How do you line up with the pope?

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

It’s something every Catholic editor fears: making a huge mistake on an important story. 

Last summer, the unthinkable happened in the St. Louis Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In a story on the ordination of 25 permanent deacons, the headline read: “Not to serve, but to be served.”

Ouch. That’s the exact reverse of Jesus’ words . . . and in a story on deacons to boot. In the flurry of getting a newspaper out, I can see how easily something like this can happen.

The headline sounds “kind of” right but, later, after the newspaper is published, the error looms large. (I’ve heard that the editor was banished to Siberia, but I can’t get anyone to confirm or deny that information.)

Honestly, though, many times we reverse these words of Jesus and live as if the world revolves around us. This little story captures things so well:

A man by the name of Christian Herter was running for re-election as governor of Massachusetts. One day, he arrived late at a barbecue. He’d had no breakfast or lunch, and he was famished. On the buffet line, he held out his plate and received one piece of chicken.

The governor said to the server, “Excuse me. Do you mind if I get another piece of chicken? I’m very hungry.”

She replied, “Sorry. I’m supposed to give one piece to each person.”

He persisted, “But I’m starved.”

Again, the woman said, “Only one to a customer.”

At this point, Herter decided to use the weight of his office. He said, “Madam, do you know who I am? I am the governor of this state.”

The woman answered, “Do you know who I am? I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Now, move along, buster!” (Adapted from “The Chicken Lady,” found in William J. Bausch’s “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers.”)

This is what entitlement looks like. It’s an attitude that you’re on this earth “not to serve, but to be served.” That poor governor met his match in the chicken lady, who was unimpressed by his title or position. Entitled people feel superior to others and have no qualms with letting folks know about it, both in word and action.

This column was triggered by a picture tweeted by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro from the Amazon Synod. It shows Pope Francis standing in line with synod attendees to get some coffee and a snack.

Now, if anyone is entitled to go to the head of the line, it’s got to be the pope, right? But, as usual, Pope Francis teaches by example.

The tweet says his standing in line is “the best time to speak with everyone and listen.” The funny part is that everyone pictured is going about their business as if having the pope in line is a common thing. And the pope looks quite comfortable in the midst of the crowd.

Often, when I find myself at a reception or funeral dinner, people will insist that I go first through the buffet line. I know they’re doing this out of a sense of courtesy and respect. If at all possible, though, I decline and choose instead to stand by the buffet line and greet people.

I’m sure this is a carryover from my time as a chaplain at Hayden High School in Topeka. I loved heading to the cafeteria for the three lunch periods. I’d stand at the serving line door and chat with the kids as they walked by. It was an ideal way to be present and available to listen. And I learned so much from them.

As we continue this Respect Life Month, let’s turn our attention to working on humility. Some practical ways to do this include:

• Listening more than speaking, and not interrupting others

• Being grateful for people in the service industry and letting them know that you notice and appreciate them

• Being gentle in speech and action

• Not bragging (especially the “humble” kind)

Obviously, the best way to be humble is simply to serve others. Look for opportunities to meet a new parishioner, rake a neighbor’s leaves, offer someone a ride to church or donate funds or items to a charity.

And the next time you’re at a gathering, take a cue from the pope and toe the line.

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