Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

We are all unworthy

June 3, 2021

A priest tells the story of the time he invited his former professor, Cardinal Avery Dulles, to visit his parish. As he walked in, the cardinal noticed a banner with the words: “God is other people.” Not missing a beat, he observed that it was a nice expression, but it was missing a comma. “It should read, ‘God is other, people.’”

On Trinity Sunday, the Word of God draws our attention to the otherness of God: “The Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other” (Dt 4:39). One of the most arresting affirmations of this belief was made at the 13th-century Fourth Lateran Council, which stated that “between the creator and the creature, there cannot be a likeness so great that the unlikeness is not greater.”

In other words, while a quality, like power, may be attributed both to God and humanity, there is a greater difference in the meaning of power between God and us than there is in any likeness we might share.

If we say God is powerful, our understanding of human power should not be the starting point. God is “totaliter aliter,” totally other.

Yet, this God who is other engages us and shares his life with us. How is this possible? St. Paul tells the Christians in Rome that if they want to understand this mystery of God sharing his life with us, they should think of themselves as adopted children.

Adopted children have a unique experience. First, their whole life and future changes, as everything comes as a gift. They do not have to do anything as they are given a share in the life of a family, even to the point of having a share in the inheritance.

A priest recounted for me that when he was 7, his parents were asked by the pastor to consider adopting one of the orphans at the local hospital. The parents took their son with them and told him to go into the nursery and find his sister. There were three basinets, and as the boy came upon a red-headed baby, he called to his parents, “I found my sister.”

St. Paul was telling his community in Rome that this is how they should look on their lives. The church has found in them new brothers and sisters, whom the Lord has chosen.

But those adopted not only experience life as a gift, so too their families, as they receive the gift of the child. The adopted child brings something new to the family, talents and abilities and surprises, which come to light in the sharing of family life.

Consider the story of a young boy who got into a lot of trouble starting at age 7. When he was 12, his mother died, and his father, a saloon keeper, found him too much to handle. He placed him in an orphanage run by the Xaverian Brothers.

One of the brothers, Matthias, took the boy under his wing, defending him and guiding him as a parent. He noticed that the boy had superior athletic talent. He cultivated it and the boy matured into the person we now know as Babe Ruth. The slugger not only received a gift in being adopted by the Xaverians, but he was a gift to them and so many others.

If we are to honor the God who is other, we need to cultivate the humble sense of how our lives are a gift received and given. Having on a daily basis an awareness that God has adopted all of us reminds us that God, like any parent, will not refuse us anything or stop loving us, or fail to provide us new opportunities to grow and mature.

Every day with God, who is both other and our adoptive parent, is a new day, a chance for a fresh start. We should also have that kind of humility when it comes to the way we treat others.

This is why we should shun any attempt to give up on ourselves or others. It is why we should be suspect of any talk of excluding people or concluding they are unworthy.

Let’s remember our response to the invitation to join the Communion procession: “Lord, I am not worthy … but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

During the eucharistic prayer, I refer to myself as the Lord’s “unworthy servant.” The church and her leaders are called to form people, not to obstruct God’s grace by excluding or judging them. We leave the judgment to God. 

God is not other people, or even some other people. Let’s not forget the comma: God is other, people. And we are his.