Friday, June 16, 2017

A King’s Secret

Giving God the glory for our accomplishments
Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20 
Tobit called his son Tobiah and said to him, "Son, see to it that you give what is due to the man who made the journey with you; give him a bonus too." So he called Raphael and said, "Take as your wages half of all that you have brought back, and go in peace." Raphael called the two men aside privately and said to them: "Thank God! Give him the praise and the glory. Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Honor and proclaim God's deeds, and do not be slack in praising him. A king's secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known. Praise them with due honor.

          I believe the older we get, the more inclined we are to give God the credit for our accomplishments. Some of you know that a lot better than I do. When we’re young, we think our success is due to our smarts, our strength, or our savvy. But later, we learn that all we did was God’s gift and made possible only by God’s grace. And therefore, it’s only right we should give him the glory.

           A case in point is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. When he was merely 54 years old, Pope John Paul II named him the head of the Vatican department called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger’s role was to safeguard the authentic faith from possible threats or heresies. Some people who came into his cross-hairs nicknamed him “God’s Rottweiler,” because he had to correct them. These people portrayed him as arrogant and antagonistic, even though that was not the case. In his recent book, however, called Last Testament, Pope Benedict shows his true character as a very humble man. When asked how he learned so many languages, he replied: “It looks as if I know as many languages as God, but this is not the case.” And he explains that he learned some smattering of English by listening to “vinyl records.” Maybe someone can tell me after Mass what those are. I don’t think Pope Benedict ever took personal credit for his many talents and towering achievements, but as he has gotten older, he’s made that more explicit.
           In the first reading today, Tobit wants to give the Archangel Raphael credit for all the blessings he brought to their family. And I love Raphael’s reply. He says: “Thank God! Give him the praise and glory.” The heavenly messenger goes on to explain: “A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known.” You see, all angels have “old souls” - they’re older than Methuselah, who lived to be 969 years old - and so they are keenly aware how God’s grace is the chief cause of their accomplishments. But the phrase I like is “a king’s secret it is prudent to keep.” I think that means we all are tempted to think of our ourselves as “kings and queens” and want others to praise us praise for our hard work and victories. But Raphael says, “Be humble, keep secret what you think you’ve done.” That’s exactly what Pope Benedict did in his last book, literally his Last Testament.  He didn’t want to be praised for speaking so many languages – which he actually does! – that’s how he kept the “king’s secret.”

          My friends, how old are you? Have you reached the age where you see how God’s grace has been the real agent of all your achievements? Or, even if you’re still young, do you have a “old soul” (like the angels) and see that everything is ultimately God’s gift? I cringe whenever I see an athlete gloat over his or her victory, as if they had done it all alone. On the other hand, I’m edified by those who give credit to their teammates, their coaches, and even the crowd for their wins. How do you react when someone compliments you for something you’ve done well? A friend of mine simply says, “Praise God,” like the Archangel Raphael did. On the other hand, how do you feel when people tease you, or point out your flaws, or criticize you, or call you “God’s Rottweiler”? To be sure those comments sting our egos and hurt our pride. But I would suggest to you that we should be very glad when that happens. Why? Well, because that’s the best way to know that you’ve kept “the king’s secret” safe.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

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