Pebble in My Shoe: When we get distracted from our real identity
Some months ago, I celebrated a funeral that I will not forget. Just before the Mass, I realized I had a pebble in my shoe. I did not take the time to sit down, take off my shoe, and allow the pebble to escape. I meant to, but I didn’t do it. So, the funeral started, I momentarily forgot about the annoyance in my right shoe. During the Liturgy of Word, it really started to get to me. The more I thought about it, the more the pebble situation was becoming my identity. Suddenly, I wasn’t a priest anymore, I was an annoyed man with a pebble in my shoe.
I couldn’t take my mind off the irritating stone lodged somewhere between my foot and the edge of my shoe. After the Mass, I raced to my car to begin the trek to the cemetery. I thought about the pebble and the pain but continued my way across town. When I arrived at the cemetery, family members were already gathering. I got out of the car and began walking in the think grass. Quickly, I realized my friend in my shoe was still there. I became obsessed with the stone, overlooking the hued mountains and various gravestones, the blue sky and warm sun. The pebble in my shoe became my identity and narrowed my focus on that bright morning.
This may be an overly simple story, but we can all relate. As priests, we are easily distracted from our real identity. We may accumulate paraphernalia to hide our loneliness or insecurities, all which becomes our false identity. We may use technology as our first way of communicating rather than from our relationship with God. We may discover food to satisfy more than survival. Food may make us numb from overwork and the intensity of what other people think of us. There can easily be many rocks in our shoes, external achievements and possessions that distract us from our genuine lives of love and service. We are always “on” in parish life. We are always working, always maneuvering through the daily crises of parish life. We all know these stones.
In January, the Scriptures invite us to reflect upon the authority of Jesus. The Word made flesh is baptized and begins his ministry in the gospel stories in the opening weeks of Ordinary Time. Jesus’s mission gives purpose and meaning to the Incarnation. He lives his authority of God-among-us, his service to people in need. He heals the sick, comforts the lost and engages the leper, all to reveal to us that his authority rests in his relationship with God the Father. He takes time in prayer to sift through the pebbles in his sandals, and the weariness within his heart, so to make sure he is free enough to serve with love, with purpose, and with integrity. His authority is lived upon the earth from his ongoing relationship with his Father in heaven.
As we reflect upon the authority of Christ Jesus, we may ask ourselves some important questions. How do we model the authority of Jesus in our actions and ministry? Are we more prone to support our own ego authority? Are we more interested in supporting the authority of the institution of the Church? Do we do so only to make us look good to others? Or are we willing to be immersed in the dying and rising of Christ’s authority so to become the men God desires us to be? These questions seem more important as we reflect upon the opening weeks of Ordinary Time when Jesus bent down to the earth to heal the sick, to reach out to people on the margins of society, so to remain faithful to his Father in heaven.
Remaining faithful to Christ Jesus is not easy as a priest. We discover the pebbles in our hearts that seem to grow more important as we age. We may think this is the only way to live. We grow used to the pain. We may not want to change our ways of prayer and service. We may have grown used to limping our way home.
I told the story of the pebble in a Sunday homily a few weeks after that funeral. Now, before a funeral, parishioners may ask me, “Fr. Ron, do you have a pebble in your shoe today? We want you to be really present to us and to the beauty of your relationship with Jesus.”