Written by Contributor Doug
In the 1987 movie, “Suspect,” starring Cher and Dennis Quaid, Joe Mantegna plays an ambitious and zealous Washington D. C. prosecutor erroneously prosecuting a deaf/mute homeless man (played by Liam Neeson) in the alleged mugging and murder of a female file clerk. The prosecutor makes the case that in a city with so many very prominent people, a seemingly lowly file clerk with just a few bucks on her, and working late on a cold night and just trying to get back to her parked compact jalopy on a cold night to get home is in fact an important person, and as the prosecutor cites, “too important to forget.”
You don’t need to be in Washington D.C. to be surrounded by supposedly “prominent people.” They surround us in almost every community, and if not, then all over the TV, radio, Internet and in the press. They seem relatively inescapable, all these mammoths of importance, in whose shadow the rest of us meaningless schmucks seem to quietly evaporate. And as we know all too well, to put it mildly, some of these supposedly superior people aren’t quite at all what they’re cracked up to be in terms of character. But what really makes these coronated behemoths of prominence so prominent?
In the (1987) movie, “Wall Street,” a scrappy, blue collar machinist union steward, played by Martin Sheen, angrily admonishes his hoity, brash, up and coming stock broker son (played by real life son, Charlie Sheen), that he never judged a man by the size of his wallet. You could probably append to that moral, fame, as well.
I don’t like phony greeters and phony greetings. My voice mail welcomes me, as does my computer when I turn it on. It’s all fluff. I don’t like receiving a phony greeting from an inanimate object like it cares about me or even has the capacity to do so.
Likewise I bristle at being greeted by people whose job it is to greet me. I’m a big, strong fellow. I don’t need a doorman to open a door for me and feign my superiority. I resent being greeted by the person at Wal-Mart or the local DMV branch, who wishes me a good morning and might possibly even ask me how I’m doing today like he really cares. (Some day, I’ll stop and actually give him the whole laundry list as an answer!)
And forgive me, but greeters in church strike me as phony too. To call this stewardship is a stretch at best. If someone seeks stewardship, there are much more substantive things to do and that need being done. But I suppose it’s like chicken soup for a cold; it might not help, but it certainly can’t hurt either. I see no harm in it, but little to any real value either. If it is because it is your job (be it paid or unpaid), to robotically greet me as opposed to simply doing it because you truly wish to do so, then I’d much rather you save your breath and my time.
I guess I’m like my old man, a somewhat rugged, cantankerous and generally stoic, but also straight-shooting sort, who used to ridicule people for showing up and sending flowers at wakes and funerals. “Come see me and give me flowers when I’m alive, not dead!” the old man used to grumble. You would have had to know my father to appreciate the irony, as he was hardly the type of guy you would give flowers too anyway, but his point was characteristically sage, succinct, and crystal clear nonetheless.
My parish is one of those that has the cigar store Indians who redundantly offer the unsolicited good morning and open the door for people entering for Mass. But my parish also has a certain usher, also doing “stewardship” who takes the stewardship to higher plain beyond that which seems obligatory, minimal, and frankly, shallow, if not utterly plastic.
I don’t know her name. She is an elderly woman, who dresses both modestly and frugally. She has a consistently warm, gentle, and loving radiance about her. Clearly, you can see Jesus in her and in her gracious actions. When she passes the basket to each and every person who contributes, she quietly nods, smiles, and thanks them, as if they were donating to her. Sometimes, for younger folks and kids, she might also address them as “Dear,” “Sweetie,” “Honey,” etc. I don’t know this woman’s name. I know nothing about her, but her presence and actions both strike and inspire me every time I see her and I see her take her stewardship of ushering just one small, but very genuine step further. An I’m willing to bet that nobody ever asked her to do that. (With all due respect, and no offense intended, to all the very well-meaning "greeters" out there, see the difference?) Her simple, unsolicited and earnestly heartfelt gesture warms me every time she and I share that brief interaction, and I can’t help but think I am not the only so affected by her.
Something about this warm, sweet, loveable old soul reminds me of the parable of the poor widow who gave her last two coins to the temple, and Jesus remarked that while those richer and more ostentatious than her sanctimoniously gave the little extra of the vast surplus they could afford, the poor old widow humbly, quietly, instinctively and faithfully gave all she had left. Several biblical passages also tell us that the rich and famous here are exalted here, yet will be humbled come Judgment Day, and visa versa with the poor and humble.
Likewise, those who cling to save their life here will lose it, while those who look toward the next life will reap so much more. The Bible also teaches us that what some of us here on earth consider “wise” is actually folly in God’s eyes, and more often than not, even sinful. We are also called to be the “light” to illuminate the earth and “the salt” to season it. The Bible also teaches that we should not seek praise for doing what is right, for such is what is expected of us. The Beatitudes tell us that “The meek will inherit the earth.”
That little old lady in my church is a monumental pillar to absolute nothingness. She’s nobody important. In fact, she’s simply a nobody - here. It is said that angels often secretly walk among us and do good works. I can’t help but think that this humble little old lady is an angel, and the secret status of that angel is really no secret, at least for those willing to look instead of just see, and to listen instead of just hear, despite and beyond all the earthly noise, grandeur, shallow distractions and fleeting pleasures.
There is inherent beauty in these angels among us who the world arrogantly and foolishly deems “nobodies,” and our lives are better for their presence, and for their good works. And if you haven’t yet noticed, then start doing so today.
I believe it was St. Therese (“The Little Flower”) who, unable to do much of anything else, incessantly prayed for others while seriously ill and confined to bed. (As someone once taught me in my younger days, “When you don’t know what to do….DO SOMETHING!“) Indeed, when we are weak is when we are strong. And when we are “nobody” then we are truly “somebody,” especially in God’s eyes.
And to that angelic “nobody” in my parish, I simply say, “No, Ma’am….Thank YOU!”
“Humility is the mother of salvation.” (St. Bernard)
Connecticut Catholic Corner Contributor