Don’t Say ‘Awesome’ — Few Things Really Are

Feb 15, 2019

  In a recent school Mass for the St. James Campus of Stella Maris Acad­emy, I had the kids guess my favor­ite word. After many different “holy” word guesses, I finally told them it was “linoleum.” Then I made them repeat it and told them I love saying it because of how it just rolls off the tongue.

  Then I had them guess my least fa­vorite word, and once again, after many guesses, I finally had to tell them my least favorite word is “awesome.” I ex­plained that the word “awesome” is used way too much, and that very few things truly are awe­some.

   Of course, during the weeks that followed my homily, the kids repeatedly were calling me awe­some or telling me to have an awesome day. If I had done that intentionally, it would have been smart of me, but I didn’t.

   However, I stand by my claim that the word “awesome” is way overused, so much so that if something really is awesome, then you cannot describe it as such, because everything else is considered awesome! When we use any word too much, it loses its effect, and the same is true if we grow too accustomed to something that really is awesome.

   Here is an example: We priests say Mass pretty much every day, which means we transubstantiate regular bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ every day. Of all the things in the world that are truly awesome, few are more awesome than that, and yet if we are not careful, we priests can lose our awe for this gift. That would be pretty dangerous, at least on the spiritual level.

   In the fifth chapter of Luke’s Gos­pel we have the familiar story of Jesus healing the paralytic, who was lowered down from the roof by his friends. Before healing him, Jesus forgave his sins, which was his common practice. The Gospel says that Jesus could read the thoughts of the Pharisees, who were scandalized by his forgiving sins. Then Jesus goes ahead and cures the man. At the end of that scene, the Gospel says, “... astonishment seized them all, and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredi­ble things today’” (Luke 5:26).

  They were “struck with awe.” They had seen awesome things — not a singular awesome thing but plural awesome things. They had seen Jesus cure a paralytic, they had seen Jesus read the minds of the Pharisees, and they had seen Jesus forgive sins, all of which were truly awe-inspiring, as the Gospel says.

  What can be a dangerous thing for priests in regards to becoming too ac­customed and used to praying the Mass can be said for all Catholics when it comes to confession. Confession is tru­ly an awesome thing that God gives us. The ability to have our sins sacramen­tally forgiven by Jesus Christ through the priest should fill us with awe, just like it did for the people who saw Jesus forgive the sins of the paralyzed man. But all too often our mindset is more like, “Meh, no big deal.”

  Nearly every time Jesus cured some­one, he would first tell them that their sins were forgiven, making the point that their physical ailments were a symptom of their spiritual ailments. In curing people, Jesus was simply doing away with the sign of the deeper reality of their spiritual illness. Jesus gave priests the ability to do the same thing: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:23).

  But imagine if Jesus gave all priests the ability to do the less significant thing. Suppose Jesus did not give the ability for priests to forgive sins but only gave them the ability to take care of the symbol, to cure physical ail­ments.

  If Jesus gave priests only the ability to cure people, do you think priests would ever get even five minutes to rest? If priests were given the lesser ability to cure the sick, then the rectory doorbell would never stop ringing. There would be long lines in every church wait­ing for the priest to take care of their ailments!

  But that is not what happened; in­stead Jesus gave priests the more signifi­cant ability of being able to forgive sins, and how long are the lines? The people in the Gospel were in awe because Jesus forgave sins, and most of us are not in awe, but in “meh.”

  Few things are really, truly awesome, but for sure the sacramental forgiveness of sins through the priest in the confes­sional is one of them. May we learn a lesson from the audience of Jesus’ mira­cle and take advantage of this awesome opportunity.

published February 2019