When I was a child I never dreamed that one day I could be President. It never once crossed my mind. I know a few things are not in my favor, like I’m not a natural born citizen. Plus I have no experience in government. (Oh, wait!) And in the interest of full disclosure, I must say neither have I ever dreamed that one day I could be a rich and famous entertainer, athlete, author, or internet sensation. True, the internet didn’t exist when I was growing up. But nor did I aspire to be a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, a fireman, or a businessman. There were none in my family. My mom was a public school teacher. My dad worked in civil service with the Social Security System. So I guess I was mostly clueless growing up, living a mostly inconsequential existence, getting straight A’s, and staying out of trouble. Needless to say, at some point I had to set out on the road to independence, self-sufficiency, and accomplishing something meaningful. Now that I have such a journey to look back upon, I am willing to admit to a few accomplishments, and not a few things I would have maybe done differently. But the journey is not over. I did have that one scare this past Thursday when a car ran a red light in front of me by the high school—missed me by this much, and my biggest worries were who would cover masses this weekend, and who would take my dog. So, as I return to the journey, I am reminded that life is fragile, and there are a few things I still hope to accomplish. It helps to be older, wiser, to know when to keep struggling or when to concede, to do it with dignity and grace. Some things are just not worth the trouble, and some things you can always learn from, revisit, and do differently. Some.
Now we do most of our dreaming and goal-setting in our youth. Most of us don’t set out on a new and exciting career at 70, unless you’re Pope or President of the United States. It helps of course to possess the relevant experience and requisite wisdom to tackle the unique challenges of any particular job. But none of us is perfect, so we hope to continue to learn and always resolve to do better, to keep focused and optimistic, to stay physically healthy and mentally sane. And it helps very much to surround oneself with smart, capable, and sensible people who are willing to share their knowledge, experience, and optimism. It means of course you don’t ignore them either.
Now that the Christmas season is officially concluded, we pick up the story of Jesus’ journey at the beginning. John the Baptist is baptizing people on the banks of the Jordan river. Jesus shows up and asks to be baptized. After that encounter, John points him out to everyone. “Behold, the Lamb of God. … He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” John admits that like everyone else, he did not know who Jesus was at first. It was only after he saw the Holy Spirit come down and heard a voice testifying on his behalf that he came to realize who Jesus was. And even then, John’s knowledge of Jesus was purely based on scripture. Perhaps even John didn’t know what it meant exactly that Jesus is the Lamb of God, that Jesus ranks ahead of him, or that Jesus is the Son of God. It’s just that this has never been done before. He didn’t know it, but he was in for a wild ride.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus in veiled imagery. “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. … It is too little for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” I noticed that the ancient prophecies announcing the Messiah give us a picture of a people who were no strangers to oppression and misery. It seems the worse the experience of oppression and misery, the more fantastic and seemingly unattainable the aspirations we dream up. Somehow I can’t imagine the children of widely successful and famous businessmen, entertainers, and athletes dreaming too far beyond their reach. They already have the requisite DNA, the privileged upbringing, the financial backing, and the prime conditions for instant and unapologetic success. True, it doesn’t always work out that way. But whose fault would that be? We don’t usually celebrate thankless, egotistical, and dishonest success attained by people of privilege unaccustomed to hard work and suffering. Not usually. But we will always love a genuine Cinderella story, when some ugly duckling nobody rises out of the garbage heap, and with hard work and dedication achieves great success and excellence. It’s almost the story of every world class athlete, entrepreneur, and American Idol. Almost.
Speaking to the church of Corinth, St. Paul tells us that we, too, who are children of the Father and disciples of Jesus Christ, are destined for success and greatness, though not quite the sort of success and greatness you can take to the bank. We who have been sanctified in Christ are called to be holy. I know, it’s not the kind of news that gets our hearts racing and our blood pumping. But ultimately, if we intend to set our goals and dreams beyond this passing world, there can be no higher honor or achievement than holiness. Now I completely understand if you don’t buy what I’m saying since we are only truly convinced by tangible and undeniable evidence. How can I convincingly speak to anyone about holiness when my words and example don’t pass the credibility test? That’s why we listen to Isaiah, and St. Paul, and St. John the Baptist. Don’t listen to me. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m talking about. Sometimes.
St. Paul tells us that God has called us to be holy. We know that Jesus himself tells us to be holy as the Father in heaven is holy. But what does it mean that we are called to be holy? St. Thomas Aquinas, who also knew what he was talking about, says that holiness is about subjecting our mind and our actions—virtually our whole being—to God. There are many passages in scripture that point out how we are to subject our whole being to God. Jesus tells us to love one another, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick. And we don’t need any extra advantage to achieve what God desires for us. God has already given us and continues to give us what we need—his Holy Spirit, whom we received at Baptism, and who God gives us whenever we ask. Now either we don’t get it or we don’t want it. But as far as God is concerned, our success and greatness are not beyond our reach.
So I invite us to revisit what we wanted to be when we grow up. You can insist you’re done growing up. But if you haven’t attained the holiness that God has called you to, you’re not done. Take it from St. Paul. We all have time to work on holiness, for as long as we are on the journey. And if anyone asks you what you wanted to be when you grow up, tell them you’re still working on it. Everything else is icing on the cake … or is it lipstick on a pig?
Rolo B Castillo © 2017