Action Alert!

‘How am I doin’?’

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky (bio - articles - email) | Feb 02, 2017

Years ago the popular mayor of New York, Ed Koch, was known to greet his constituents on the street with a question: “How am I doin’?” As political shticks go, it was a good one; the voters received the question with amusement, but Koch accepted their responses with an edge of seriousness. With good humor, Koch had the ability at least to give the appearances of listening to the voters.

The mayor’s signature question was one that could be spiritually useful for us. We would do well to habitually ask the Lord, “How am I doin’?”

We’ve heard it said many times that the Catholic Faith is a “very difficult religion to live.” True, but not for the reasons commonly given. If we know the Ten Commandments (yes, class, in order), we pretty much know where we stand with God. An informed conscience can really attain “moral certainty” in the matter. Hence in reference to the Ten Commandments an honest man with God’s grace can fairly easily answer the question, “How am I doin’?”

If we transgress any of the Commandments, practicing Catholics have a good sense when we need Confession. But the Ten Commandments are simply essential entry-level stuff in the spiritual life, so to speak. (Saint Paul teaches that the Commandments are not exclusive to Christians, they are written on the hearts of all men.) And while it’s true that “tax collectors and prostitutes” enter the Kingdom before the Pharisees with their hardened hearts, the Ten Commandments form a relatively “low bar” of moral self-awareness before God. The Lord asks more of us.

In the Gospel, the rich young man approaches Jesus with the question “How am I doin’?” Actually he asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer from Jesus is twofold: 1) “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone”—all goodness is defined by participation in the goodness of God; and 2) keeping the Commandments is the key to everlasting life. To the delight of Jesus, the young man responds, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” So the Lord seizes the opportunity to encourage an even greater generosity from the young man: “Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

The young man departs crestfallen, because he has many possessions. The evangelical counsels of religious life—chastity, poverty and obedience—challenge the generosity of even the most just and upright of men. It’s understandable that the religious life may not be appealing to everyone, even to everyone who is specifically called by the Lord.

Lest we become too comfortable and self-satisfied in the spiritual life based on a good-faith observance of the Commandments alone, the Lord challenges us with the Beatitudes during the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:1-12). At first glance, the Beatitudes may seem to be sentimental, so sweet and consoling that it’s very common to find them inscribed on funeral-home holy cards. (We all tend to think our sweet mothers lived the Beatitudes. At least I do.)

But a closer inspection and consideration of the Beatitudes reveals how difficult they are to live. In answer to the question, “How am I doin’?” who among us would honestly say “I’m sufficiently poor in spirit, and meek, and truly hunger and thirst for righteousness, and clean of heart, as well as an earnest peacemaker?” If we’re truthful, we probably would be embarrassed to answer the questions with certainty. The Beatitudes, forming the pinnacle of the spiritual life, are so glorious we dare not presume ownership of them, or rest comfortably with any momentary successes. But with God’s grace we can continuously strive to live up to them.

How?

People often complain that God doesn’t answer their prayers. He does, of course, but sometimes not in a way that is to our liking. In the mystery of his Providence a request may not be to our ultimate spiritual welfare. So it’s necessary to press the spiritual reset button, reconsider our motives and ask again. But there’s one prayer that God not only always answers, we always know He answers (it seems to me). It is truly painful to pray. (The prayer is the favorite of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.)

The Litany of Humility was composed by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X. This prayer is not for the faint of heart:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

The Lord answered the Cardinal’s prayer. When Pope Pius X died, Cardinal del Val—a likely choice as the papal successor—was passed over by the Conclave.

It seems to me we can fairly easily use the Commandments and even the Evangelical Counsels to measure our standing in the Church within the standard deviation of spiritual certainty. But the Faith is difficult because of the elusive and arduous demands of the Beatitudes and Christian humility. If you have any doubt, read the Beatitudes and the Litany of Humility again with fervor.

Palms sweating? White knuckles? Heart pounding? How are you doin’?

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. Father Pokorsky also serves as a director and treasurer of Human Life International.
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  • Posted by: Langton7139 - Feb. 05, 2017 1:51 AM ET USA

    Thank you, Father. The Cardinal's prayer is a gem. I notice how about one-third of it asks that we be made freed from "fear" and "desire". Never a bad thing. God bless you! PS: No surprise it is a favorite of Justice Thomas.