When I was growing up, going to Mass was supposed to be a coercion. Kids went to Mass because their parents forced them to, but going to Mass wasn’t supposed to be enjoyed by the kids. Even in my father’s family, where everyone except Aunt Amy (who’s Jewish) was Catholic, all the kids complained about having to go to Mass on Sundays. Even the adults complained, with the notable exception of my Grandmère. (My Godfather, Uncle Tony, has found the perfect church for him. In an approximation of his own words, “It’s 45 minutes. You’re in, you’re out. It’s done.”) We all went to Mass because that’s what good Catholics did. And Grandmère was convinced we’d be heading to hell if we didn’t go.
In all the time I spent in CCD (Catholic Sunday School), I never met another kid who was there because they wanted to be. Everyone was there, without exception, because their parents were forcing them to go. They all had other things they’d rather be doing at that time. Being Catholic was something they were doing for their parents, who had probably done it for their parents. I learned early on that normal kids didn’t really care about God or faith or Jesus; so I hid how much God and my faith actually mattered to me.
Eventually, I came to be proud of how religious I’ve always been. Last night I was reminiscing with Rob about how I was always the only kid who enjoyed CCD and Mass and felt a familiar surge of pride.
The story from the Gospels of the two men outside the temple has always stuck in my mind. One man, a tax collector, can barely lift his head and begs God for forgiveness. The other man, the not-a-tax-collector, looks straight up to heaven and says, “Thank you, Lord, for making me so much better than the tax collector.” (Or so I remember the story going.) I always thought that man was utterly absurd.
Last night I thought back to that story, and to one conclusion I’ve always drawn from it: that God loves everyone equally, no matter what they’ve done, no matter what they believe. In my pride, I’d been feeling all these years that God loved me better than He loved those other kids who didn’t like going to Mass or CCD, than those other adults who didn’t have faith like I did. My faith had become a source of inner pride: “Thank you, Lord, for loving me so much more than those other people, who don’t have faith like I do.” I never said that in any prayer to God, but it was how I was feeling.
A spiritual 2×4 hit me over the head last night with just how wrong that feeling was. God loves everyone equally, no matter their faith, no matter their actions. He does not love me more than everyone else because of my self-professed strong faith. He loves me just as much as He loves those kids I was in CCD with, those Catholics who only go to Mass on Sundays because it’s what a good Catholic does.
This also means that He doesn’t love me any less than everyone else, either. In the see-saw of my personal worth, both are important. But I think that what’s most important is not my personal worth; rather, my worth to God. Knowing that I matter to Him. Knowing that everyone else matters to Him also.
All at once I am alone and part of something infinitely larger than me.