Hateful Comparisons & Precious Gifts

(Pentecost Sunday Homily)

Cervantes said, “All comparisons are odious.”* They breed hate. One of the cruelest (and stupidest) things a husband can do is compare his wife to another woman, especially his mom. All of us have felt the sting of being compared unfavorably to some other person. How can we avoid the trap? Pentecost Sunday shows the way.

St. Paul states, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit.” (I Cor 12:4) We tend to focus on our gifts, becoming puffed up if they are greater than someone else – or feeling dejected if they are inferior. St. Paul urges us to recognize the Giver.

The Giver is superior to any gift. I had to go thru a painful experience to learn that lesson. I was once assigned with a priest near my age. Parishioners naturally compared us: who gave the better homilies, which one related better with youth, who was the better leader. In those areas – and others – I came off number two. I did try harder, but agonized when people praised him in front of me.

It took a moment of grace for me to see the root of my anguish. I was praying about a homily. I asked the Lord that it go well. I heard Him say, “Why are you so anxious it be well received?”

Piously I responded, “For your kingdom, Lord. To save souls.”

Then I heard the the obvious question, “If that is so, why do you not pray his homilies go well?” I had to smile. It was the Holy Spirit speaking.

What counts is not the greatness of the gifts we have received, but the Giver. He can make them work together for the good of the Body. To a certain degree he can even use our competitiveness to bring about his overall purpose. Plain gifts yield enormous results if we acknowledge the Source. Let me illustrate with a story:

Once there was a young woman in her early twenties. She was devoted to God, attending not only Sunday Mass, but often during the week. She would stay after to pray, gravitating toward the statue of St. Anthony. Curious, the priest asked her what she was doing.

She said she hoped one day to get married, to become a mother. She understood St. Anthony was the one to pray to so that God would send her the right husband. The priest said, “That is true. But can you tell me the qualities of your ideal husband?”

She said, “Father, I don’t care if he is handsome or ugly, rich or poor, tall or short, skinny or fat. I want a man who will love God more than he loves me.” A few months later the priest noticed a young man at her side. True enough, he was not the most handsome boy in the neighborhood. In fact, he was quite average in appearance. But in one way he was far above average. He wanted to do God’s will, to put Jesus first in his life. Together they formed a beautiful marriage, because they recognized what comes first are not all the things one has, but their Source.

Our gifts are precious not in themselves, but because of the Giver. This Sunday we acknowledge the Source of all blessings – the Advocate whom the Father sends in Jesus’ name. (Jn. 14:25)

**********

* (Quixote, Pt. 2, ch. 23) The saying can be traced to John Fortescue, circa 1395-1485. Shakespeare says something similar, “Comparisons are odorous.” Much Ado about Nothing, act iii. sc. 5:

VERGES

Yes, I thank God I am as honest as any man living
that is an old man and no honester than I.

DOGBERRY

Comparisons are odorous: palabras, neighbour Verges.

*****

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Pentecost 2011: It Was the Holy Ghost
2010: The Power of the Holy Spirit
2009: The Soul's Most Welcome Guest
2008: Double Gift
2007: With You Always
2006: He Testifies to the Truth
2005: The Greatest Unused Power
2004: A Man Open to the Holy Spirit
2003: To Drink of One Spirit
2002: Healing of Memories
2001: Hateful Comparisons & Precious Gifts
2000: The Spirit & The Flesh
1999: Each in His Native Language
1998: Empty Rites?

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Footnote to comments on World Civilization Course: There is a lot one could say about this high school textbook. It purports to be comprehensive, but it leaves a lot out. For example, its ample index does not have an entry for Mother Theresa or Pope John Paul II. Even from a secular point of view they are two people who had a deep and ongoing impact on our world. By way of contrast, the textbook did have a section on Betty Friedan! Subsequently I came across this quote from University of Wisconsin Professor Stanley Payne about the current state of history studies:

Major themes are replaced by comparatively minor considerations, which emphasize small groups, deviants and cultural oddities. Most studies are required to fit somewhere within the new sacred trinity of race, class and gender - the new "cultural Marxism." Research that does not conform to these criteria is increasingly eliminated from the universities, where hiring practices in the humanities and social science have become blatantly discriminatory. (from "Controversies over History in Contemporary Spain")

Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastors. (For pdf format click here)

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