God is God and I Am Not

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016

PopeFamily

I really loved watching Tim Russert, former NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of Meet the Press, who passed away in 2008. I guess what I loved the most about him was his tremendous sense of humility. He was a brilliant political mind, but he always conducted himself as a humble servant of the people, and being a devout Catholic, of his God.

There is a story about Russert’s audience with then Pope John Paul II. Saint John Paul II said to Russert, “You are the one called Timothy, the man from NBC? They tell me you are a very important man.” The response? “There are only two of us in the room and I am certainly a distant second.” This story is quite something standing on it’s own merit, but many say that Russert was like that with most people, whether they be successors to St. Peter or not.

This type of gracious humility is so very important in our walk as good stewards. When it is through God’s gifts that we achieve a certain standing in the world, city, or our parish community, we must never lose sight of the generosity of God that made that possible. It is through and because of God that we are parent, son, daughter, spouse, friend, or companion. The constant striving to keep God front and center allows us to more clearly see the opportunities to use our gifts because it is through this gracious humility that our grip on them is loosened.

People like the late Tim Russert serve as examples of the assertion, “God is God, and I am not.” To live in right relationship with God means that we have the chance to rejoice in the gifts given to us and share them freely, knowing that we are sharing with others not just ourselves, but God himself. By our stewardship, we become instruments of grace and windows into a reality much greater than ourselves.

Lost

A recent article from a prominent online news source called on Pope Francis to end the practice of praying “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” before Holy Communion.  The author, a self-described “healed ex-Catholic,” called it negative reinforcement and implied that this kind of mentality leads people to do destructive things.

I’m certain the author believes that she is making a merciful proposal, but I think she misses the point of mercy.  Indeed, there are Catholics who take the concept of unworthiness to an unhealthy degree, but the Centurion’s prayer in Mass is not an expression of low self-esteem – it’s self-awareness.

In the eighteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus tells a parable about two different pray-ers (and prayers).  The first is a Pharisee who goes to the Temple area and prays: O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.”  Even if we aren’t arrogant enough to actually say those words to the Lord, we’ve all had those moments of “I’m glad I’m not like that person.”  Clearly not a very merciful way to think.

The second pray-er is  a tax-collector – reviled among the people of Jesus’ time for being notoriously unscrupulous.  He, too, goes to the Temple but prays this: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

The point of the parable is clear:  What puts us in greater spiritual peril is not that we are sinners, but that we fail to recognize our lost-ness.  Thus, removing the Centurion’s prayer in Mass would be a tragic liturgical, spiritual, and theological mistake.lost

Thomas Merton said it well in No Man Is An Island: “Only the lost are saved. Only the sinner is justified. Only the dead can rise from the dead… Some men are only virtuous enough to forget that they are sinners without being wretched enough to remember how much they need the mercy of God.”