“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”(1 Corinthians 1:31)
I am sure you have read this passage a million times. And, I am willing to bet you think you have it down pat. Yeah, don't be proud of yourself, be proud of God. In other words, praise God and be humble.
But, really, come on, tell me what it means to boast in the Lord!?
Here is the passage more fully:
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (vv. 26-31)
As you may know, I love St. Paul. Paul was the earthiest, most honest apostle, well, since Peter! Actually, the Apostles - they were a very gritty, honest group, weren't they (except for one of them)?
St. Paul should be called the patron saint of all-too-human evangelists. This is my favorite painting of the Apostles. It is by Albrecht Durer. Although it is not the one who he meant to be Paul, Paul to me is the guy third from the left, just the head, really. Doesn't he look irascible? That's Paul! Durer meant the guy on the right to be Paul (see the sword? that's Paul's symbol).
My Paul is not a good looking guy, just like that bug-eyed guy in the painting. My Paul was always driven by insecurity over his lack of good looks and charm to attain high things in the world of scholarship and politics. He didn't loose every one of his character flaws after his conversion, but he was able to change his preoccupation with himself into a preoccupation with the Word of God in Christ. And that's what counts. He was never stoical. He was passion and fire, but in a good way, that is, once he got on the right track.
The two letters to the Corinthians catalogue something of his struggle with that church. A lot of his personality comes through in the process. I take heart from the fact that you can have insecurities and all that and yet still do great work for God. You don't have be perfect like this to be an effective evangelist:
because, with me, this is what you get:
and that ain't pretty.
But I still haven't said what boasting in the Lord means.
Let me first say what it is by saying what it is not.
Today I realized that I am feeling a lot of negative emotions about something that I should be feeling nothing but pride. Yes, I said pride. I was raised to take the responsibilities associated with work very seriously. But was I raised to see success as the beautiful, divine thing it really is, or the materialistic, empty version we are used to? Clearly, by the fact that I am trying to do the work of spreading the Word day-in day-out and yet am not feeling proud, I was raised with the wrong one in mind. I am actually feeling a lot of shame about my life and work, and this simply because I don't have much money. This is as true as it is horribly indicting. What worries me most is wondering what success will bring - pride in God or pride in myself? It is so easy to start with the one in mind and then quickly move on to the other.
The other day I heard a priest sum up his fifty years of priesthood. In a nutshell he said that a priest brings a lot of good into the world through the Holy Eucharist and takes out a lot of bad through confession. As a priest, he did that. That is boasting in the Lord.
So in, say, thirty years from now, in describing this present moment, I should say,
"That was a wonderful time. It was so great with those young kids at home with Anne-Marie and I. Those were the days when I started the Catholic Review of Books, I was writing a whole bunch of stuff, and I think God used it to do a lot of good. I am just so happy that I could be used by God in that way. We didn't have much money. We never knew what was going to happen next, but we were open to God and He was really watching over us."
How can I not be happy and proud if this is true?