Sunday, January 26, 2020

PICKING LOSERS AND MAKING THEM WINNERS




       They immediately abandoned their nets and became his followers.             Matthew 4:12-23


I don’t think I am mentally ill yet, but for most of my life I have not felt “good enough.” I fell a lot better about it now, but as a child, I was told I was “too skinny,” my ears were “too big.”  I was told regularly that I would “never amount to a hill of beans.” When I came up here to Louisville to go to high school seminary, I was told by my city-born classmates that I was “too country.” As I have mentioned several times before, even the rector of the minor seminary called me a “hopeless case.” These kinds of things cut deeply as a child and usually stay with you throughout your life especially when you were a bashful kid to begin with.

In the seminary, they are always talking about the “ideal” seminarian and “ideal” priest. The saints are held up to us as models, in a sort of “why can’t you be more like them” kind of way. We were regularly quoted the Scripture passage: “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We were constantly examining our consciences and being monitored for less-than-perfect behavior. As a seminarian, all this always left me feeling not quite “holy enough” and not quite “good enough.”

I have made some progress, especially in the last half of my life, but even as a priest, even today, I often find myself not feeling “good enough.” It is not uncommon for me to catch myself lecturing myself: “you ought to be more religious, you ought to be more patient, you ought to know more, you ought to be thinner, you ought to exercise more, you ought to pray more,” on and on and on and on!

I used to think I was just one of a few people who struggled with feelings of worth, but I have learned that there are many of us, more than I ever imagined. Like I used to do, I have learned that most people suffer in silence, holding it in and trying to hide it. I tell my story, not to get sympathy or pity, but to help others. I found out that, when I broke the silence and talked about my feelings of not feeling good enough, it actually helped others. In fact, every time I talk about it, it seems that someone is helped.  

Oddly enough, it was not formal counseling that helped me break through that crippling negative self-image, but especially from studying the radically simple message of the parables that Jesus told. One day, as if scales fell from my eyes, I began to “get” what Jesus was talking about. 

“You are created in the image and likeness of God.” “It was not you who chose me, it is I who chose you.” “This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” “The good and the bad, alike, are welcomed to the weddings feast.” “God loves the lost sheep and the prodigal son.” “Everybody receives a full day’s pay.” “God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to him.”

Nothing brings my point home better than the call of the first apostles. Today we hear about four, but as you scan down list of all of Jesus’ recruits, you will surely see a motley crew: a liar, a traitor, an agnostic, two middle eastern terrorists and a couple of “mama babies,” to name a few.  Sounds pretty much like your average ordination class in most dioceses!

Fellow disciples! Fellow Catholics! The calling of the apostles should give us all hope. “God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to him.”  They were not saints to begin with, far from it, but God chose them, they responded in faith and he gradually turned them into saints. When Isaiah was called, he tried to beg off. He told God that he had a foul mouth, a mouth not good enough to speak God’s word. No problem! God sent an angel down with a hot coal to clean out his mouth. Jeremiah tries to beg off saying that he wasn’t good enough. He told God he was too young and had no public speaking ability. That didn’t stop God from picking him anyway!

The same can be true for us. No matter how badly we may feel about ourselves, no matter how badly others may think of us, when God calls us to do something, and we are open to him, he can give us all we need to do the job, whether it is to parent, teach, build a successful marriage, start a career, whatever, it is. The secret is to “let God get a hold of you” and “transform you” into what he wants you to be. 

Even though I know that the validity of Jesus’ message does not depend on the goodness of his messengers, there are many days where I do not feel good enough to do what I do. I have always taken great comfort in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “If God can work through me, God can work through anyone.”    












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