What Is Glory? – Francis Alvarez SJ

When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31).

Judas had taken his leave to betray Jesus, and Jesus knew this. Why then did Jesus say, “Now is the Son of Man glorified”? Why did Jesus not say, “This is treachery! Woe is me, and greater woe to those who will make me suffer!” How could Jesus say that this was glory? What is glory?

When Joseph-Desiré Mobutu rose to power in Congo, he amassed vast personal wealth – up to $15 billion in some estimates. He cruised on his own personal yacht. He erected a palace which was called “the Versailles of the jungle.” For shopping trips, he would charter a Concorde to Paris. The nightly TV newscast opened with an image of him descending from the heavens like a god. But when his people had enough of his corrupt and exploitative leadership, rebel forces expelled him from the country. He died in exile, his billions unable to save him from prostate cancer. He had renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga – “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.” But what did he really leave in his wake? Mobutu Sese Seko’s enduring legacy is being branded as the archetypal African dictator. Today, people look back at his reign and call it a kleptocracy. What is glory?

Many years ago, my English poetry professor began our class by exclaiming, “This weekend, I was blessed to witness one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen.” Because this was poetry class, I expected her to describe a sunrise or maybe a starry sky. Instead she told us about her car stalling on a dusty provincial road. As she waited for her driver to finish fiddling around with the engine, she spied a woman putting broken hollow blocks in a sack, as a toddler and another child not much older looked on. When the sack was a quarter full, the woman tied it shut, flung it over her back, then with a deep breath swung it forward, hitting the ground in front of her with as much force as she could muster. This she did again and again. After about a minute, the sack tore and cement pieces came flying out. She then gathered these and proceeded to crush them with a rock she had found.

Curious, my professor told her driver to ask the woman what she was doing. The driver learned that the woman had been paid a few pesos to smash the broken hollow blocks. Without even considering why this had to be done, wouldn’t you say how the woman chose to do it was… well… stupid? Of course, the sack was not going to last. Wasn’t there a more efficient way to pulverize hollow blocks?

But the woman had nothing. Her two children were hungry. Then mercifully came this opportunity to earn some money. My poetry professor was teary-eyed as she recounted her tale. Then she said, “This is beauty.” I could not understand this then, but now I can add to my teacher’s statement and say, “This is glory.”

Another story: Some nights ago, I was at a 24-hour drugstore. The first thought that entered my mind when I saw the night cashier was: “Some men should not grow beards.” I feel I can say this with authority because I am one of those men. When I try to encourage facial hair growth, all I end up with are uneven patches of scraggly strands. The man scanning my items was similarly follicly challenged. Mischievously, I grabbed a disposable razor displayed nearby and asked, “Have you ever tried this brand?”

Later that week, I had my purchases checked out by the same cashier – but this time I was at a supermarket. I asked him, “Didn’t we meet a night or two ago at a drugstore?” He smiled and answered, “Probably. That’s my other job.” Surprised, I blurted out the obvious, “You have two?” “Yes. It’s because my first child will be starting college soon,” he beamed.

The price of the item he was scanning was not registering so he pressed a button for help. While waiting, he started picking at his facial hair and plucking what he could. No wonder his beard was so patchy. He must have caught me staring, and so he tried to explain, “Sorry. I do this when I’m anxious.” “Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure the problem is with the computer system. Not you.” “No, no – it’s not about this item. It’s about my eldest. She is not really sure about her major. I’m afraid she may not be happy about her course.”

I found myself smiling. If I were him and I had to work two jobs to send my daughter to college, I would tell her, “Enough about happiness and fulfillment. Just finish as fast as you can.” As that father again started pulling out what facial hair he could, I realized that in front of me was the most glorious beard I had ever seen.

What is glory? It is not about being rich and decked in finery. It is not about being smart or famous or powerful. It is not about winning or getting the upper hand. Sometimes, the world might consider you a loser, but you can still have glory. Real glory, that which truly lasts, is the glory that comes when we try to love. This is why after talking about glory, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35). This is how we will be part of God’s glory – if we have love for one another.

When did you last experience glory? I hope you think of not only when you graduated. Or got promoted. Or got praised for an achievement. I hope you also think of when you got hurt by someone but still tried to reach out. Or when you were ignored but still found joy in someone else’s triumph. Or when you felt you had poured out everything you had but still had the strength not to complain. Or any other time you were able to say, “It is not about me; it is about something bigger than me.” That is glory.

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