The Simplicity of Offering

Johann Pachelbel, the great composer of the now-famous score that accompanies many brides down the aisle, died 311 years ago today. Popularly known as Pachelbel Canon in D, this piece of music evokes an ethereal wonder that can lift the ear, mind, and heart to contemplate beauty and love. No wonder it is so popular for wedding ceremonies.

But, it is not a complicated piece at all. In fact, it is simply eight bars of music repeated 28 times. The beauty of this very basic composition recalls a steady truth how life’s most essential teachings are frequently quite simple: the Golden Rule, 10 commandments, and works of mercy, for example. The three-fold focus of Lent is similarly elemental: pray, fast, and give alms.

Pope Francis recently encouraged Christians to give to the poor, especially those who are homeless. He debunked the reason to withhold offering some money because we don’t know how it will be spent. Giving something to someone in need “is always right,” he said. He even joked, “even if a glass of wine is his [the homeless person’s] only happiness in life.” We rightly may think that enabling an alcoholic is no matter for laughter. But the pope went further, encouraging us to engage people and “look in their eyes” as a way to affirm the dignity of those who are poor.

Helping those in need is not always easy. In fact, it is frequently replete with complexity, ambiguous and conflicting feelings, inconvenience, and sacrifice. Situations that can be characterized like this are understandably to be avoided. Yet, sometimes we cannot avoid our neighbors in need. We are called to care for them.

During this Lenten season, which was begun with a cross of ash on our foreheads, we recall that Jesus’ accepting and dying on the cross was an act of great complexity, filled with ambiguous and conflicting feelings, painfully inconvenient, and a life-defying sacrifice. His cross, which is our salvation, was Jesus’ donation to us, a poor humanity in need of saving.

The word oblate comes from the Latin for offering, with the thought that our lives as disciples could be offerings to God, like Jesus gave his. We Oblates wear the profession cross that is a replica of the one that St. Francis de Sales wore as bishop. It has no corpus of Jesus on it, reminding us that we are to be the body offered to God. We aspire that our many and small offerings accumulate to be a loving gift like Jesus gave.

St. Francis de Sales wrote that “nothing is small in the service of God.” As we continue our journey through these 40 days, may we focus on the simplicity of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving by offering even the smallest of donations, prayers, and sacrifices, for simplicity can be transformed into vast beauty.