By Fr. Glenn Jones
You know … my family is descended from Irish kings; all you had to do to learn that tidbit was ask a certain aunt of mine. So … one day I dared ask an obvious question: “If so, then why are we over here and not still in Ireland?” Happily, she was again talking to me by the next time I dropped by.
We’ve all likely heard such stories—both in our own families and from others—those who (very) readily relay the (unsolicited) information that they are related to some famous figure of history—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or even some saint or other. And there’s the “name-droppers”: “I went to school with the governor!” “Senator X is one of my dad’s best friends!” We priests (very) are often regaled with stories a how a person’s long-deceased relative helped to build this-or-that church … walking five miles every day … uphill, both ways … in ten feet of snow, crossing the frozen Rio Grande. In July.
“Well, that’s great … but what about you? What have YOU done?”
Similarly, in Albuquerque—apparently the Dodge-Challenger-with-loud-mufflers capital of the world—residents are serenaded nightly by those trying to one-up and outrace (and outnoise) one other along many of the major thoroughfares—most often young lads in their male hormonally-fueled urge to compete and dominate over the others and thus display supposed prowess to woo potential mates … not unlike bulls bellowing at one another across a field. But the question cannot help but arise: “That’s just a machine; push the gas and it goes. What about you? What can YOU do?” In fact, one of the main reasons marriages between younger persons so often fail is that the young lady is attracted to an apparent “bad boy” (“He’s exciting!”), only later to find that he will not even hold down a job … and that she is unsuccessful in her desire to “change him”, especially when kids come along. SO often. We who have to work with the aftermath of failed marital carnage see this pattern constantly. But she should have asked that question earlier: “What can you DO?”
Yet, perhaps most of us try to borrow the laurels of family and acquaintances; after all, it is “easy attention”, possibly eliciting even “easy admiration”. We do tend to be impressed by those who have been in mere proximity of the famous. Remember that picture you took when you met this or that celebrated person? Boasting of a successful and celebrated classmate? The autograph sought and proudly displayed? After all, a reason we enjoy sports is in order to vicariously “win” with them; we don’t say “Our team won!”, but rather “WE won!!” And yet … borrowed laurels can only form imaginary crowns.
I often think of these things especially when I see young people really striving to improve themselves and not relying on heritage or artificial props—whether that be nose-to-the-grindstone in school, trying to establish themselves in a career, teaching or ministering, or offering themselves to the service of others in camouflage or with badge or firefighter’s helm. What makes one’s eyes roll more quickly than a capable young adult perpetually leeching off of his parents, playing video games all day long?
Likewise when one reads the Bible, one finds a constantly-repeated theme of the virtue of doing, not just talking. Throughout both Testaments is the affirmation that all persons will be judged not by what they say, but by what they have done.
Among Christians there is much disagreement of interpretation of such. Some believe that the required “doing” lay simply in professing belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior and, in the end, nothing else is necessary—relying heavily (as I understand) on Romans 3 and 4. Others (including the Catholic Church) believe that faith in Christ is essential, of course, but the actuality of faith is reflected in one’s life and actions, as (we believe) indicated explicitly in various scriptures (“I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12), including Jesus Himself: “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). This is not even to cite Jesus’ teaching of the necessity of forgiving others (Matthew 6, 18) and charity (Matthew 25).
But one thing is for sure: any self-worth comes not from talking, but from doing. Do we not tend to viscerally disdain … avoid … even ridicule … the empty or lying boaster? (“I know his insolence, says the LORD; his boasts are false, his deeds are false.” (Jeremiah 48:30)) Conversely, whom do we admire more than the humble achiever?
Here’s the rub: ANYONE—no matter how humble in condition—can become such an achiever; he/she need only to will it, and do it. First steps? Shut mouth, open hand (for work). One need not be the richest, most beautiful/handsome, most intelligent, strongest; in fact, these things are often detriments to true worth because they are so tempting to misuse or abuse. But “nothing is lacking where everything is given.” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux). True value lay not in the superficial of outward appearance, but in movement of inward virtue. Thus St. Paul: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14) … for “faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Corinthians 13:13)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.