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Naked Worth

What do you have to offer God? Are you more able to serve him if you have a little or a lot?
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source:

         What do you really know about the carols that we sing every year?    Could it be  these songs contain more spiritual wisdom than you might imagine?   My favorite is a very old piece called The Huron Carol.  Some say it is the first carol sung on the North American Continent.   I am haunted by the circumstances that created it.  This carol came about as the result of “missionary work”.  Jesuit Saints John De Brébuf and Isaac Jogue came to Canada in 1642 from their native France.

            De Brébuf penned the carol as catechesis for the Hurons. The language of the carol is elegant and reflects a sensitivity to the peoples it was created for; “’Twas in the moon of winter time when all the birds had fled, that mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead….  … as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel song rang loud and high; Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis Gloria.”  The cadence of the lines even sound like  Indian drums.  Brilliant!

            You may know that Jesuits value education and the ability to be at home with theology and philosophy.  Isaac and John were no exception.  They arrived in North America ready to use their scholarly skills.   The missionaries quickly discovered that the education they prized was pretty much useless; “…we are now in the midst of a barbarous people who care nothing for our philosophical and theological education.  All the fine qualities that make us admired and respected in France are like pearls trampled under the feet of swine, or rather, mules, which despise us utterly when they see that we are not such good pack animals as they. If we could go naked and carry on our backs the load that a horse carries, then we would be wise according to their views and would be recognized as great men, otherwise not.” (Saint John De Brébuf, † 1649, French Jesuit Missionary)

             A line in the bible tells us the Lord is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).  It literally means in God’s view there are no favorites.  The young Jesuits learned this lesson in “real time”.  It must have been an unspeakable shock for them to realize that the “skills” they came prepared with were of no use.  How do we measure our worth, then, if not with the things we have seen or experienced?

            That would be a matter of faith.  The worth of a person in God’s eyes never changes. We humans, though, find all sorts of parameters to measure peoples’ status. Brébuf and his companions were plunged into a situation where they were perceived as worthless by the people they wanted to evangelize. They were forced to do a serious recalculation regarding their perceptions.  What’s your attitude when you think about the work that you are willing to do for the Lord?  Not everyone is called to abandon all and head for the Amazon but we are all called to bring Jesus with us no matter where we go,   including a trip to the corner store.  Modernity has taught us that we can create a life that is neatly categorized with defined boarders; spouse, home, children, friends, faith only on Sundays!  This is a contemporary deception.   

            What preconceived judgment do you have about the skills you have to use for the work of the Lord?  Is it your education, hospitality, money, time, influence?  Or are you that one who has the constant mantra of “I can’t do that: talk, pray, present, give, witness”?  As Brébuf teaches, neither is what the Lord requires or desires.  The Jesuits learned, in their mission to the Hurons, that their role was as far away from anything they imagined as the East is from the West; “We must not be ceremonious with the savages, but accept whatever comforts they offer us, such as a good place in the cabin.  … standing on ceremony offends the Indians…” (Brébuf, Op. Cit.)   Brébuf is reduced to being grateful for a place by the fire.  What visions do you have of working for the Lord?  Are you ready to give them up?  Are you prepared to take on a new skill or task that you have no aptitude for? Mother Therese reminds us: “God does not expect us to be successful, He expects us to be faithful”.

            The reality about God is that we are all called to serve Him.  Things like; age, occupation, education do not give us an easy out.  He welcomes our help in whatever way, shape or form we can offer it.  We must, however, be willing to be naked and not hide behind things like lack of experience. The fact that we are incarnate is all that is required.  Do not become comfortable in assuming that other people will do “the work” because you are not as worthy and/or prepared as others. 

            The North American Jesuits wound up ministering in a way they never would have imagined including changing the continent.  Remember the Lord sees the “whole picture”.  Be willing to be stripped of all your preconceptions and be naked for the Lord. Only then have you given him something he can work with!   “O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou / The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you. / Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty peace and joy. / Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.” (Words: Jean de Brébuf, ca. 1643; trans by Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926 Music: French Canadian melody Tune name: Jesous Ahatonhia)


Copyright©2011, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved   

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