After nine prayerful, awe-inspiring, and frankly, exhausting days in the Holy Land with my twenty-six fellow pilgrims, I had expected that my six days in Rome would be fairly laid back and less overwhelming. Boy, was I was wrong! When it first became official that my brother seminarians and I were going to be serving at the Papal Christmas Eve Mass, my initial reaction was a mixture of “Is this for real?” and, “I’m not worthy to do this!” Having the privilege to meet Pope Francis and assist him in the liturgy was the icing on the cake of my Christmas break. In the midst of all the excitement and anxiousness over the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and after the experience was over, the question that the other seven seminarians and I kept asking ourselves was, “Why us?” How did six guys from You’ve-never-heard-of-it, Illinois, one from Evansville, and one from Cincinnati merit an invitation to be a part of such an important celebration? The answer is: we didn’t.
We Aren’t Worthy of Anything
During and after the Mass, I reflected on my unworthiness to travel to the Holy Land, to attend Masses at the holiest places on earth, (from the cave where Christ was born to the tomb where he was buried and resurrected), and to serve at a Papal Mass. I immediately perceived a parallel between my own unworthiness in these special circumstances and the unworthiness that we all share as human beings in everyday life. None of us, not even the greatest saint who ever lived, has done anything to merit our being created, our continued existence, and our redemption. As Saint Paul wrote, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23). In fact, the whole story of our existence is complete unworthiness being met by incomprehensible love – from the Fall of our parents Adam and Eve and our own sinfulness to the total self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ in his Passion and Death. The truth is, if you’re waiting until you feel worthy before you act on what you perceive to be God’s will for your life, then you’ll never move!
A Drop in the Ocean of God’s Blessings
In our fast-paced, noisy, and image-saturated modern world, the vast majority of us have a severely underdeveloped sense of wonder. We are taught from a young age to get excited about the “next big thing,” be it a new gadget, clothing style, car, music album, film – you name it. While none of these things are necessarily evil in themselves, they often rob us of our childlike sense of wonder and curiosity towards natural beauty. The Christmas Mass was absolutely beautiful. St. Peter’s Basilica, the decorations, the vestments, the liturgy, the music – everything was beautiful and in its proper place. While keeping all of this in mind (if that’s even possible!), I was later considering the beauty of a single tree. (Next time you’re outside near a tree, just stop and look at it more closely). Consider the way its roots plunge deep into the ground, reaching out to scavenge for vital resources, the roughness and shape of the bark that protects it from insects and harsh elements, the strength of its branches, which reach up into the sky like arms towards their Creator, and the soft yet durable leaves through which the plant regularly performs feats of chemistry so efficient that our best scientists cannot even dream of replicating them in a state-of-the-art laboratory. This tree, along with the trillions upon trillions of other plants in the world, are constantly carrying out the photosynthesis that produces the oxygen necessary for our survival. The question is, what did we do to deserve this? Nothing. What’s my point? We are infinitely more worthy to meet any famous person, visit any site, or participate in any event then we are to receive the literally countless blessings that are constantly being communicating to us at any given moment in our lives. The difference is, our hearts are fickle, and we quickly become complacent and take for granted all the tremendous blessings in our lives, which are right in front of our eyes at every moment. Hopefully, it doesn’t take serving for the Pope for us to realize this great truth!
Serving at the Papal Christmas Eve Mass was, to be sure, a totally unexpected and inspiring experience, and one that I will forever remember and treasure in my heart. However, what’s even more amazing is the gift to be sitting here at my laptop right now, still existing, taking another breath, and having the opportunity to live another moment doing whatever I choose to do for the glory of God.
…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col 3:15-17).
Whenever we feel unworthy to receive God’s gifts or to be used by him, let us remember who Jesus founded his Church on – a sinful and uneducated fisherman. Rather than listening to the lies of Satan and the world, which tell us that we aren’t good enough and would have us believe we can’t accomplish anything, let us instead respond to the call of Christ the way Peter did:
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken…And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Lk 5:8-11).
Let us pray to Jesus, that he may give us the grace to leave everything behind, not necessarily all of our possessions and relationships like the apostles had to, but above all, our preconceptions, doubts, fears, and sinfulness, and follow him. God Bless you, and Merry Christmas!
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