There is a sort of “holy envy”, in which we compete with others on how good our apostolate is and how much God uses us. I see it in myself and it is ugly. I want to be involved in the best ministries and evangelize alongside the best people out there, mainly so I can build my “holiness resumé” and have lots of worldly success in non-worldly work.
We know that in apostolate “we must deliberately renounce all desires to see the fruit of our labor” as Saint Teresa Calcutta says. We know that the Lord says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). And yet I still put work into my Instagram hoping to one day have the same worldly success as my favorite Catholic speaker. And I still think I am converting more souls to Jesus than so-and-so who is so this and that and is obviously not doing God’s work as well as I am.
God uses you more than you think
I’ve written before about how small details that others had no idea would impact me so much did, in fact, touch me profoundly. A mint someone gave me in high school and capri pants a youth group leader wore were tiny details they definitely could not add to their “holy resumé” and weren’t even conscious “ministry tactics”. Yet these small signs revealed a few their beautiful souls, their focus and drive for the Lord’s work. God weaved these details into the big tapestry of His love for me in my life.
So also God uses us, things we wear, things we say, things we do, more than we think.
I know a lady who is about forty years old and does various forms of ministry. One in particular which is with young men bothers me because I have seen her up close working with them. She is patronizing, self-righteous, finger-wagging and not relational at all. She speaks about these young men to others (even in front of them) as if they are completely lost and ignorant. My first reaction was, “What a terrible representation of the Church to these young men. It would be better for them to have no one than to have this woman attempting to catechize them.”
However, I realized through a series of events that God is, in fact, able to use this lady in spite of her overzealousness and that He can work with the most fragile clay, the most broken vessel, the least fit instrument possible. We hear about how God chooses the weak, the impure, the rejected and the ostracized to do His work in Scripture, but we don’t really believe that he can use the weak, the impure, the rejected and the ostracized to do His work. He can. He uses this lady to touch the hearts of those young men probably because she was available and lives near them. My favorite Catholic speakers live elsewhere and are too famous and to busy with their Instagrams to be available to those men. God might not use this lady in the way we would imagine. Perhaps it was a watch she wore one day that reminded them of something. Perhaps it was a person she invited to speak or a priest she helped them meet. And God surely uses them to speak to her.
Are you unsure if something that touched you, stayed in your memory, evoked a special feeling was from God? It probably was. God uses all people, all circumstances, all instruments to speak to us, to pursue us and to weave His love story in our lives.
You get in His way more than you think
The fact that God can use us at all should be humbling and baffling. I think about the apparent uselessness of contemplative religious nuns and brothers often. How much “use” to God are they: isolated and just praying for their entire lives? They are much more useful to God than I am. Saint John Paul II said in 1980: “Those called to the specifically contemplative life are acknowledged as one of the most precious treasures of the Church.”
If someone who does significantly less active work than I do, even specifically pastoral activity, and has dedicated their lives to prayer, is a “precious treasure” then it really sheds light on my self-importance in my ministry and active pastoral work. I read a similar idea in Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence which compares contemplatives to the lungs in the body and the oxygen that keeps everything going.
Similarly, all saints’ biographies talk about how they get in the way of God’s plans with their sinfulness and general cumbersomeness. Let me tell you if Saint Faustina is amazed that God can use her for anything and thinks that her sins get in the way… it is even more of a miracle that God can use me and really does use me for so much. And it is a grave responsibility to know how much less I could get in the way if my actions were purer and if I prayed more. Saint Josemaria Escriva says in n. 967 of The Way: “All that exterior activity is a waste of time if you lack Love. It’s like sewing with a needle and no thread. What a pity if in the end, you had carried out ‘your’ apostolate and not ‘his’ apostolate!”
God uses us all and all of His creation in a great symphonic orchestra to call us to His love, His family and His ways. If only he could find more willing instruments, starting with ourselves!