Be Who You Are
[Note: This story is extracted from Nil Guillemette's "Love Never Ends - God Tales For Young And Old (Volume 25)"]
That evening there was an atmosphere of discontent in the sacristy among the various accessories of divine worship. It had started earlier in the day when an apprentice-sacristan had confused a purificator with a finger towel, and this had hurt the purificator's feelings.
|Illustrated by Jay Chua|
"Did you see what just happened?" Purificator asked his fellow accessories after the man had gone home and the sacristy was finally deserted. "That man couldn't see the difference between me and Finger Towel! What's the use of being just like any old piece of cloth? I wish I were something else, something more-distinctive. Like you guys,” he added, addressing two large books standing side by side.
One of them laughed.
"Are you serious, Purificator?" asked the Lectionary. "Why, people are always confusing me with my buddy here." He was pointing at the Sacramentary. Then he sighed. "If they only knew how I’d love to be in Sacramentary's place! He's always on the altar where the action is, whereas I just sit on a silly lectern and only serve during the first half of the Mass. lf you are dissatisfied with your lot, Purificator, don't envy me. Envy rather Alb over there. No one would confuse her with anything else."
At this, Alb immediately protested.
"Lectionary, are you out of your mind? Who on earth would like to be me? True, I'm white and my length of fine linen looks pretty grand when I stand in my cupboard. But look what happens to me during a liturgical ceremony. The priest hides me almost completely under Chasuble here, who furthermore has a lot of fancy designs on her."
"You're right, in a sense," Chasuble interjected at this point. "But, if you think of it, dear Alb, I still play second fiddle to Stole. First of all, he covers me in part, which means that he's more important than I am. And secondly, by bearing the specific liturgical color of the day, he sorts of sets the tone for the entire celebration. Almost like an orchestra conductor. And thirdly, Alb, if you're looking for fancy designs, look at his! I’m like a mere dove compared to a peacock!"
"My God, you girls," Stole retorted, addressing both Alb and Chasuble, "you're both talking nonsense tonight. Look at me, for heaven's sake! What do you see? Nothing more than a glorified scarf, damn it! Just a band of cloth worn around the neck. Why, at least you girls look like real clothes. No, being a stole is nothing to get excited about. It’s so-bland. If God would let me choose what I’d like to be, I’d choose something colorful, something dramatic. Like a flaming candle or a smoking incense burner, for example."
Upon hearing this, Thurible-the-censer objected.
"You must be joking, Stole," he said with heavy sarcasm. "You might be impressed by all the smoke belch and all the showy rituals of a solemn incensation. But, believe me, all that high drama is achieved at a cost, and I’m the one paying the cost. I’m the one whose insides become burning hot at the contact of a smoldering piece of charcoal. That’s a bit like being grilled alive, you know. And for all my troubles I don't receive half the attention that Paschal Candle receives."
"Ha!" the latter shouted derisively. "Now I’ve heard everything. An incense burner envying me! What pure rubbish! You really don't know what you're talking about, Thurible. Between the two of us, you're the lucky one. Think, man, think! When a piece of charcoal is burning inside you, you might well be hot, but you are not burning. Whereas when they light me, I am burning. My substance is burning and disintegrating in the process. When I burn, I die, Thurible! That thought should make you pause a bit. Sure, I’m the kingpin of the liturgy for forty days during Eastertide. But after that, they throw me in the garbage can or forget me in a bottom drawer; I can't even serve another year. I’d rather be a mere cruet, come to think of it. It’s a less thrilling existence, but at least it has longevity in its favor. As the Book of Ecclesiastes says, ‘A live dog is better off than a dead lion.' Don't you agree, Cruets?" he asked two fine crystal phials, one containing wine and the other water.
The one containing wine answered at once. Apparently he was the spokesman for both his twin and a small bowl at their side.
"Your point is well taken, Paschal Candle," he said placatingly. "It’s certainly true that your life is rather-ah-short. But at least it has panache, élan, bravado. And it ends in an apotheosis of self-sacrifice to God! What a destiny!"
Cruet paused, as if overcome by emotion. Then he continued.
"Look at us in comparison. Is there anything more boring in the world than standing in a corner and holding a liquid in your belly? Even at Mass, the so-called high point of our lives, we're always laid on a side table, as we wait to be used. And then we serve for only a few seconds. Nothing to brag about, I’m telling you. The truth of the matter is that we're just ordinary prosaic, everyday containers. Pieces of equipment for God's sake! We perform a job, like any utensil. We're not holy in our very being-like Holy Water, for example. She belongs to God through and through. We don't."
Holy Water stared at Cruet in disbelief. "Well, well, well!" she finally uttered. "l never thought I’d hear someone envy my fate. You Cruets are really something! So you think my being has greater worth than yours, eh? Okay, I’ve been blessed by a priest and l can produce certain spiritual effects that you can't. But what's that compared to Chrism and his two sisters, Oil of the Sick and Oil of the Catechumens? The three of them have been blessed by no less than a bishop. And they serve on grand occasions: baptism, confirmation, anointing of the sick, ordination of a bishop, consecration of a church, coronation of sovereigns. What do you want more? ln comparison, a mere Holy Water like me pales into insignificance."
"Hey, hey!" Chrism interjected at this moment. "Not so fast, sister! We holy oils do have a few interesting uses, that's true enough. But we're still never used where the real action is."
"What do you mean?" Holy Water inquired.
"Gosh," Chrism answered, "we're not even used for the Mass! We never touch the sacred Body and Blood of Christ, for example, as do every day Paten, Chalice, Ciborium, Capsula, Monstrance, or even Corporal. They are at the center of everything. They are in physical contact with God himself. Even the angels in heaven envy their role! Isn’t that the highest possible destiny?"
This last question was greeted with a chorus of protests raised by the six individuals Chrism had just singled out. And for a couple of minutes there was such a babel of voices that someone coming in at that moment would have sworn that this wasn't a sacristy but rather a boisterous saloon. Finally Chalice, a splendid vessel studded with precious stones, was able to dominate the uproar with his commanding presence.
"My dear Chrism," he said, when a measure of calm was restored, "I believe l am speaking here for all my fellow vessels when I take exception to your statement about us. True, we are in physical contact with the sacred Body and Blood of Christ, and thus we have the enviable privilege of, shall we say, touching God. However, contrary to what you say, that is not the highest possible destiny. In fact, there is a much higher destiny, and ours is infinitely inferior to that one."
Chrism was taken aback by these words.
"There is?" he asked. "What is it, pray tell."
"It is the destiny of Host and Wine here present. They do more than merely touch God. They become God at the moment of the consecration at Mass, when the celebrant pronounces the words which change Host and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ."
These words were followed by a mixture of awed silence and tangible envy. Who indeed could have a more sublime destiny? That was when Host coughed delicately and cleared his throat. Obviously he wanted to break the spell without seeming rude.
"Chalice is right," he said, "about our becoming God and, of course, that is-ah-a rather exceptional prerogative. Wine and I grant you that gladly. But that superlative blessing also has its drawback. In the process of becoming God, we cease to exist as bread and wine. We are literally annihilated. Nothing of us remains but appearances. Mere ghosts of our former selves. Think of it, friends: when we enter the sanctuary for a Mass, we are facing our hour of obliteration, of extinction, of extermination. The Mass wipes us out of existence. Is that so desirable a fate after all? Why, I would still prefer being, say, a vesting table, a pall, an altar linen or a tabernacle key.”
Now, as could be expected, all of these accessories similarly complained of their lot. And so, after a while everybody present had expressed his or her discontent. Everybody, that is, except Tinkle the handbell. Stole was the first one who noticed this. And, when a bored silence settled on the gathering, the vestment called his mates’ attention to the phenomenon.
“Hey, guys!" he said, "Tinkle hasn't said anything yet. Maybe we should ask her who is the one in our group she envies most."
"Yes, yes!" several accessories chimed in. Tinkle always had strange ideas. Surely she would prove entertaining.
Soon all the other accessories present were clamouring in unison for at least a few words from the bell. In the end, she reluctantly gave in to their demand.
"Well," she said in a quiet voice, “the truth of the matter is that I don't envy anyone in the world. I’m quite satisfied to be what I am. True, I'm only a handbell. I’m not a Chalice or a Paschal Candle or anything grand. But I do have a small role to play in the liturgy, a useful role: I direct attention to the most solemn parts of the Mass. I know it’s not much, but it's still something no one else here can do.”
Here she coughed in embarrassment, not wanting to downgrade any of her mates.
“After all,” she added as an afterthought, I’m the only one here who can make a sound. No doubt that’s not an exceptional prerogative. But still, it's a modest contribution of sorts. And I thank God for having made me a bell. Every time I ring, I do it just for him. That never fails to fill me with happiness. So why should I complain? I’m just a happy handbell!”
When the others present heard these wise words, they were cut to the heart, and they remained silent a long time after that. They had suddenly realized that complaining about their lot was, at bottom, a very foolish way of repaying God for all his kindnesses.
From that time on, the sacristy became an oasis of contentment.
"Winning isn't everything," football coach Vince Lombardi once said. "It’s the only thing." This sums up the American Way. We worship success and excellence and superiority, and Lord helps those who aren't number one. (...)Yet God has created us all equal, though different from each other. God has given each of us exactly what we need to be and do what we are called to do. That means God isn't calling us to be somebody else. (...) Human beings are the only creatures that make themselves sick trying to be who or what they're not. (...)
It's our pride, though, not our better self, that triggers such feelings. We fantasize our own glory and success instead of God's. If we have faith, on the other hand, we can see God's will in our station and stage in life. Each of us has been fitted for the tasks in life to which God calls us-and no one else. (...) All tasks and all workers are important to the human community.
- Philip E. Dion, "Be Who You Are," Catholic Digest, March 1995 (Philippine ed., vol . 35, no. B)
You've got to be real. Don't be a phony. Come on as yourself. The hardest thing in the world is to be something you're not. As you get closer and closer and closer to what you are, be that, and come on all the time that way. You'll find it's an easy way to live. The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be.
- Leo Buscaglia, Living, Loving & Learning (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1 982) 58