by John O' Leary
From "Footprints", the newsletter of the Archdiocese of Boston by the Office of Young Adults, Spring 1999
There is a vast gulf between the "ideal life" -- as portrayed by David Hasselhoff on "Baywatch" -- and my own pathetic existence. It used to bother me when I'd watch Andre Agassi win Wimbledon, be handed a silver trophy by the Queen, and then stroll off the court with $1 million in his pocket and Brook Shields on his arm.
Okay, so maybe that still bothers me a little. But I really have come to terms with my own limitations, and I will tell why: Because I have decided not to compete on the world's terms. I refuse to measure my life by the modern yardstick of success, that peculiar melange of money, power, pleasure, youth, beauty and fame that seems to be the modern ideal of a successful human being.
Because, dear reader, let us face facts. You are not as rich as Bill Gates. You are not as handsome as Mel Gibson nor as beautiful as Gwenyth Paltrow. You don't play basketball as well as Michael Jordan, and you aren't as smart s Marilyn Vos Savant. I write these hard truths with confidence, dear reader. And if you compare yourself with these false idols of cultural perfection, you will constantly feel yourself a failure, inadequate, a loser.
As a human of limited talents, I am comforted by the fact that God has more reasonable expectations for me. God has given me all I need to succeed on His terms. As He says in Leviticus 30: 1 1, "The command that I am giving you is not too difficult or beyond your reach." That's good news, because I have a short reach.
many of the heroes of the Bible were far from perfect. Isaiah was
a man "of unclean lips", Moses a poor public speaker, St. Paul a persecutor
of Christians. Abraham, the Father of Faith, let an Egyptian pharaoh
sleep with his wife. St. Peter publicly denied Christ.
All of these deeply flawed humans played a vital role in God's plan for human salvation. As a deeply flawed human, I find this encouraging.
The Bible's biggest "failure," from the world's perspective, is Christ himself. He had no college degree and was dirt poor. A homeless, unmarried 30-something, He was an outcast among His own people -- He didn't even live up to their expectation of the politically powerful Messiah that would lead Israel to greatness. He was arrested, beaten, stripped naked, and mocked. The guards and even another prisoner basically taunted Him as a loser. (The Bible is silent on this issue, but I always imagine Jesus at Nazareth Junior High School, getting shoved into a locker by the "cool" kids, unable to get a date for the prom.)
By the world's standards, there is no bigger loser than Christ. But by God's own measure, there is no one more worthy of God's love and our praise.
The Bible is chock full of losers who do great things. It is also full of "winners" who are humbled. In the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar one day boasts of the vast empire of wealth he has built. The next day he is crawling naked on all fours and eating grass -- sort of like Howard Hughes. Israel's powerful King David indulges his lust for a woman, tries to cover up his sin, and ends his reign plagued by scandal -- sort of like someone else we all know.
No one is too lowly to do great things, nor too exalted to be humbled. For example, Andre Agassi is rapidly going bald, a fact in which I take a small measure of solace.
Listen to what St. Paul told the early Christians at Corinth: "From the human point of view, few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise; and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful; and he chose what the world considers insignificant to destroy what the world thinks is important." In other words, God chose foolish, weak, losers such as yourself to stand the world on its head.
We are all losers by the world's impossible standards, and there is no shame in admitting it. As unlikely as it may seem when I have locked myself out of my car, I am uniquely and ideally suited for the work God calls me to do. As Micah put it: "What He requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to walk humbly with our God."
Humility is an underrated virtue today. In a world where people practice touchdown dances, it isn't cool to be meek. But go read the Beatitudes. Or listen to what God told the prophet Zephaniah: "I will remove everyone who is proud and arrogant.... I will leave a lowly and humble people who will come to me for help."
We all have plenty to be humble about, but that doesn't mean that we can't achieve great things. I may never win Wimbledon, but I can treat my neighbor with compassion. I may be a loser in the eyes of the world, but I am a winner thanks to Christ's sacrifice. I may be a deeply flawed human, but with God's help I can accomplish some truly important feats. So can you.
Now, I think I'll give Gwenyth just one more call before Baywatch comes on.
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copyright Bernadette Wo 2000