First-time team members typically find the request shocking: We ask everyone who serves on team to round up 40 dozen homemade cookies, all to be shared with residents and staffers during our Kairos Prison Ministry weekend retreat.
That’s not a typo: 40 dozen. Or close to 500 cookies apiece. It’s an intimidating prospect to consider the time, energy and resources required to get the job done. But there’s a method to this madness…a profound blessing, undergirding the outrageous request.
You see, we don’t expect the team member to bake all those cookies. In fact, we encourage him NOT to. Rather, his job is to invite others into the ministry – to share his 40-dozen bogey with other Christians he knows…begging them to help in the effort to give inmates a sweet taste of God’s bottomless love.
It’s an amazing thing to see how generously the Body of Christ responds to this request. We gathered our cookies together yesterday…in anticipation of the Kairos Weekend we’ll present at Menard Correctional Center next week.
Whaddya know? The bounty truly flowed…filling 45 bins to overflowing. Our best-guess estimate is that this team collected about 21,600 cookies in all. And every single one of them will be put to good use, witnessing to God’s presence inside Menard.
As I reflected gratefully on this outpouring of love from the Body of Christ, I couldn’t help but think back to the surprised look I saw on the faces of my “first-timer” teammates a few months ago. Our outrageous request for cookies sowed a seed of doubt in their hearts initially – not unlike the reaction of the woman we encounter in the first reading (from 1 Kings) at Mass today:
She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
But Elijah encourages the widow. “Do not be afraid,” he says. “Trust in God’s providence”…
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
‘The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'”
Left to our own devices, it’s often difficult to see our way clear of the enormous challenges ahead. But taking a cue from the widow of Zarephath, we learn that self-reliance is rarely the optimal path. There’s a better way to bounty – by sharing our outrageous burdens, and then delighting in the workings of a God who finds a way that we ourselves were powerless to see.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.