‘Don’t let it go to your head’

Bridging the Gap

Bishop David A. Zubik

It was a beautiful, sun-drenched day: June 21, 1963.  What made that bright summer Friday even brighter was something that happened “across the pond.”  That day, the Cardinals of the Church, gathered together in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, elected Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini as the new Pope.  Not only did they elect a new Pope, they elected a future saint.  He took the name of Paul VI.

Earlier that month, the much loved Pope John XXIII passed after a relatively short but very productive reign as our Holy Father.

During the course of his fifteen years as Pope, Paul VI not only reconvened the Second Vatican Council, but more importantly put into action its mandates.

He guided the Church through a time of great unrest, paralleling a similar spirit in the secular world.  Paul VI described himself as “a humble servant” of a suffering humanity and challenged the richer nations of the world to reach out to the poor in the Third World.

Following his death in 1978, on the road to sainthood, Pope Benedict XVI called Paul VI a leader who lived a life of “heroic virtue.”  He truly lived the Gospel not simply from his head but clearly from his heart.  He put into action both his love for God and God’s love for the world.

June 21, 1963 is a day I also remember for another reason.  That day, in my hometown of Ambridge, this writer graduated from the eighth grade.  A milestone in my life.  The beginning of many more chapters of life.

One of the surprises of graduation day was the announcement that I was receiving the American Legion Award.  The presentation of that award, one each to a young woman and to a young man, was viewed as the high point of the graduation exercises year after year.  I didn’t see it coming.  I was “blown away” by this unexpected honor.

Following the ceremonies, we graduates were reunited with our families, I can vividly remember the words of my mom and dad.  They congratulated me.  They shared how proud they were of me for receiving the American Legion Award.  What followed next was a profound admonition: “Don’t let it go to your head.”

As a matter of fact, every time I reached a new milestone, a new threshold in my life, my parents relayed the same piece of wise advice: “Don’t let it go to your head.”

What my mom and dad ultimately wanted me to learn was this lesson: “Don’t let it go to your head.  Let it go to your heart.”

And wasn’t that the lesson that Jesus sought to teach his disciples “back then” and us now?  HE wants to get into our hearts.

Isn’t that ultimately what was recognized in the life of Paul VI?  He was a man of “heroic virtue” who sought to follow Jesus from the heart.

Every time I have recalled my parents’ advice on June 21, 1963, I have heard in their words the deep desire and dream of Jesus Himself: “Love the Lord your God with all your mind, soul and heart.”  And while you’re at it, love your neighbor as yourself.

As we come through a most difficult year and begin to resume a more normal life in what we hope is a post-pandemic society, it is so important to remember the hopes and dreams that Jesus has for us.  While we need to “know” in our minds the “stuff” about Jesus and His Church, it is even more important to let Him into our hearts.

When we do so, we become like Jesus:

  • we feed those who hunger for respect by treating them as they are—a daughter or son of God, a brother or sister to us;
  • we give a drink to those thirsting not to be treated with prejudice but to be treated as they are—a daughter or son of God, a brother or sister to us:
  • we welcome those who feel themselves at the fringe of society by treating them as they are—a daughter or son of God, a brother or sister to us;
  • we clothe those who feel naked because of their need for forgiveness by treating them as they are—a daughter or son of God, a brother or sister to us;
  • we visit those who feel alone by giving them our listening ears because they are—a daughter or son of God, a brother or sister to us;
  • we free those who are imprisoned by their lack of self-worth with an affirmation of who they are—a daughter or son of God, a brother or sister to us

These are the ways we can become like Jesus.

These are the ways we help the world, our country and our Church become what God wants each to be.

And these are the actions, the avenues, the GPS guidance, that will get us to heaven.

And so—let me paraphrase my parents’ wise advice of June 21, 1963.

“Don’t let Him only go to your head.”  Let Him especially be in your heart.

Photo by Justin Merriman