a homily back in 2006 by relating a story about the monkeys used in those movies. Hunters capture such monkeys by making a trap that allows one of the animals to reach inside and grab a nut or a shiny bauble. The hole isn't large enough, though, for the monkey to pull out its nut-laden fist. The monkey could drop the nut at any time and run away, but it doesn't - even when the hunters return. It can't bear to let go of the treasure.
Tying the story to his life, Deacon Andrew told the congregation at St. Brendan church in Hilliard that what he found difficult to let go was the idea of a wife and children. He knew he wanted to become a priest, but
the idea of a family had held him back from committing. Finally, he just let go and began receiving the blessings that God meant for him.
We each have our own vocations, he said - a nice insight, relating well to the Gospel reading about a rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to enter heaven. Jesus replied that, because the young man already followed the Ten Commandments, all he needed to do was sell his belongings, give the proceeds to the poor and follow Jesus. The rich young man was crestfallen: He was unable to let go of his things.
But what really impressed me about the 25-year-old not-yet-a-priest was his next insight: Deacon Andrew explained that he'd had many conversations with married men and learned that many had held onto something - something that was theirs alone. The something could be participation on a softball team or in a poker night. The men held onto the something even when it caused difficulties in their marriages and prevented them from receiving everything that God intended for them.
Once they finally let go, though, and made the sacrifice at last, their marriages had greater joy. (And, usually, they were still able to indulge in their something from time to time.) The message is simple - something that a newlywed should quickly figure out. I had been married 20 years at the time, but the message clearly applied to me, too. What was the nut, though - the something that I wouldn't let go? At one time, the answer was clearly beer. (Just ask my patient wife, Lisa.) Reviewing my life at the time, though, I thought it could be Buckeye football or Irish music, but it didn't really seem to be any one thing. I left Mass without an answer.
Two weeks later, the Tony Hendra book Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul helped nudge me closer to the answer. Hendra had held himself apart from, and above, everyone around him, including his family. Such an attitude hadn't allowed him to grow truly close to anyone. "Be unselfish," urged his mentor, Father Joe - not "Do not be selfish," a negative proscription, but "Be unselfish," a positive action that requires giving. I am still a work in progress, but the soulsearching instigated by the young seminarian pointed me in the right direction.
Randy Imwalle, 47, of Hilliard begins the year recalling a memorable homily by someone who recently indulged his "something": The Rev. Andrew Trapp (ordained in 2007) competed in a poker tournament in hopes of winning $1 million for his South Carolina parish.