Last week a very dear friend wrote me from San Antonio. After some profound remarks about her convent's reaction to the tragedy in New York, she lightened up. "What do you call a short nun?" she asked. Answer: "Nuntheless."
I think it's appropriate to quote that joke on this Feast of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower, who chose a life of almost extreme humility. She was indeed, a "Nuntheless" when it came to reputation during her lifetime, and she wanted it that way, caring not at all for herself, but wholly for others.
Her life then, was an example of following Christ's words in today's Gospel: "He who is least among you is the greatest."
But how un-American to want to be the least! Our society is obsessed with rankings. Every year PEOPLE magazine lists the 100 "most beautiful" people. Nebraskans for several decades have considered our Cornhusker football team Number One, and often national sportswriters have, too. Being first in basketball and hockey matters a lot, and I confess to checking the standing of the Cleveland Indians (I grew up in northern Ohio). In Hollywood, on Broadway, and at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Petsmart, and AnyMart, being first in profits is an essential goal. U.S.News and World Report has even succeeded in putting the ratings game near the center of attention for colleges and universities. It can all be rather discouraging for those appreciative of a nun who never called attention to herself, or wanted to be ranked number one.
But in the last two weeks, I have grown much less discouraged about our assumed madness for rankings. The World Trade Towers had, of course, topped the list of tall buildings in our nation's largest city. But the police and firefighters and countless volunteers did not search for victims according to the rankings from 1 to 100.
The disaster took the lives of many rich and powerful men and women. But rescuers did not try to save well-dressed executives first, or search only for women with the best figures or most elegant jewelry. I am sure that numerous C.E.O.'s were lost, and some superb athletes, and the most expert gourmet cooks, and summa cum laude graduates of Ivy League or Jesuit colleges. The rescuers did not look only for the victims who owned BMW's and Jaguars. They searched for human beings, for children of God, sometimes for people who were, some would have said, the least among us.
Those rescuers had little wealth and power, or influence or high
style. But in this most terrible of American disasters, "rankings"
were obliterated. We look now upon the saviors and the saved, the
lost and the found, all as equal. We honor Mayor Giuliani and Governor
Pataki as we honor the unknown. Being first in prestige or financial
status or popularity means nothing. Jesus's words to us, and the
humble life of the Little Flower, carry the only truth that matters:
we are at our greatest when we place ourselves among the least.
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