One of the advantages of working at a parish is that I rarely have a good excuse for not making it to Mass once or twice during the week. This morning the visiting priest reflected on the first reading during his homily and it resonated with what I have read recently from Pope Francis.
The reading was from 1 Kings and told the story of God sending Elijah to go stay with a widow who was so poor that she was about to use up her flour and oil to make one last meal for her and her son. Elijah tells the woman that if she makes him something to eat that her flour and oil will not run dry. The widow responded with faith and The Lord blessed her as Elijah had promised. In his homily, Father made the point that God regularly reveals himself through small, insignificant people. God revealed his power and faithfulness to Israel through a woman, a widow so poor and alone that she was literally about to die from starvation.
Last week I wrote an article about the “neo-Gnosticism” Pope Francis keeps warning us about. One way that this subtle heresy, the spiritual sickness, presents itself is how we look at others. More specifically, this Gnosticism leads us to look down on others who we think couldn’t possibly teach us anything about God. Pope Francis says,
“God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life. This is part of the mystery that a gnostic mentality cannot accept, since it is beyond its control” (GE 42).
This came to mind at Mass this morning because a friend, a lay minister at another parish, messaged me last night out of the blue commenting on this teaching from the pope. She shared a story about how she responded to the testimony of a man in a faith sharing group she leads. She said:
“I really don’t believe that there are people who don’t have anything to offer me (usually), but tonight made me re-examine what I really do believe – at least what I, in practice, believe. All night long I’ve been pondering how surprised I was with this man’s story. Yes, I rejoice in God’s goodness. And yes, I am utterly humbled to witness how God has rescued this person who has suffered for so long. But why am I surprised that this man has impacted me so much? Isn’t it really because I thought he would have little to teach me?”
I do that all the time. After my first impression I put people in comfortable boxes and labeling them according to my preconceived notions about how holy I think they are. I will pay close attention to the people I deem right and pure (GE 38) and dismiss those who I’m sure won’t be able to offer me anything. But how arrogant is it of me to presume who God will choose to reveal himself through? Isn’t that simply me trying to domesticate the mystery and power of God? As the pope says, “God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us” (GE 41).
I often look at other people with the eyes of man instead of the eyes of God. I’m reminded of a passage from Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei:
“In faith, Christ is not simply the one in whom we believe, the supreme manifestation of God’s love; he is also the one with whom we are united precisely in order to believe. Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing” (LF 18).
Throughout the scriptures and the stories of the saints it is often the most insignificant or the worst sinner who God chooses to use for great things. I pray that God will one day give me the faith to have his own eyes to see others the way he seems them. Eyes to even see the profound in what I dismiss as profane. My friend ended her message saying, “Domesticate the mystery. Yeah. I gotta stop that crap, man.” I pray we all stop that crap.
Paul Fahey is a husband, father of four, parish director of religious education, and co-founder of Where Peter Is. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.