Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jesuits Say the Darnedest Things

After the presider offers "This is the Lamb of God...", we as a community say one final line together: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

You could take this prayer as yet another acknowledgement of one's sinfulness. But it's not a moment for navel gazing, much as all that lint might be fun. It's rather a letting go of all that. It's like any time you get an unexpected gift, or someone cooks you dinner -- we don't earn it. We don't "deserve" it. It's a gift!

That's what we're saying here -- I didn't make this happen. I am (gratefully) in your loving hands.

A very embarrassing story on this little prayer: about ten years ago I was at daily Mass, 5:15 after a long day of teaching on the prairie of South Dakota, my mind drifting off no doubt to classroom stuff, Tae-Bo or Ally McBeal. (It was the late 90s, what can I say.) And when we got to this point in the liturgy, instead of the normal response, without thinking this is what I said: "Lord, I am not willing to receive you. But only say the word and I shall be healed."

Yeah. Not worthy; willing. I didn't even know I had put on my Freudian slip!

Now, in my defense, although my response sure does reinforce certain stereotypes about Jesuits, this is not the craziest thing I've ever heard of a Jesuit saying during Mass. In fact at almost the same precise point in the liturgy, when the presider says "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world...", there was a Jesuit in Milwaukee who said instead -- "This is the leg of lamb."

True story.

Of course, he also was suffering from dementia.


I did not plan to say what came out. And rest assured, I was duly horrified having said it. And all the more when it kept popping up in my head over the next few months -- and sometimes, when I wasn't paying attention, out of my lips. Heck, maybe I'd been saying it for a while when I first noticed. And the more it happened, the more it just sounded right.

Now, this did lead to no little self-scrutiny. I was happy as a Jesuit, loved the work I was doing -- what was wrong with me?

But oddly, I just couldn't muster too much drama about it, even though I was embarrassed. Because, even though I didn't understand it, it seemed to fit. (One of those great life lessons: Just because you can't explain something doesn't mean you're not right.)

Maybe the best answer I came up with was this quote from the author Graham Greene about the love of God: "It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn’t it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.”

A God who knows you inside you out, warts and all -- forgiveness is all well and good, but love? That's freaking scary! Back off, buddy!

And so at some point, I sort of embraced my version as just another way of saying the same thing. I am timid like a bunny; move too fast and I'll bolt. But if you want, God, you can still make it happen. I can't save myself. But you can save me.

Put another way -- not willing? Yeah, that's me.

And that's why I'm here.

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