Again I am standing in a pew, among strangers and friends. I am facing an altar on which bread and wine were just transformed to the body and blood of Jesus Christ. There are warm vibrations between the people and the pews, a powerful presence in the room. Candles glow. Stained glass windows are shimmering. It is communal and sacramental; everything ordinary and everything sacred all at once.
The priest behind the altar says some prayers aloud. As one of many, I respond:
Lord I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
I am not worthy. Fully aware, I know it and I name it. I surrender, uttering the same words at every mass. Earlier in my life, before the liturgy was revised, there was no mention of a roof. There was only a mention of reception: Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words … In imitation of the centurion who approached Jesus to advocate for the healing of his servant (Matthew 8:8), we are trying to be reverent and humble. When we name this reality, we are demonstrating our smallness in the face of Christ. Considering that we are barely a crumb in the universe, and Christ is Christ of the entire cosmos, this smallness seems right to me.
We are commissioned to serve, to give, to be people of joy, light, salt: we are meant to share the Good News. When we look around at the suffering and injustice in our communities, neighborhoods and ecosystems, it is obvious we have work to do. We doubt that anyone can sit back and be indifferent to the hurt. We believe that everyone must play a part.
And part of the mission that God has given us is to build a world where we demonstrate that every person, species and speck made by God is worthy of honor and respect. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you did, or how you live — all of us are completely worthy of love and care because we exist. Convincing people that everyone has worth and value might be our most basic and essential mission. We do this by what we teach, speak and how we are with people and all of creation; by the sharing of food, space and care. Every person is worthy of honor and respect because they are an image of God.
We all are worthy of compassion, kindness and mercy — not judgement, punishment or harm. Every Christian act ought to be based on the belief that everyone is worthy of love.
There are days, though, when I show up to give, that I feel smothered by my sense of unworthiness and brokenness. I should be more prepared. I should be more kind. I should be in a better mood. I should, I should, I should. I get stuck and sick by my sense of sin and shame, my sense that I am not good enough for what is needed of me.
Why didn’t God come up with a way that’s better than picking such weak and broken instruments to do the mission of building up a kingdom of peace and justice?
Why do I doubt God’s ways? And myself?
Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön offers the link to a clue for me. “When you make good friends with yourself, your situation will become more friendly too,” she wrote. Doubt is part of me, what I must befriend. Turns out, it doesn’t matter that I’m imperfect and weak and the situations I serve in can be complex and heavy, I can make make friends with my both my weaknesses and strengths — and a friendly disposition could open a space for the struggle to be filled with light. Even joy.
And also, Scripture and the sacraments (broken bread; shared water, wine, oil) reveal to us again and again that God in fact wants broken instruments, vessels, to share the love. (See 2 Corinthians 4:7-18.) Our wounded savior risen from the grave shows us this too.
In his book Night Call: Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World, Robert Wicks writes, “On the trail to self-discovery, we take a detour onto the path of self-blame. In such instances, we berate ourselves for past mistakes or current failures. This accomplishes nothing, because behavior in yourself that you wince at will turn into behavior that you wink at. You can’t constantly look at yourself in a negative way and expect to acheive balanced insights or feel the strength of you own gifts in a way that allows you to move ahead.”
Balancing, though, is really hard. I am always a bit wobbly, to tell you the truth. My life of devotion is a lot of going through ups and downs, not the stuff of steadiness and consistency. Is this a weakness that I wince at, or simply part of my human condition that I can honor and befriend?
I am not sure. I do not know. But I will step up to the altar, bow and receive, aiming to accept the truth of who I am and who God is. I am worthy and unworthy. God is my source and strength, and God loves me.
I am loved and worth the world to God. We all are.
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things,” Jesus says to each of us (Matthew 25:23).
Broken and weak, may we receive him and make room for his might.