Glory and Vainglory

Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston, United States, has a special affection and concern for immigrants. When he was a young priest, a man came to him in tears with a letter from his wife in his hands. In the letter, his wife scolded him bitterly for not sending money home to help her and the children. She accused him of abandoning his family. The man was in tears. He explained to Fr. O'Malley that he had been working long hours every day and living in very poor conditions. At the end of every week he had mailed the greater portion of his weekly wages to his wife and family, and now it was clear that the money had never reached its destiny.

Fr. O'Malley asked him how he had sent the money. Was it by bank transfer or check or registered mail, or what? The man led him over to the office window and pointed to a box across the street: "I sent it in an envelope, Father, and put the envelope in that box right over there!"

It wasn't a mailbox, it was a trash bin. The man had mistaken the trash bin for a mail box. He had thrown something in the region of $5,000 in the garbage. From that day on Fr. O'Malley experienced a special vocation to help immigrants.

Whatever about mailboxes and trash bins, in the spiritual life there are two boxes that look very similar. One has the word GLORY written on it and the other has the word VAINGLORY written on it. But the first four letters on the second box are slightly faded, which makes it a whole lot easier to confuse the two boxes, to mistake the vainglory box for the Glory box, and to throw our $5,000 down the toilet.

The difference is purity of intention. All it takes is the sneaky satisfaction of self-love, self-congratulation, and we have stolen the Glory from God and given it to ourselves. "In truth I tell you, you have already received your reward." At the beginning of Lent the Lord told us not to seek the praise of men, but to please our Father who sees us in secret. Self-praise is no praise. Remember, man, that you are dust, and the one who praises you is also dust.

Speaking of Cardinals, I concelebrated Mass with Cardinal Francis Arinze on one occasion. Afterwards, there was a special meal for him to which the concelebrants were also invited. The man in charge of organizing the event thanked the Cardinal several times for coming, expressing how fortunate we were to have him among us, and repeatedly complimented the homily he preached at the Mass. Finally, the Cardinal responded with vigor and annoyance: "To God the praise!" Immediately, he repeated more gently, "To God the praise, to God the praise."

Sr. Clare Crockett used to say something similar: "To God the Glory!"

In the first chapter of Romans, St. Paul says ingratitude is the root of all evils. Conversely, gratitude is the root of all benefits and virtues. It's so true. Gratitude was the main theme of our annual Spiritual Exercises this year.

During the retreat, I recalled a community fishing trip in Florida. We took a 15-year-old boy with us. As soon as we got to the lake everyone wanted to catch the first fish and the biggest one and the biggest number. I caught the first fish, a real whopper. The teenager got mad. It was a case of naked envy. He didn't even try to hide it. With a nasty face he said to me, "It's only because you're a priest!" Implying that it had nothing to do with my fishing skills. It was only because God gave it to me because I was a priest. I just laughed.

But then, as the afternoon went on and he didn't get any better, it started to get on my nerves. I thought to myself, "This kid's a royal pain in the rear end; he's ruining our afternoon. Next time we'll just leave him at home. How does he think God is going to give him a fish with an attitude like that?"

Suddenly, his rod bent over like it was going to snap. I was hoping against hope he had snagged it in the reeds. But no. He pulled out an enormous fish, twice the size of my one, a small whale. I was rooted to the spot in shock, scandalized. It was clear no one was going to catch a fish that big again the whole afternoon. He had a grin on his face from ear to ear. Like the older son in the parable, I didn't want to join the party. Share his joy? Not a chance! I stayed well away while he glowed with glee. I couldn't believe it. My God, how have You permitted this? What could this possibly mean?

Then one of our priests came over, with a childlike simplicity and wisdom that had all the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit. He said, "Hey, let's be honest here: you haven't deserved that fish, not with your fishing abilities, which are non-existent, or with your attitude, which has been bad. But since God is your Dad and He loves you so much, and wants to see a smile on his little boy's face, He gave you the fish. Thank Him for it!"

I thought to myself, "That's not true, that can't possibly be true," but deep down I knew it was the truth. We deserve nothing, He gives us everything, be thankful. What a simple and powerful spirituality.

To God the praise, to God the glory. If we glorify Him in our successes and in our failures, He will take care of glorifying us.

Fr. Colum Power

My blog “Random Reflections”

Fr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother.

Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the Blog "Random Reflections", which can be found on the website www.familiesfullyalive.com.