Many years ago, I had the privilege of serving as Deputy Mayor in charge of communications for then Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. He was a popular mayor, who thoroughly loved serving his constituents. The frequent positive news coverage reflected his popularity. Therein, however, lay a danger – the danger of his ego swelling. One of my roles, and that of mayor’s staff, was to keep him grounded in the reality that “he ain’t perfect.” The mayor’s critics just may have a point, and we should listen.
My City Hall experience came to mind as I reflected on the rather comical experience of Paul and Barnabas during their visit in Lystra. There, they saw a man crippled from birth who had never walked. In a loud voice, Paul called out “Stand up straight on your feet.” The man leaped to his feet and began walking, to the astonishment of the gathered crowd. The pagan temple priest promptly declared Paul and Barnabas to be gods. Paul was Hermes, “because he was the chief speaker,” and Barnabas Zeus. The apostles indignantly “tore their garments when they heard this,” shouting they were just humans like them. “We proclaim the good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God,” they announced.
Paul and Barnabas were not swayed by public adulation. They did not allow egos to creep in. They refused “to believe their own press.” The two were solidly grounded in who they were, whom they served, and the purpose of their mission. They claimed no glory for themselves. With the psalmist they could pray: “Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.” It is what the good sisters at St. Alphonsus School often reminded us students of – and of what today’s first reading calls us to remember. In all that we do – in work, play, prayer, or even sitting safely and patiently at home during this pandemic – we are to do for the glory of God.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.