Does God “Need” Us?

If you haven’t heard yet, John Corapi has announced his intention to make his suspension as a priest permanent.  The details of his plan of action are not clear.  He may be saying that he’s not going to remain silent in spite of suspension, which he already said 3 months ago.  Many have argued that the piece simply means he’s going to keep talking in spite of his suspension, just not as a priest.  But he insists very clearly that he does not want to “fight” his suspension, and the tone indicates that he is voluntarily resigning from the priesthood rather than continue and “fight.”  Several commentators have offered varying interpretations of his statement.  It’s all a bit mess now, filled with the usual hysterics.  Some are being accused of detraction for offering negative views of this public statement Corapi has made.  Some are  saying this validates long held concerns about his seemingly egocentric ministry.  Then there are the people who say, “Shut up and pray,” which I think is kind of funny since a) that’s what some of us are saying Fr. Corapi should be doing and b) he’s the one who made a public statement, obviously in order to elicit a public outcry.  One basic tactic of rhetoric is to get people to do exactly what you want by saying the opposite (i.e., Lincoln insisting in the Gettysburg Address that no one would remember what he said, or how often politicians are “pressured” into running for president).

My own “take” on the situation is that, while I still want to believe Corapi (he says not to call him “Father” anymore) is innocent, and while I’ve said from the beginning that this situation would likely not end in his exhoneration, barring a miraculous intervention, and while I totally sympathize with his reaction, I think what he’s doing is exactly the wrong thing.  I would probably do the same thing in his shoes–and that’s one of the main reasons I never bothered trying to become a priest.   At the same time, I know that silence, humility and obedience are the marks of holiness, and I think he’d have done better to announce his complete departure from public life and voluntary retirement to a monastery or hermitage.

That gets me to the point of this post: “God needs me,” “God needs him,” “God needs you.”

No, He doesn’t.

God don’t “need” anyone.

God created us out of love, for love.

This gets to other situations which tend to involve hysterical women: the Great Lila Rose Lying Debate, for example.  “God wants abortion ended,” people told me.  “It’s important to end abortion, no matter what.”  “Does that include shooting abortionists” I’d ask.  “Well, no, of course not!”  And then they’d go on to accuse me of being too worldly and not spiritual enough for being more concerned about personal moral rectitude than about ending abortion.  It’s all very baffling.  And it struck me then how many of those people really have no faith in God.  Their God is a weak idol who needs human beings to achieve some end.  They have the same God as the liberal Catholics whom I rejected growing up for the same reason.

I grew up being taught, in CCD, in homilies, in Catholic school, etc., a sort of Catholicism where the *primary* goal is to do good works for others.  God was going to judge you when you died on how much you did for the poor (that’s true in a sense, but only part of the picture), and if you weren’t “doing stuff” you were a bad Christian.  To me, unable to “do that stuff,” this was very distressing.  One time, a Carmelite priest online told me it was important to listen to people like Archbishop Weakland just as much as people like Mother Angelica.  So, not knowing who he was, I read Weakland’s manifesto he wrote as a reflection on his 1997 ad limina visit to Rome.  It really shook me up a bit.  The internal logic was so sound, I said, “What if I’m totally wrong?”  Then I read my assigned Carmelite readings, and there was a passage from John of the Cross saying that the ultimate goal is contemplative union, and everything else is a means to that end.

Of course, over the years, I’ve learned that there’s a similar attitude on the Right as well as the Left regarding “God needs you,” only it’s about speaking out against heresy, ending abortion, etc.  A constant theme running among Fr. Corapi’s supporters is, “he’s the only one speaking the truth.” That’s an inherent condemnation of the many good priests who are out there, including the many good priests on EWTN, in the blogosphere, etc.  Is Fr. Corapi a great preacher?  Yes.  Does he have an amazing story?  Yes.  Is he the sole arbiter of God’s truth?  No.

It may surprise people to learn that I don’t like writing about myself.  I don’t mind using an anecdote or two from my experience, but I really don’t want to write about myself.  I’m constantly being told to write about my life–just the other day, my cardiologist said I should write an autobiography to share my trials with Marfan syndrome.  When I submitted to _Inside Catholic_ (which, if you haven’t noticed, is back to being _Crisis Magazine_) last year, the *last* thing I wanted to do was write another “about me” piece, when every other publication credit I have, other than my encyclopedia articles, is either about living with Marfan or meeting Mary online.

Every time I sit down to write down an autobiography, though, a) I can’t focus on a particular theme, and b) I feel the whole process is very narcissistic.  I’d rather abstract it into fiction, and then that has its own complications, but in any case, writing “about me” always makes me uncomfortable.

People have told me my whole life, “God has a purpose for you.”  “God has you here for a reason.”  “God kept you alive for a reason.”  They mean well, but it’s a very burdensome thing to be told, and I’m not really sure they know what they’re saying.   Does God have a purpose for me?  Yes, to “know, love and serve Him in this world and to be with Him in the next.”  It’s the same “purpose” He has for everyone.  If by “purpose” they mean some great worldly achievement that I and only I am capable of doing, well, I don’t know about that.

On the other hand, I’ve already done a lot of good for a lot of people, and my constant prayer since I started seriously praying around middle school has been to be an instrument of grace to everyone I meet.  I know I’ve helped a lot of people in different aspects of life.  I know that even when I was a kid I helped a lot of people.  I’ve heard through the grapevine (or even directly) that different priests whom I thought were profound influences on me say that I was a profound influence on them.   Last year, I was talking to my grandfather about some of my doings, and expressing my hope of finally making it “big,” and he said, “John, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve already made it big.  I’ve never had an article published in a magazine or been interviewed by the Washington Post.”

Which is not to toot my own horn but to say, “everything is important in God’s eyes.”  I have four children who would not exist if I weren’t here.  I’ve already made a huge impact on their lives, both by loving them and teaching them.   They know things about the faith and just stuff in general that I’ve taught them.  I feel frustrated that I have so much talent, and I worry about disappointing God by not using it, but I also realize that if I could get by just raising my children, and didn’t have to worry about finances or other issues, that I would still be doing profound work for God.

I know that my own prayer life, however meager and feeble it is, has proven very powerful for others.

Bl. Teresa of Calcutta famously said, of worrying about other people: “In the final analysis, it’s between you and God; it was never about them.”  I’ve always taken great solace in Mother Angelica’s story about the NBC executive: “What are your ratings.”  “I don’t know.”  “You don’t know?!  In this business ratings are the Gospel!” “No, that’s your problem.  If just one soul is saved by my network, the whole thing’s worth it.”

The fact is, God does not “need us” to “do” anything, though it’s important we do everything we can.  God has made very clear throughout Scripture and the Saints that He values obedience and humility most of all.  So many saints have been tested with that very thing.  I usually refer to the incident recounted by St. Faustina that, early in her life as a nun, Jesus asked her to ask her superior for permission to wear a  hair shirt, eat nothing but bread and water, and scourge herself.  The superior denied her permission to perform those extreme penances.  Jesus said something like, “Good.  This was a test to show you that I value obedience to the Church more than penances or more than following these messages.”

It’s amazing how many times I’ve been told I’m evil and a bad Christian for referring to that scenario and saying obedience is important.  I’ve spent much of my life holding the notion that we absolutely cannot trust bishops and priests because so many of them are corrupt.  I still recognize their corruption, but I also realize that Jesus appointed Judas, and Jesus told His followers to listen to the Pharisees because even though they were hypocrites, they were still in legitimate authority (“Do as they say, not as they do”).

St. Teresa of Avila wrote most of her books on obedience.  She insisted there were already too many unnecessary books on prayer and theology.

I really admire Fr. Corapi’s preaching.  He has been a great influence on me, and I had hoped that this situation could find a resolution that would not cost the body of work he’s achieved, but his own announcement undermines that hope considerably.   We’re often told about the false accusations against St. Pio and St. Gerard Majella and St. John of the Cross, and how they dealt with them.  People are still comparing Fr. Corapi to these saints: yet they dealt with their accusations in silence and prayer and humility, sometimes waiting *years* for exhoneration.   Fr. Haley has been waited 10 years; Fr. Buckner for 4.
Then there were others who were never exhonerated, or perhaps who were actually guilty, or who lost public offices of the Church for purely political reasons.  We’ve had popes who resigned, after all.
They went on to live out their lives in monasteries or hermitages, becoming great saints not so much because of their great deeds earlier in life but the humility they showed in accepting their loss of status.  We have forgotten the spirituality of the desert.  St. Jerome famously wrote a letter to another desert hermit who was planning to accept a position as a bishop in the city, telling the man that he was being too worldly and renouncing Christ by renouncing the desert for that position.

For Corapi has been offered the desert and said, instead, “I want to go back to the city, even if it means giving up being a priest.”  What would St. Jerome say to him?

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2 responses to “Does God “Need” Us?

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I discovered myself in recent years that obedience and humility are incredibly important, and it is something I have great difficulty talking about or explaining to others. It was St Therese who taught them to me, but it is a theme I have seen running through the lives of all the greatest Saints. Thank you again, and God Bless!

  2. Jennifer Fitz

    Great post, John.

    When I think about human suffering and the problem of evil, what I think is this: God is both immensely rich and immensely frugal. –> He can create the smartest, kindest, holiest, most talented people in the universe, and then swoop them off to Heaven before ever they get to do any great thing on earth. He doesn’t need them. He’s that rich. He knows where to get more for earth when he sees fit. And at the same time, He wastes nothing. He can use any kind of evil, any kind of error, any kind of weakness, and He can brush it off and put it to work, and it does immense good.

    Like you say, God doesn’t need me to do anything. But he’ll use me in the strangest ways. That’s a lot more comfortable thought than the worldy desperation to cling to everything “good” and despair at everything bad. More comfortable because it matches reality better.

    ***

    [I have no opinion on Corapi — never saw or heard the man, so he’s just another priest to me. Though I’m certainly sympathetic to people who go about being guilty or innocent all the wrong way. The saints are the model, though. Totally.]

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