The Netflix series “Black Mirror” (which is a digital age Twilight Zone and not exactly my cup of tea) had one episode I found endlessly fascinating, terrifying, and a bit like a train wreck: you want to look away, but just can’t. “Nosedive” is an episode in which the character Lacie lives in a version of America where every tiny interaction is ranked on an app. Everyone has contact lenses/retinal implants that are synced to the app. The moment you see someone, their ranking is displayed, and a whole society has morphed into a pastel-colored nightmare of aggressive cheeriness, as citizens attempt to out-nice each other and bump up their ratings. Everything is connected to your rating: if you are in the 4.5- to-5-star level, the world is open to you: lower mortgages, club memberships, airline reservations, and more. If your rating tanks, so does your life. It takes a nosedive into a world with no access, no privilege, no nothing. Thanks be to God we don’t live in such a world!
…But don’t we? During the late autumn of 2015, there was a new app released called “Peeple.” Think of it as “Yelp for People.” You can assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, people who live next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose. Imagine every interaction you’ve ever had suddenly open to the scrutiny of the Internet public.
I think such things are terrifying, but then again maybe they can serve as a spiritual lens with which to look at your life, the year just past. I think it would be easy to rate every instance when you felt slighted, dismissed, or worse. Then again, perhaps it would be as easy to recall the moments when you were affirmed, valued, and respected. Maybe we should “peeple” ourselves as a spiritual exercise. Which is exactly the point of the practice of examining your conscience and life daily.
As 2016 winds to an end, I have been thinking about my life as a parish priest. I have good days and not-so-good. It is good for me to recall that priesthood begins with its two feet firmly planted: one in human nature and the other in Baptism. There is a little-read document from Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis. In Chapter 3, “The Life of Priests,” it says that, “Like all other Christians [the priests] have received in the sacrament of Baptism the symbol and gift of such a calling and such grace that even in human weakness…” And there it is, the other foot: human nature with all its wonders and flaws, compassion and callousness, capacity for good and evil, and more. Human nature that on our best days believes all things, hopes all things, bears all things, and endures all things (1 Cor 13:7)…on our best days. And then there are the other days. “What a piece of work is man.” (Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2)
Priests, “like all other Christians,” have their best days – and those “other” days. It is on those other days that I recall this verse (1 Cor. 1:27): “God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the strong.” Lest you believe, I am thinking of myself as “the strong,” it is very much the wonder that God seems to have chosen me, very human and replete with weaknesses, to be a priest. There are moments when I suspect my behavior or habits confound “the strong,” i.e., the holy people of God. St. Francis of Assisi often wrote about how our good works are always those of God’s grace and that we can only ever take credit for our weakness and sin. So, if there were moments during 2016 that I caused you to be vexed, upset, angry, exasperated, irritated, agitated, troubled, concerned, disturbed, or just plain ol’ annoyed – for that I ask your pardon and forgiveness. If there were moments that were part of my best days, for that, gives thanks to God.
Forgiven and renewed, may we all enter this new year as people called, even in our human weaknesses, to live out the fullness of our baptismal promises.