I hope preachers won’t be discouraged, but of all the homilies I’ve heard, I remember just three sentences. Here’s one of these, from a homily over 50 years ago: Each time you come to the Offertory of the Mass, offer to God one of your successes and one of your failures.
Regularly adding those two things to the gifts being brought to the altar has helped me to be aware of what’s going on through the week. Usually, the failure looms large. Sometimes I have to search a bit for the success. But a greater challenge comes in trying to see God’s presence in both. In the success, I sometimes miss that presence because I tend to think the success is due to me! And in the failure, it’s hard to see God because things didn’t go “the way I think God wanted them to go.“
It is probably not so different when we return from our work (volunteer or otherwise) and replay the day in our minds. In a sense, a success—someone followed up on a suggestion or told about the difference our work made in her life—can be a distraction. Elation can take over and block out the deeper realization of how God has indeed touched someone.
But what is God thinking and feeling when a young woman decides to leave the shelter because she doesn’t want to keep the rules? Is God still with the homeless man who leaves the thrift shop cursing because he didn’t receive what he wanted? Was God watching or caring when two people at the soup kitchen broke into a brawl and spoiled the day for those around them?
I would love to know how others see God in situations like this—or in situations with more positive outcomes. Do you see a God feeling hurt? Waiting patiently? Beaming? And how does that image make you feel about your work? And what happens when you offer those feelings to God? (And to all preachers in my life, be sure that God was there even when I didn’t remember your message!)
Rosemary Jermann is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC St. Louis. She is an adjunct faculty member at Saint Louis University and previously serves as an editor for and contributor to Theology Digest and Review for Religious.