“Let the risen Jesus enter your life—welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk; you won’t be disappointed.”

– Pope Francis

True to the stereotypes of my generation, I never carry cash. It is only problematic when I’m forced to valet my car and at any type of event where raffle tickets are sold. I also do not buy 50/50 tickets because never in my life has my name or number been pulled from a bowl. I’m much more of a silent auction kind of guy. I’m in control and there is a strategy.

At a recent seminary gala, thankfully, there was no mandatory valet, but there was a 50/50 raffle. As seminarians came around to each table selling chances, I half-joked with others that I had my heart set on the espresso machine in the silent auction and that I didn’t want to feel the guilt of holding onto the money if the stars aligned and I won the pot. The chance of finally winning and feeling obligated to give it back to the seminary was “far too risky” I shared.

As the evening ended, and the big bowl full of tickets made its way to the stage, the anticipation increased as the emcee shared that the lucky recipient would win $3,000. As they read out the winning ticket number, a hush fell over the crowd of nearly 600 as we scanned the room for the winner. A petite woman stood and raised her hand, calmly made the long journey to the stage, and handed her ticket to the emcee who confirmed she in fact had won. The emcee handed her the envelope full of cash and without skipping a beat, the woman handed it back. “See,” I annoyingly nudged the person sitting next to me, “the guilt makes you give it back.” The emcee invited the woman to the podium. With tears, she shared how, if she had not turned to Jesus with the help of her community, she wouldn’t be where she was today, and her family would not still be intact. “Jesus, and this community, are all I need,” she said.

After her short but powerful witness, she wasn’t the only person with tears in her eyes. Clearly, this woman took a much bigger chance at a time when things were very broken in her life. I bet the odds seemed much worse than winning a raffle. She said “yes” to the Lord’s call, and her gift back to the Church didn’t come from a place of guilt or calculated risk. It came from pure, unadulterated gratitude for how God has worked in her life.

As I scanned the silent auction items to see if I had won, I couldn’t help but wonder how often in life and leadership I am playing the odds versus betting all on God? Regardless of how much I do for the Church or others, am I doing it out of obligation or guilt, or as a joyful response to the victory that has already been won for me? If I had carried cash, had bought a ticket, and won $3,000, I am pretty sure I would’ve given it back to benefit the seminary. What I wasn’t so sure of, is if I would have done it with the freedom and gratitude demonstrated by my sister in Christ.

As we move into this holiest of weeks, let’s remember that there was nothing 50/50 about the passion and death of our Lord. He gives it all to us from a place of ultimate freedom and love. How will we give back?

Prayers for a blessed Holy Week and a glorious Easter.

by Daniel Cellucci

March 25, 2024

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