Status in the sight of God

cathedral people Status in the sight of GodI went to confession tonight; well, I tried, anyway. It was one of those big pre-Easter sessions where there were hundreds of people and about a dozen priests. By the time I got in one of the lines there were at least 30 people in front of me, and after waiting a while I decided to go home and try again tomorrow.

But as I was waiting I looked around the building and noticed something interesting. Since it wasn’t a Mass and took place at the end of the day, most people were in their regular street clothes, which made the cultural and socio-economic differences between everyone much more striking than usual.

As people filed in and out of the building I saw pretty much every walk of life represented. I saw some of our parish’s new immigrant families, recently here from Africa and Mexico and the Philippines; I saw women with perfectly coiffed hair and two-carat diamond rings in the same lines with sunburned construction workers with callused hands; I saw young and fit people holding the heavy doors open for people with disabilities; I noticed uniforms of all types, from medical scrubs to fast food shirts to police uniforms. In one of the most amusing juxtapositions, I saw an older gentleman in a pressed white dress shirt and slacks standing next to a young hispanic teenager with baggy pants that included an airbrushed panorama of the life of Tupac down one leg.

Just as I was about to leave, I saw the door at the other end of the church open. A man walked in whom I’ve seen around a couple times before. He always has a kind smile though he looks quite disheveled and wears clothes that are in much need of repair; I think I heard someone say one time that he might be homeless.

As I saw him take a place in line next to woman in crisp business attire, I thought of how different things would seem if I ran into him outside the church. If I passed him on the street, I would certainly think of us as two very different people. I would definitely presume my circumstances to be much better than his. Would some hidden part of my mind slip in the thought that I am somehow better? I hope not; but the mind of a sinner does strange things sometimes. But tonight, here in the church, all of us in line for confession, the truth was clear. St. Francis put it best when he said:

Here is one of the best means to acquire humility; fix well in mind this maxim: One is as much as he is in the sight of God, and no more.

This quote rolled through my head all night. You are what you are in the eyes of God, and no more. Never is that truth more clear than in line for a confessional.

The group of us spanned the range of the socio-economic spectrum in our city, and if you saw us outside the church we would seem to be divided along lines like powerful and powerless, rich and poor, immigrant and native. By external indicators it would seem that the people with jewelry and expensive clothes were in a much better position than the folks in threadbare shirts and muddy workboots. But to look at us all in the warm glow of the church and remember why we were all there was to remember that our differences in terms of anything that really matters are very few, and that the differences that you can see by external appearances matter not at all. Every one of us would end up on our knees in humility before the Lord that night. We are all sinners; we have all fallen far short of the glory of God; we are all in desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. And, most importantly, as each of us would be reminded at the end of our confessions, we are all forgiven, and we are all dearly loved.

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photo by marie-ll

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27 Responses to “Status in the sight of God”
  1. blissful_e says:

    Beautiful post. So true!

  2. Jen says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post. Not only are you very wise, you are very eloquent.

    I know my tendency is to give someone a smile or a nice gesture in Church, maybe during the sign of peace, and it makes me feel good that I don’t have any biases. But I do have to wonder how I might treat that same person if I met them on the street.

    I often ask the Lord to help me to see Jesus in others when I’m out and about, but the sad truth is that I’m more often too busy attending to my own needs that I forget that everyone else in the world is in the same boat as me. I am no “better” because I’m a Christian. I’m blessed because Christ has loved me, saved me, forgiven me.

    Thanks for this lovely reminder.

  3. Hope says:

    When I go to Mass at a bigger church (my home church is in the boonies and we have 15 present on a good day) and I see the variety of people going up for communion I always think to myself that we are such a motely crew. And I love it.

  4. Marie says:

    This post is so true. During the 1980’s I remember going to Sunday Mass at the U of Minnesota and seeing a homeless man sitting beside a women dressed-to-the-nines, looking like Alexis Carrington from the TV show “Dynasty”. Throughout the church were homeless people, college kids, professors, blue bloods, families, etc. I remember thinking that the Catholic Church is truly the Universal Church. You would never see so many different economic levels in a protestant church.

  5. tootie says:

    I loved this post! It’s a good reminder that the things our society seems to value (money, class, status) aren’t that important at all.

  6. coffeemom says:

    Exactly. PErfect for Holy week. Thank you. M

  7. Scarlett says:

    I tried to go to Confession yesterday, too, “tried” being the operative word. I wish my attempt had been as enlightening and profound as yours, but leaky water heaters discovered on the way out the door don’t really lend themselves to insight. It was all I could do to not to add to my growing list of things to confess by losing my temper with the plumber who had left the water heater in that condition.

  8. Susan Thompson says:

    That’s what I love about the Catholic Church–it’s catholic, or universal! I agree with the previous commenter who said that you just don’t see that in Protestant churches.

    I usually try to go to confession a little earlier in Lent as those communal penance services make me a bit agoraphobic.

  9. Clare Marie-Therese Duroc says:

    Thank you so much for this post.

  10. Roxane B. Salonen says:

    Jennifer, I am among those who went to Confession last night…and actually was third in line (a miracle). I was so inspired, I went to Adoration a little while later to let it soak in a little more. But back to what you revealed here, your thoughts are so poignantly written, so “straight from the heart,” so revealing and so real. Thank you as always for your wise and heartfelt insight. I have been thinking about this very thing, and actually have been feeling a bit sorry for Judas this Lent. Would we have chosen differently if put in similar circumstances? Who among us are the “good” and the “bad.” I am really scrutinizing my perceptions right now, thinking a lot about C.S. Lewis and his thoughts that God sees us how we truly are, and we see only externals of others, not the true soul. Though I know we have free will, I also see how that can be obstructed by circumstances, and it’s caused me to think long and hard about a lot of things. Your post just fit in with where I was already at, so thanks again…and blessings this Holy Week!

  11. Amy says:

    I’d like to highlight your post in my own blog if that’s alright…

  12. Angie says:

    I have these same kinds of thoughts each year on Ash Wednesday. I love seeing as hundreds of people pass by with ashes on the foreheads — from newborns to people in their 90’s. People who obviously don’t have much money to the very wealthy. It always makes me feel like such a small part of something that is so big, which sounds overwhelming, but instead feels so beautiful.

  13. Beth (A Mom's Life) says:

    Oh, how I love this post!

    What a beautiful reminder that God doesn’t care about how much money we have, what we do for a living or what kind of car we drive.

    He sees past all of that and straight into our hearts.

    Great post! (But then again I could probably say that about everything you write. I truly feel that God has given you a special gift and I’m so glad you are sharing it with all of us.)

  14. Jeff says:

    This is a great reminder for me to fight my judgmental tendencies. I love to watch people but I need a lot of help seeing them as God sees them. Thanks for the reminder.

  15. Tres Angelas says:

    This is a particularly good post. As you are so often told, it spoke to me today.

    I accompanied my wife, Jessica, to the obstetrician this morning, and — ta daa! — we are expecting Angel #4 (Jessica will always be Angel #1).

    We already pretty much knew this, but we saw the heartbeat, and if all goes well the estimate is for a November baby.

    Now, Angels #2 and #3 are 13 and 9 years old, so it’s, um, been a while. It’s for this reason that I wasn’t really expecting “the talk,” since we havent’ gotten it before.

    “The talk,” of course, being the one where you’re offered prenatal testing so that you can choose to “terminate” the pregnancy in the event that you have a Down syndrome child. There was some beating around the bush, but that was the gist of it.

    As I sat in the office of the very charming and professional Dr. Anne all I said in response was, “I understand,” in a tone which I believe communicated, “You needn’t go on.”

    But what I was actually thinking was something along the lines of, “One is as much as he is in the sight of God, and no more.”

    And no less, I might add.

  16. Kerath25 says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I had some myself when attending a confession service on Monday. There were a dozen priests present, but a lot of parishioners too, so I had a good long time to think. I was one of the last to receive absolution, so I had a long time to think and watch. Here’s what I got out of the evening:
    1. Instead of getting discouraged that there were 30+ people in front of me, I gave thanks to God that so many were present.
    2. Every line in the church only had people exiting it when it was their turn to give a confession. Some people changed lines to greet friends, but almost nobody left early.
    The second is not a critique of those who did have to leave early, but when I checked my watch on the way home, it hit me that the service had been going on for nearly four hours. What a remarkable testimony our brothers and sisters give when they are willing to wait that long to do what other faiths and denominations deem unnecessary and outdated.

  17. momof2boyz says:

    post reminded me of something that happened at work a few years ago. One of my students, a delightful, if somewhat mischievious young man whom I will call Diego, was reading something under his desk, and I asked him what it was. (This was during math, not silent reading time, so he wasn’t supposed to be reading anything!) He reluctantly showed me the piece of paper. It was instructions for confession, written in Spanish. Diego began to explain that he was practicing for his impending first confession. I gently told him that I understood, and to please put the paper away. Diego then asked me if he would have to confess that he wasn’t paying attention during math. I told him to ask the priest.

  18. Kingdom Mama says:

    Beautiful, Jen! Thanks for sharing this truth in such a real way.

  19. Roxane B. Salonen says:

    Jennifer, I’m back briefly. Wanted you to know I mentioned you in my own post today. Well, actually, I made my post about your post. Hope you don’t mind. Thanks again for the good food for thought. And yes, you deserve the commendations.

    See: http://roxanesalonen.blogspot.com/2009/04/external-versus-internal.html

  20. Brenda says:

    I so desperately wish that as the Body we could embrace this, make it real in our actions and in our worship. When we don’t, its wrong, others see us we depict Christ erroneously.

    What can we do? Any suggestions?

  21. suzy says:

    Amazing Post!

  22. Sarah Mosley says:

    Hey Jen,

    You once gave me a wonderful link to a blog that had ideas for kids during Lent/Easter. It was blog of a Catholic mother…someo f her ideas were white chocolate crosses, a center piece of a pot of dirt for the family altar, using coloured tissue paper to make stained glass windows, and these neat little chocolate/cinnamon empty tomb rolls…does any of that ring a bell to you? I am out of town and have been searching desperately for the link so I can send it to my husband and he can start getting some of the materials on hand so we can make them before Easter.

    Thanks so much,
    Sarah

  23. Betty Beguiles says:

    This moved me deeply. Thank you! I am, as always, moved by your insight and eloquence! Have a blessed Holy Thursday, dear friend!

  24. Karen Beth says:

    I am new to your blog and find it very encouraging. I look forward to reading more.

  25. Anne Marie says:

    I love the “here comes everyone” aspect of Catholicism too. Not just for those of us living in this age, but across the ages as well.

    One of the things I’m working to impress upon our son as he enters the Church this weekend is the timelessness that spans from generation to generation. That the Mass he prays is the same Mass the Christians prayed in the catacombs, and in every age since. He’s joining a family far, far bigger than those of us who share his name. That the Easter fire Fr. Dave will light at the Vigil Mass is the same Easter fire lit by St. Patrick almost 2,000 years ago, and the very same Easter fire that will be lit in every parish in the world.

    Not only is the Mass the same, but those who celebrated and prayed every Mass through the ages continue to pray for us today. The Communion of Saints, my very favorite Catholic doctrine.

  26. tinkerbell the bipolar faery says:

    Well put, insightful. From the cross, where he is nailed, Jesus nails us to each other. Profound, isn’t it, when you think of it?

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