This is the Gospel in Action
By Prof Mpume Zondi – The Psalm exclaims: “The Lord has done it, this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad” (Ps 118:4). This is exactly how I felt recently after finally getting to speak telephonically to Jesuit Father Chris Chatteris to express my gratitude to him for assistance rendered while I was in great need three decades ago.
But why did I acknowledge him only now? Covid-19 has taught me how precious life is, and never to take God’s people for granted. It has instilled in me the significance of doing (or expressing) that which one wishes to voice now.
I have prayed unceasingly for Fr Chris, as well as for several other priests and religious men and women who played a role in shaping the person I am today, whether knowingly or unknowingly. I include in my prayers all those who helped mould me by setting a good example which I could follow. Some of these chosen people of God are still alive while others God has called to our eternal home. But I had not made a great effort to let Fr Chris know how much I value him.
When my life’s choices took a particular turn, Fr Chris provided much-needed support. It is not about the magnitude or the quantity of his help, but rather about the impact his works of mercy had on my life and on those around me.
When we talked, I was amazed at how Fr Chris gradually remembered some of the encounters we had while completely forgetting the main ones, those which my call was about: the acts of mercy when I was in need. Hours after our interaction I could not help but see God’s Gospel at play in everything that happened during our conversation.
Fr Chris embodied what Jesus meant when he said: “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). If I consider how his initial support opened several opportunities for me and how he did not dwell on remembering it, I am grateful that in the process, I have also learned the act of giving.
A lasting impact
This is an instance of biblical values reflected in African philosophy. There is a Zulu proverb: “Umenzi uyakhohlwa kodwa umenziwa akakhohlwa.” It means that the one who has done something (good or bad), forgets what he did, while the one to whom the deed (good or bad) was done, does not forget.
In the context of my story, the positive effects of Fr Chris’ actions have remained with me to the present day and they have influenced almost my entire living. I could never take them for granted. Whenever I look back on God’s blessings, I count Fr Chris as one of them; the way he lived the Gospel in a practical sense of the word.
I wish to encourage those who because of their tribulations tend to doubt God’s presence in their lives. We never need to look far: God is right here in our midst!
As a proud Catholic, I am indebted to all the priests who have ministered to me at one time or another — at St Immaculata in Elandskop (my parish of birth), and those I met along the way while studying and working.
Equally, I am thankful to the various women religious orders which contributed immensely to the person I am as well as to my academic achievements over the years. Here I think especially of the Dominican Sisters of Montebello and Oakford, as well as the Daughters of the Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (commonly known as the Matikwe Sisters).
The wisdom of these servants of God — men and women — builds on the legacy of my late parents, especially my mother Celestine Zondi, who laid the solid foundations of my faith which continues to influence and shape my philosophy of life, as I deepen daily the meaning of what it means to be a good Catholic. I am not mentioning her by default. My mother, whom God called to our eternal home last year, dedicated her entire life to ensuring that all people around her, Catholic or not, knew the power of God in their lives.
Thank you, Fr Chris, for giving me a taste of what it means to “live out the Gospel values”. I pray that following your example, I may also be “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth” (Mt. 5:13-16).
Prof Mpume Zondi is head of the Department of African Languages at the University of Pretoria. She belongs to St Pius X parish in Waterkloof, Pretoria.
This article was published in the August issue of The Southern Cross magazine