On vacation years ago I had an opportunity to spend a day in the remote Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in north central Alaska. Part of the visit included a stunning guided journey through the tundra, surrounded by the majestic Brooks Range Mountains. The vastness of the place contributed to a profound sense of my own littleness and insignificance in the grand scheme. But the reality is that it was only a feeling, and not one reserved just for being in the wilderness: all of us have an experience of feeling insignificant from time to time no matter where we are or who we are with. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by that which is larger than we are, but the truth is that none of us are insignificant in the eyes of God. Everyone, including the most forgotten or overlooked person among us, is important and precious in His eyes. Therefore, as members of the Body of Christ we are called to reflect that same attitude toward one another; by treating everyone with reverence and dignity, no matter how insignificant we think our actions may be, we are actually effecting changes in the world. It is easy to be deceived into believing we can do nothing because we are the least likely person God would ever choose to make a difference, but if we look to the people God has chosen throughout salvation history, it seems that He prefers not the seemingly obvious people, but the least likely, most flawed individuals to help Him accomplish His work.
The series of unlikely heroes consistently chosen by God shows that His judgment is completely different than ours. For example, in the Old Testament we can see that He chose an exile with a stutter to lead His people out of bondage (Moses), a woman military leader during an era in which only men led armies (Deborah), an unambitious, but conniving man from the smallest clan in the least significant tribe to liberate his people (Gideon), a king so arrogant that he went ‘off the rails’ (Saul), a young shepherd, the last choice of a renowned prophet, to be anointed as the replacement for King Saul (David), prophets from humble backgrounds or with ‘issues’ (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos) and so on. Later we see that Jesus chose His followers similarly: some lowly fishermen, (Andrew and Peter, James and John), one who was prejudiced against Galileans like Jesus (Nathaniel), a Zealot (Simon), and a probable thief who swayed with the wind, ending up as a betrayer (Judas). Then there was the crooked tax collector (Matthew), the hot tempered Pharisee (Paul), and so many more.
Of the many Saints who followed, one who might be considered a ‘least likely choice’ is Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879). When the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her at Lourdes, the 14 year old Bernadette was illiterate, sickly, and from a family so poor they lived in a jail that wasn’t even suitable for criminals. Yet it was her courage and determination, her deeply ingrained faith and love for God, which propelled her into becoming a great saint. She was the last person anyone would ever have chosen for so great a mission, and yet she obeyed, growing in holiness and humility as she accepted what was placed before her. Many of the Saints were aware of their unlikelihood as choices for service. It was St. Thèrése of Lisieux who wrote (in reference to herself): "He does not call those who are worthy, but those whom He pleases." All of this bears witness to the reality that God can and will choose anyone of faith to be a witness to His love and mercy. Therefore we must never count ourselves out.
A suggestion to become more aware of God’s call is to spend time praying and reflecting upon our lives as they are now to see what opportunities are already at hand in our homes, workplaces, and communities. A concrete way we can serve God is to be more intentional about practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, small actions which make a huge difference in the lives of others. Finally, we need to reflect upon our role as ‘activists.’ To be Christian means to love actively: we cannot sit idly by and wait for someone else to do what we can do ourselves. Imagine if Moses decided to ‘sit this one out,’ or if Peter decided his sins were too great to ever serve Jesus! Imagine if Bernadette had decided not to go back to the grotto and missed the messages Mary wanted her to convey! We do not have to wait for a sign or revelation before we can offer our love and mercy to the world. All we need to do is realize that every act and every word can be healing and life-giving if we live the gospel as taught by Jesus, seeing ourselves and all our sisters and brothers as important and precious to God.
Let us reflect upon the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, who during his life was of ‘the least likely,’ his poetry acclaimed only after his death:
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Christ — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. *
May we believe in our hearts that we are precious and beautiful to behold in the eyes of God! May we also see others as children of God, precious and beautiful to behold! May we spend time in prayer, discerning how we are called to do small things with great love! And may our hearts be filled with courage, faith, hope, mercy, and love that we may offer these in turn to everyone we encounter! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* As Kingfishers Catch Fire, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (1844-1889). The entire poem is found at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44389/as-kingfishers-catch-fire
1. My photo taken in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, just north of the Arctic Circle, Bettles, Alaska. This photo was taken out on the tundra near Anaktuvuk Pass; the mountain is part of the Brooks Range.
2. My photo of a mosaic of Moses and the Burning Bush: Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.
3. My photo of a stained glass window in the convent of St. Gildard at Nevers, France, depicting St. Bernadette praying before Our Lady of Lourdes. Bernadette entered the Sisters of Charity in Nevers, remaining until her death at the age of 35.
4. My photo of the original painting, The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh. I took this in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX at an exhibition which included this work.
5. Icon, Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins the Poet's Poet, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. Note the inset of the Kingfisher in the upper left corner. You can find this at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/fr-gerard-manley-hopkins-the-poets-poet-144-william-hart-mcnichols.html
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart