This is an age of boasting. Boasting is everywhere these days, but perhaps especially on social media where boasting knows no bounds. Athletes boast. So do celebrities and politicians. But so do most of us. We boast about our appearance, our accomplishments, the number of our friends, the size of our homes and all the stuff that fills them, the fun we are having at parties, concerts, or while on vacation. It’s as if we’ve become better at boasting than anything else—and that should worry us. The trouble with boasting is that it leads us to believe that if anything good happens to us, it’s all because of us. We have no reason to be grateful, no reason to give thanks, no reason to be indebted. If that’s the case, we are living deeply out of touch with reality.
In the first reading from Romans today, Paul bluntly asks: “What occasion is there then for boasting?” Paul poses the question in a passage where he recounts all that God has done for us. In a few swift sentences, Paul reminds us that God owes us nothing, but has given us everything. The rock bottom truth about every last one of us is that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” There is absolutely nothing we can do to rescue or redeem ourselves, nothing we can do to give ourselves hope. It is all a gift of God’s endless love, goodness, and mercy. Too, to know that we have, as Paul insists, been justified by faith is to realize that from the beginning to the end of our lives we are radically and continuously dependent on God’s grace. Even more, no person, no group, no community, and no nation can claim to be better or more deserving than any other person, group, community, or nation because all of us, Paul declares, are recipients of God’s mercy.
If we would remember this, our boasting days would be over. And then we could really start to live.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.