By Fr. Jake Greiner
I recently had lunch with a parishioner who paid me a wonderful compliment. “Father,” he said, “You have it all together.” I really did not know what he meant, so I asked him, “What do you mean?” “You seem to be able to hold all of things that you are responsible for in your life together in a way that is inspiring to me.” I was truly taken aback by this parishioner because he did not know what had happened that morning. I had to apologize to my staff for missing a deadline, a second time. I had to reschedule an appointment because I double-booked the same meeting time. To top things off, I remembered that I was supposed to call my mother the night before as I promised her three days before. I was embarrassed, but I did not know what to say. I just ended up saying thank you for the compliment and then changed the subject to the weather.
I prayed about this encounter for a couple of days, and I am now convinced that I should have responded differently. I probably should have countered this compliment with an explanation of how much I struggle some days, but with God’s grace, I am able to accomplish the good things that I do as priest. This is the most adequate description of my life. In the end, I needed to be gracious to the parishioner for the compliment, but it is clear that I do not have it all together.
I think that I could go one step further and proclaim with St. Paul what he said in the 11th chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” St. Paul does not say this lightly because he had immense gifts that were displayed in the churches that he planted and built up. However, St. Paul makes the point that weaknesses are where the Lord can give his grace in exceptional ways. Pretending to be perfect does not display God’s goodness and mercy. Furthermore, constantly berating someone for not being perfect does not reflect God’s goodness and mercy. Sharing how Jesus Christ has met us in our lives and showed us how to follow him more closely, this witness of discipleship is what can provide hope and strength to others.
This Lenten season is the acceptable time to admit that we do not have it all together. We do not need to pretend anymore. It is in our failures and weaknesses that the Lord wants to help us the most this Lenten season. Therefore, I highly encourage everyone to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and try their best in fulfilling the Lenten penances of prayer, fasting and giving. This way the Lord can draw us closer to him and let our weaknesses become the source of us boasting in Jesus Christ.
I have one more piece of advice for some of us: Do not forget to call your mother!
(Fr. Greiner is pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville and Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher.)