I used to proclaim that, “Happiness is a pint of beer away!” Life was a carnival. Bright lights, boozy nights. Young, in good health, and success trending up, there was a feel of invincibility. Enter a bar and your favorite beer is immediately thrust into your hand. They know me. They make me feel special. Image is important. It feeds the ego.
I was brought up living a good Catholic life. But in the early years of my working life, I lost my way. I was materially successful before I became spiritually matured. The image of invincibility did not include an image of God. It is embarrassing to proclaim that you go to church. God is kept hidden and at a distant, my Catholic identity buried. ‘It’ is just a religion.
I situate myself into today’s Gospel but with a personal slant. “A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house”. I reflect on my return to active church ministry after years of living with my Catholic identity hidden.
How and why I came back is a story for another day. Today’s passage somehow reminded me of the sheepish embarrassment I felt when I began physically spending more time in church and disappearing from my regular drinking haunts. It was too uncool to proclaim that I was serving the church. I felt awkward at my double identity in my own network of business associates, among my own relations and friends and in my own home. “This is the carpenter, surely”. This is the one always at the bar, surely?
Embarrassment is like a capsule. You want to stay in and hide but it feels so restrictive. Yet you are too shy to emerge from it. We hide because we don’t want to lose that strongman image. We are embarrassed because of our past life style. But many of us are embarrassed simply because we feel we are not qualified. We are not fit, not capable, not competent, not skilled and not experienced to do God’s work maybe because of our low educational background or our low social standing. We are mistakenly embarrassed because we have never excelled in anything we did.
Embarrassment is more like a cocoon. Embarrassment keeps us hidden and force us to internalize the changes in us. During this time, God’s graces are busily working to restore us, repairing our low spiritual self-esteem. Then the graces work to affirm us, to tell us and empower us that we can do it. Embarrassment is a time period when graces flow deep into us to complete our transformation. When we are ready, He pushes us out of the cocoon and we emerge a colorful butterfly.
“‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.’ So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.” (Today’s second reading).
My colorful past used to embarrass me but is now a valuable catalogue of experiences I share with others in their cocoon. I came out of my own cocoon some time ago and found true happiness in life. His graces have dramatically changed my life, not by taking away who I am but by making me fuller for who I am, even utilizing all my weaknesses to make me strong. It is quite evident that parts of me are left untouched; He never took away my pint of beer. Indeed, happiness is still a pint away!
14th Ordinary Sunday