Many years ago I was invited to address the student body of St. Mary’s University, Baltimore, Maryland, my alma mater. In the course of my remarks I said that I was, “just a pastor.” Maybe I was apologizing for not being higher up the clerical ranks? Or, implying that being a pastor was not all that glamorous? Following my talk I was pulled aside by a faculty member who told me, in no uncertain terms, “Never say that, ‘you are just a pastor.’ What you are doing and who you are is most important in the lives of the people you are serving.’”
This excoriation has stayed with me for more than 30 years. Saying, “I’m just a housewife/husband, just a fireman, just a teacher, just a banker, just a parent, for that matter, just a human being,” is putting yourself down because we think we don’t measure up to someone else’s measuring stick.
King David was just a shepherd and remained so during his kingship, and thus he could write the beautiful song, “The Lord is my shepherd…”, (Psalm 23). Jesus of Nazareth was just a carpenter’s son and remained so throughout his life, and thus he could teach,“…be a sensible man who built his house on rock…” (Matthew 7:25). From Cain and Abel we have inherited jealousy, and have sought our identity by comparing ourselves to others. And, in the process, we both tear down both ourselves and others.
To be a stay at home mom/dad is of vital importance to your child. To be a fireman is of vital importance to the community which is frequently in distress. To be a teacher is to offer someone a road out of poverty, or a vision which is unlimited. To be a human being is to have a God-given dignity which no man can take away.
Whether we wait on tables, clean houses, or, are the secretary of state, whatever we do can be done with integrity and dignity. Who we are and how we act is a “soul” thing, not just a society thing.
We have all met people who work with their hands and who seem to have more integrity than some heads of state. We have all met people in lowly positions whose spiritual vision is more acute than a professional ball player earning big bucks. Rosa Parks started a civil rights movement in the United States by refusing to move to the back of the bus. Her determination and courage forced those higher up to finally enact civil rights legislation. Rosa Parks was just a seamstress.
I have learned my lesson and I hope you do as well. The next time someone asks you who you are and what you do, speak up! speak out! I am a pastor and have been so for close to 50 years. I am proud and privileged to be who I am and do what I do!
The Rev. Fred Nijem is pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Warner Robins.