Earlier today, I ran across a blog post written by a noted Catholic author (and parishioner here at St. Bernard’s) Simcha Fisher. You can read it here, and while you do–if it’s more helpful to you–maybe substitute “having a baby” with “having a way to pay for college” or “getting that internship you wanted” or something else that’s more applicable to your life. Her original post may be about using the word “blessing” appropriately when it comes to announcing a pregnancy, but the message is clear and it is so, so applicable: God blesses us, not because we’ve done anything to deserve it, but simply because He is Good.
Let me say that again: God blesses us. Not because we deserve it. But because He is Good.
The example that Simcha uses in her article is excellent: imagine that you spent four months looking for the perfect present for someone you really care about, and then they just act like it fell from the sky. You’d be outraged! You’d be offended! You probably wouldn’t ever bother trying to hard again because seriously, show a little appreciation, yo. If you’ve been paying the least bit of attention to the news in the last month or two (or even just paying attention to your Facebook News Feed), you’ve probably experienced the numbing sensation of feeling crushed under the weight of so many horrible events all happening at once. Killer epidemics. Ongoing wars. People being beheaded for the world to watch. ISIS. Politics. Entire US cities in open revolt. Racism. Depression. Suicide. Add in whatever drama is occurring in your own private life and it seems too much to handle.
If you’re anything like me, this feeling of desperation is quickly, almost silently joined by a feeling of guilt. Why is it that relatively few of these issues are directly affecting me and my life? I don’t live in daily fear of contracting Ebola. I know the odds of my town being occupied by a foreign power are relatively small. I can wear a cross and go to Mass and simply do my job as a Campus Minister without fear of being raped or beaten or beheaded. Even when the number showing on my bank account balance is lower than I’m comfortable with, I know that neither I nor my family will go without our next meal. I am blessed–and I mean this not in the way that some smug people smile at their newest material acquisition and say it, I mean it in a way that I can only describe and understand as….grammatical. I…am blessed. It’s classic Passive Voice (you know, the verb tense you’re not supposed to use that’s considered poor English? Need a quick way to tell if you’re using passive voice? Add “…by zombies” to the end of the phrase. If it makes sense, you’re using passive voice and you should restructure your sentence. There’s your English lesson for the day.), and if I were using proper English, a better way to put it might be “God blesses me” or “I receive blessing”. The subject (“I”) of the action (“to bless”) is passively receiving it. I’ve done nothing to make this situation happen. I’ve done nothing to deserve it.
It is mind-boggling how ridiculously blessed I am.
It is mind-boggling how ridiculously ungrateful I can be.
I am not blessed because I am in any way “more” than a woman in East Africa or a journalist in Syria or a teenager in Ferguson; I am blessed because God’s goodness falls on the wicked and the righteous the same. I’m fortunate to be living where I do, how I do, when I do–a good fortune that came partly from luck and partly from the people before me who worked to create this kind of life. When I really think about it, when I start to comprehend even the slightest degree of what blessing truly means, I am filled with a deep sense of humility. And I am filled with a deep gratitude. And I am filled with a deep, deep sense of responsibility.
God, thank You, I pray. But what can I ever do to show my gratitude? And suddenly the commands in Scripture to do justice, know God, spread the Gospel make sense to me: I can be fearless.
I can be a Christian in my every action and every word because here–in this town and on this campus–I might get embarrassed, but I will not be beheaded. I can speak up for injustice when I see it because–since I am white and I am educated and since I am generally more prosperous than the rest of the world population–people might listen to me. I can hold hands with and show love to the sick because I have a doctor and a nearby hospital and good healthcare. I can take the luck I’ve been dealt that makes it easier for me to see the ways that I’m blessed, and respond by using the fullness of the freedom I have to be Christ to those around me.