Staff in an Old Man’s Hand

“Father, You have revealed the great mystery to the simple-hearted,” exults the Lord Jesus.

As we gather from reading part of the tenth chapter of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord does not take kindly to our self-aggrandizing pride. “Shall the axe boast against him who hews with it?” Or, as the prophet puts it in the 45th chapter: “Woe to anyone who contends with his Maker…Shall the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’”

The tool in the hand of the one who wields it: A perennial analogy in the sayings of prophets and saints. St. Ignatius Loyola, captain of the most successful international organization of the 16th century, wrote that he wanted only to be a “staff in an old man’s hand”—the ‘old man’ being God, of course. Blessed Mother Theresa, captain of one of the most successful international organizations of the 20th century, wrote that she lived solely as “a little bit of pencil with which God wrote.”

Seems to me that this analogy has two salient aspects. One: The task cannot be accomplished without the tool. Every grade-schooler knows that you cannot pass a test without a pencil. You might know all the answers in your mind. But if you can’t write them down? F. Or, as my sixth-grade teacher liked to threaten us: F-. “I will give you an F minus if you don’t find a pencil in 15 seconds!”

So the tool must operate in order for success to be achieved. But: The second salient aspect of the perennial analogy. The one who wields the tool conceives the overall plan and executes it according to his design.

Pencils don’t pass tests. Lumps of clay do not make bowls with their own hands. Walking sticks do not climb mountains. Axes do not build houses. And individual human beings do not control the unfolding of divine Providence.

The great mystery that gladdens the hearts of the child-like: God is God, and I am not. I have a task, which God has given me to do. But it is not my job to run the world.

Or, to put it another famous way: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change for the better the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

One thought on “Staff in an Old Man’s Hand

  1. Fr. Mark, thanks for timely homily. Please keep the pregnancy center in your prayers.

    God BLess


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