I Am Not Worthy

vacuum cleaner

I slipped into the church, unseen by the women cleaning on Saturday morning; the vacuum’s blare wiped out my footsteps. Early for a women’s breakfast, I thought I’d say hi to Jesus.

In our church, an alcove creates a private space in front of the tabernacle. When I sat there, I sang a Communion hymn from my childhood so I wouldn’t scare anyone when I emerged from the hidden spot:

Oh, Lord, I am not worthy
that you should come to me.
But speak the words of comfort;
My spirit healed shall be.

When I was halfway through the verse, the vacuum stopped, and a harmonizing voice joined me. It was beautiful! I didn’t think anyone remembered that old tune. I launched into verse two. I’m an alto in the choir, so I didn’t hesitate to follow with “Amazing Grace.” I was feeling amazingly graced in that moment.

When I stopped, I heard a soft voice praying a beautiful, heartfelt invocation for our parish community. When she finished, I was surprised to hear a chorus of voices say, “Amen.”

I walked around the corner to see about eight women with cleaning tools standing in a circle, now visiting casually. I said to them: “Wow. Your harmony was great!”

One responded: “No. Your singing was a wonderful treat for us!”

Finding it hard to accept praise, I said, “Oh! Well, thank you for cleaning our church.” (Why couldn’t I say thank you for the compliment? False humility was at work.)

I said, “I’m early for the women’s breakfast, and we have plenty of room. Come over to the hall!”

One by one, each expressed her unworthiness to attend: “I can’t; I’m in jeans;” “Look how I’m dressed;” “It wouldn’t be right to show up when I didn’t RSVP in advance.”

I told them, “We always have several cancellations. And it doesn’t matter what you are wearing! You are welcome!”

One, shaking her head, said, “I smell like dust.”

That one really threw me. What does dust smell like? Pope Francis said we should smell like the sheep we serve. But dust?

None of those holy women accepted my invitation. Perhaps feeling unworthy is a topic for a future women’s gathering!

As I left the church, I met Flo and her son Angelo, 3, and tried to entice them to the meal with thoughts of fresh muffins. Flo said they clean the church every Saturday, and afterwards go to breakfast as a family. As we were speaking, her husband Juan came up, dragging a trash can and smiling. He works outside while they work in. I marveled at the example of humble service this young couple is setting for their son. These are everyday saints.

It’s only during a review of that prayerful experience that I connect what we sang: “Oh, Lord, I am not worthy…”

About Loretta Pehanich 38 Articles
Loretta Pehanich is a spiritual director and author of Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. She is involved with the Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Sacramento and its program in giving the Spiritual Exercises. She has more than 20 years of experience in ministry, including retreat work and small group leadership. Loretta currently works as a fundraiser in Sacramento. She and her husband have four children and nine grandchildren.

29 Comments on I Am Not Worthy

  1. One by one, each expressed her unworthiness to attend: “I can’t; I’m in jeans;” “Look how I’m dressed;” “It wouldn’t be right to show up when I didn’t RSVP in advance.”

    Unworthiness has nothing to do with what you are wearing. It is all about being a sinner. I am not worthy because I have sinned against you Father. Try that one on for size.
    Real unworthiness comes from having offended God and his commandments. And it’s difficult to overcome. Prayers and hymns are beautiful and a blessing. It takes more than that to accept His forgiveness and grace.

  2. What a lovely, happy , Joyful story! I can understand them not wanting to go to the breakfast, if they didn’t put their names down. The cleaning is necessary , but the SINGING! What a Bonus! God Bless.

  3. Loretta,
    The songs of our Catholic youth-a long forgotten connection that we share – so thank you for that memory and so much more. The humble and reverent ladies (and a husband) whose gifts of voice, faith, work and community that I experienced in my own family as a child. My mother’s mother – Marian was an orderly in a hospital – a humbling 8 hours of her day – 5 days a week cleaning bedpans and hospital rooms. The remaining 16 hours of her day 5 days a week she cared for her bedridden husband in their one bedroom apartment. Her weekends were spent at our house in the midst of 5 children (4 more would eventually arrive) where she presided over tea parties and TV night while my parents would have their evening together. On Saturdays my father would rise early and spend several hours attending to my Grandfather’s needs. Sunday- morning off to Mass and a family visit to our grandfather and leave-taking with our grandmother. Yet – never a complaint and always a smile. Such examples of loving selfless service to a young boy of 5 that I have carried through a lifetime. Thank you again for sharing. Rob

    • Wow. What a beautiful story. Marian is one of those saints we celebrate on Nov. 1, her feast!
      Thank you to her, and to the other servants of God out there.

  4. That song brought back such wonderful memories of singing it as a child with my grandparents and your story…beautiful and true. “False humility”, that is something for me to pay attention to. Thank you for your reflection. Peace be with you.

    • I love what Dean Brackley writes about false humility. To paraphrase:
      When the enemy gets us to deny the GOOD that God is working in us, (“Oh, it was nothing.”) or to underplay our good qualities and deeds, the enemy easily leads us a step further, into fear, to imagine that God has abandoned us, provoking desolation. The enemy leads us to think that all we have done is worthless, undermining our trust in God. And our self esteem. Fear and discouragement betray the enemy’s presence. We’ve been hooked by a counterfeit “humility” which shrinks our souls.

  5. What a lovely post! You did your best to invite the cleaning crew women to the breakfast. Though they declined this time, I can’t help but think you planted a seed of welcome with them for the future.

  6. I haven’t heard that hymn in church for quite some time, but it fits so beautifully into the liturgy, and therefore our lives.
    And the comments about tabernacles called to mind another golden oldie, though not a song:
    O Sacrament most holy
    O Sacrament divine
    All praise and all thanksgiving
    Be every moment Thine.

  7. Our communities are poorer when those who decide they are not worthy, decline to participate. We should continue to look for ways to invite them to join us.

  8. So beautiful! I can relate with both sides…..I’ve been on both sides. We together make up the body of Christ.

  9. Lots of emotions and thoughts running through me after reading this post and the responses. First, no one is “worthy”; however, because we are “living tabernacles”, this “gift of grace” gives us a humble worthiness to say “yes.” I write this, but I do not always practice this way of responding to God’s grace. I, like all the women, respond with an “excuse” of why it can’t be me. Why I don’t fit in… If we but believe, we can move mountains (w/God’s grace), maybe I need to begin with the cliffs that block me from seeing grace within me. Thanks so very much for this post.

    • I heard Loyola Press writer Julianne Stanz say this week at the Catholic Media Conference: “we are tabernacles with feet!” I love that idea.

  10. Francesca and Brenda captured my thoughts and feelings perfectly! And now, I cannot stop singing this beautiful prayer. Bless you Loretta, for sharing this experience with us.
    (Now I need to google beyond the first verse, however!)

    • Here’s what I remember as verse 2: “And humbly I’ll receive thee, the bridegroom of my soul. No more my sin to grieve thee, or fly thy sweet control.”

  11. “IAm Not Worthy” is one of the loveliest pieces I’ve read recently. It brightened my morning. Thank you and may God bless you abundantly as you blessed my morning.

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