I pressed, “send” and off soared the email to my daughter’s swim coach. I had written, “ One of your best attributes is, that you have the ability to make everybody feel special… like THEY’RE the bestest ever! The great thing is, it’s true. Each of us IS infinitely valuable; ergo the Cross.”
Coach was preparing for the Masters National Swim Meet, therefore I prefaced my text with: “You don’t need to reply.” Yet, within an hour, my Inbox revealed this answer, “ Wow — that’s awesome! You’re right! That puts everything into proper perspective! Have you written an article about that? You should, because that’s such a good point. Thanks for sharing.”
I thought, “‘We’re infinitely valuable; ergo the Cross’, everybody knows that! Why write an article saying, ‘God doesn’t make junk?’” Yet deep within myself, I know I haven’t internalized that truth. For Satan continually tempts me to envy other people’s success or progress in virtue. I imagine that if I could be the brightest star in the heavens, then certainly my worth will have been proven. I may sulk, “But why didn’t God give me the talents he gave her? What’s wrong with me? I’m so worthless. It’s no use. Who would love me, anyway, if they really knew me?”
Then my Guardian Angel reminded me of a book I read years ago called The Search for Significance by Robert McGee. In this Christian self-help book, McGee reveals a lie that Satan uses to cause people to despair. The lie is this: Your success, plus what people think about you, equals your value. I recognize that evil axiom as a perversion of truth and a lie. For Genesis tells us that each of us is created in the Image and Likeness of God. He has animated us with his pneuma (breath of life and spirit); therefore, we have dignity as transcendent beings. Father Walter Schu writes in The Splendor of Love , “No single human being can be relativized in the presence of another.” The philosophy of Rationalist Materialism promulgated by secular humanists reduces the human person to the status of an “object” to be exalted for what he can do or produce. Original Sin, combined with that philosophy, continues fueling my pride yet sense of worthlessness.
The lust for temporal glory tempts many of us. We erroneously believe our worth must be quantified. For instance, “the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus, with her sons at her side. Kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. ‘What do you want?’ Jesus asked. She said, ‘Promise me that my two sons may sit at your right hand and at your left hand in your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘You don’t know what you’re asking for,’ Then Jesus said to the sons of Salome. "Can you drink the cup of suffering I am going to drink?" Jesus refers us to the cross as the way to regain our true identity as sons and daughters of the king.
Before he was Pope John Paul II, Bishop Karol Wojtyla wrote:
The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order. To this disintegration planned at times by atheistic ideologies we must oppose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of “recapitulation” of the inviolable mystery of the person.
Perhaps there is no greater mystery than the full response Jesus gives to his disciples about one’s importance. “ Instead, anyone who wants to be important among you must be your servant. And anyone who wants to be first must be your slave. Be like the Son of Man. He did not come to be served. Instead, he came to serve others. He came to give his life as ransom for many people." Quite beautifully, Mary carried the preborn Jesus as she, the “handmaid of the Lord”, hurried to serve her cousin, Elizabeth. We do well to remember that Mary, God’s vessel, evoked Elizabeth’s greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42), not because of who she was, but, rather, who she carried within her. Whenever we serve in Christ’s name, His presence within us blesses the work and evokes authentic praise.
A person’s genuine success derives from freely choosing to place one’s talents at the service of God and man. Jesus clearly states that only God exalts a person; and, if you exalt yourself you will be humbled. Of himself, he said, “I do not receive glory from men” (John 5:41). Over the centuries saints have abased themselves for the sake of furthering God’s plan. St Thomas Aquinas refused many temporal honors such as becoming archbishop of Naples. He believed he could better serve the Church through his study, contemplation, prayer, and writings. Ironically, in his humility of simple service to God, the Church venerates his name centuries after his death. Who did accept the archbishopric of Naples?
Saints Martin de Porres and John Masias, Dominican brothers who lived in Lima, Peru during the late 1500s, became saints by living simple lives of charity toward the weakest among us: the poor. Martin de Porres had the intellect to serve as a doctor, but because of his biracial heritage, that occupation was denied him. Yet, he never embraced the presumption of self-pity and lived joyfully. St John Masias served his community as its Gatekeeper for years. His docility to his state in life, gave him the Wisdom to recognize Jesus in the poor who came to his gate. He fed them the Bread of Life along with bodily sustenance.
Mother Theresa believed God chose her because her nothingness allowed only Christ to live within her. Within this purity of heart, she began her work as a solitary nun working under the Indult of Exclaustration (a religious living apart from their community). Hidden in Calcutta’s slums, the only witnesses to her love died before testifying to her greatness of spirit. In secret and in darkness she brought glory to God and recognition to the dignity of the poor as she gave Jesus what he asked of her. Yet, her simple “yes” to God in the work he gave her, garnered praise. Causing her much suffering, the world heaped honors upon her including the Nobel Peace Prize. Through prayer, she guarded her “nothingness” which accomplished greatness for God’s glory. She told her sisters, “The work is God’s work and not our work, that is why we must do it well. How often we spoil God’s work and try to get the glory for ourselves.”
Frequently we seek praise and recognition as proof of our worth. Mother Theresa understood our value lies in dying to ourselves so that Christ can live in us. She embodied St. Paul’s words, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:19,20) What is this “faith”? It is the certainty that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus shed his blood for each one of us individually. Each one of us is the Prodigal Son, the lost sheep, the missing coin. We’re infinitely valuable. Filled with God’s grace, the Holy Spirit allows each one of us, using faith and reason, to incarnate Christ’s humanity and live as adopted sons and daughters of the Eternal Father.
Repeatedly Sacred Scripture tells us of God’s tender love for individuals. Isaiah says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Is 49:15-16) Having borne and nursed 11 children I cling to that passage as re-enforcement of God’s love for me. In a sense, he carved me on the palms of his hands when my sins nailed his hands to the cross. Also, of sparrows Jesus tells us “that not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matt 10:29-31)
Through his humanity, Jesus perfectly understood the need for people to experience a personal love. He experienced the love and nurturing a family provides. Each of us is born into a family that should provide the first glimpse of the agape love of God for each of us. Indeed, the Church declares the family is a School of Love. In his divinity Jesus knew that, unlike angels who posses infused knowledge, people come to understanding in and through their bodies and minds. Therefore, he washed the disciples’ feet as an example of humble service to us and loved us unto death on the cross. Jesus gave us the Eucharist so we’d never be lonely. Finally, he commanded us to love one and other, as he had loved us so we could incarnate God’s love for man.
Individually, we must embrace God’s personal love for us and return charity to Jesus as we find him in our brother. Tragically, some of us might not know what love is because we have not experienced human love in a meaningful way. For this reason, we must reach out in love to others in a heroic way. Sadly, too, we might not want to accept God’s love, because in order to swoon on his breast, we must embrace the stumbling block of our personal sin and nothingness without the Trinity. Our contrite heart and the worthy reception of the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Confession, activate the redemption of the Cross and the resurrection of the empty tomb. We must constantly strive, with God’s grace, for freeing self-knowledge. Mother Theresa’s prayer, her little way , can help us: “Jesus in my heart, I believe in your faithful/tender love for me. I love you.”
St John of the Cross knew that the only significant accomplishment of our life would be accomplished in our soul, unseen by human eyes. He wrote in Dark Night of the SoulOne dark night, fired with love’s urgent longings – ah, the sheer grace! — I went out unseen, my house being now at rest. In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, – ah, the sheer grace! – in darkness and concealment, my house being now at rest .
When a person journeys through the temporal world guided by God’s secret plan for his soul, he will achieve the success of which St John of the Cross writes: union with God. The Trinity exploded with love, creating bright lights: each one of us. God destines each of us to dwell in the “mansion” he has prepared for us in heaven.
In faith I do believe my email to my daughter’s good coach for, as St Thomas Aquinas wrote, “To take something away from the perfection of the creature is to abstract from the perfection of the creative power itself.” Each of us is the “bestest ever”; and so I pray, “Holy Spirit, increase my faith as I accept God’s love for me and for each human being, regardless of our flaws or outward success.” Despite temptations toward human respect, I have embraced the vocation of raising a large family in the cloister of my home where washing feet and dying to self occurs continuously and unseen. In my heart, as proven by my works, I do not want to be the brightest light in the universe, a supernova, a dying star. In faith, hope, and love I’ll happily reflect authentic Light right here on Earth.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life — John 3:16.