On Becoming What God Made You to Be As a Road to Glory

There was movie some years ago that most of you have seen called Toy Story. It had a deep impact on me for it came out a critical moment in my life.

It was my 33rd  year of life and my 6th year of priesthood. I had suffered a nervous breakdown that required a week in the hospital, and a month off recuperate. What drove me there was being asked to take an assignment I really wasn’t ready for.  I was asked to pastor a parish that was in serious financial trouble.

Invincible? But I was a young priest at the time and was still emerging from my “invincible” stage where I thought I could do anything. I guess it’s pretty common for men in their twenties to figure they can handle anything. In those years opinions are strong, dreams are still vivid, and hard experience has not always taught its tough lessons yet.

So the young priest in me said yes to the assignment, even though I had reservations. It’s proper to say yes to the bishop, but he had asked me to discern not simply obey. Soon enough the panic attacks came, followed by waves of depression, and days where I could barely come out of my room. All this and I hadn’t even reported to the assignment yet. A priest friend, my pastor, reached out and helped me discern I wasn’t ready and that it was OK to ask the Bishop to reconsider. I did so, but felt I was an utter failure. My personal sense of this humiliation had me further decline into depression and that’s when I sought help,  with the encouragement of others. A week in the hospital for evaluation, a month off to recuperate, and years of good spiritual direction, psychotherapy and sacraments  have been God’s way of restoring me to health.

Somewhere in the early stages of all this I saw Toy Story. And right away I know I was Buzz Lightyear.  Buzz begins the movie as a brash, would be hero, and savior of the planet. Buzz Lightyear’s theme was, To infinity….and beyond!  The only problem was that he seemed to have no idea he was just a toy. He actually thought he had come from a distant planet to save the earth. He often radios to the mother ship and, hearing nothing, concludes she must be just out of range.

At a critical point in the movie  it begins to dawn on Buzz that he is just a toy and may not be able to save the day. He struggles with this realization and resists it, leaping  to the rescue not knowing he can’t actually fly. He falls from the second floor and his arm breaks off. (See the second video below) Suddenly he realizes he is just a toy, that all his boasting was based on an illusion. He then sinks into a major depression since his sense of himself has been destroyed.

But God wasn’t done with Buzz Lightyear. In the end Buzz saves the day by simply being what he was made to be, a toy. One of the kids takes him up and attaches a rocket to him. In the end that enables Buzz to fly and save the day at a critical moment, with the help of friends.

The lesson of the movie is a critical one and certainly the lesson I learned in my own mid-life crisis.  And the lesson is that our greatness does not come from our own self-inflated notions, but from God. And God does not need us to pretend to be something we are not. What he needs is for us to be exactly what he made us to be. Buzz succeeds by realizing that he is a toy and being just that, a toy. As such he saves the day. For me  too, I have come to realize that I am but a man. I have certain gifts and lack others. Certain doors are open to me and others are not. But when I accept that, and come to depend on God to fashion and use me according to his will, then great things are possible. But if we go on living in sinful illusion and grandeur we miss our truest call and place in God’s kingdom. Ultimately we must come to discover the man or woman that God created us to be. That is our true greatness.

All from a cartoon.

Here is another very brief video from the Superbowl ads that makes a similar point. A young boy thinks he is invincible and strives to order about inanimate creatures. But then, like Buzz Lightyear (and me), he discovers his limits and doubts. In the end he actually succeeds. But what we know, and he still has to learn, is that the power is really from his “Father.”

Here is the clip from Toy Story where Buzz discovers he is just a toy:

And here is where buzz saves the day. A kid had attached a rocket to his back, meaning it for ill, (but God intended it for good!).

43 Replies to “On Becoming What God Made You to Be As a Road to Glory”

  1. Father,

    Your wisdom, generosity and strength of spirit always pour forth from your blog, and so I was surprised to read that you once had a “mid-life crisis”. I never would have guessed–silly me–but I guess we all need God to put us back together again. At any rate, I am heartened for myself, because may God continue to restore me as He has restored you!

  2. Amen. This ties in to your earlier post about being cracked and broken to let the Light in. We are works-in-progress … being refined by God.

  3. Great movie! We actually showed it at a church camp I worked at one year for similar reasons.

  4. We lost touch for many years and I had no idea you had gone through this. Very beautiful and moving post. We are great fans of Pixar movies here; they are always profound, while still entertaining for small children. I’m glad that Buzz taught you well!

  5. We are so blessed to share in the spillage of your awsome soul. We have a huge family and bunch ofgreat friends and we lov e to share YOU everyday when we talk about you and open their souls to You. This segmet answers a lot of the questions? Is thisguy real? Thank Gods creation of your tremendous soul. ! & thanks for the spillage!

  6. Wow- this is something I will think about, ponder, take to heart and return to many times in the future.
    Thanks so much for this great post.

    1. yes, lots to ponder from this great little movie. Another Child’s movie that I greatly appreciate is monsters inc. and perhaps that will be the subject of a future post.

  7. Monsignore; You are a true man of God.

    You are not a mathematician and you are not a bankier.
    Your lack of greed makes you a bad businessman and great priest.

    All is as it should be. Finans is a job for Judas Iscariot:
    Not for you.


  8. By the way Monsignore!

    Pixar made a 5 minutes and 42 seconds long cartoon called “The Chub Chubs”.
    I would recomend it to you all.

    To me the Chub Chubs themselves represent how I think Christians should aspire to be.
    Wise as serpents and innocent as doves. And very, very firm in the face of evil.

    Take 5 minutes and 42 seconds to view all of it.

    Thanks again!


  9. Thank you, Monsignor, for your inspiring testimony. I was so struck by the fact that this happened to you at he age of 33, the age of crucifixion! The painful and humiliating experience must have been a preparation for the greater job that was in store for you, meaning, where you are right now, and what you have achieved. You have proven that suffering does not lead to death, or utter deterioration of the soul, but is necessary for a new life to come forth. At least, the message that you have for me is that suffering speaks of hope!

    What you said about recognizing our own personhood and giftedness reminded me of what Mother Teresa said. To quote:
    “All of us have been given the opportunity—to be completely possessed by Jesus. The work He has entrusted to you and me is nothing more than putting our love for Him into action. What you do, I cannot do. What I do, you cannot do. But together, you and I can do something beautiful for God.”

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your mid life crisis. Today everyone pretends to have it all together and won’t listen when some of us unravel. Will need to get the Toy Story DVD’s.

  11. No one knows the burdens anyone else is carrying or has carried unless the other person shares that knowledge. Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for being courageous enough to lead by example in acknowledging the acceptability of not being Superman. NONE of us are, but because almost none of us are willing to publicly divulge serious evidence of our human limitations, it is more common than many suspect for a person to live a life of quiet desperation awaiting the day and hour when he will be exposed for the incompetent fraud he thinks himself to be. I used to be that way. Then God showed me that I in my heart of hearts should do everything I can and leave the rest to Him, including the credit for ANYTHING POSITIVE that comes out of my efforts. My constant refrain when working on any problem or chore is, “It’s up to You, God – whatever you want, I’m there for You.”

  12. I couldn’t believe that Toy Story has been around that long (not that I’m saying you’re old, Msgr Pope given that I’m not all that far behind you). So, I googled it…it’s been around since 1995!

    I’m sure you were watching a rerun 😉

    1. No, I saw right there in the theatre shortly after my month-long rest. One part of it I didn’t mention was that on the way to see it I was held up at gun point right in front the parish convent along with one of the sisters. But at that point I was feeling so low I didn’t really care if they had killed me, I was just angry that Sister had to suffer. I told her with ironic humor that I had a cloud over me and perhaps she should keep her distance!

      1. If I may ask: Who would hold a priest and a sister at gunpoint?
        20 bux says they`ll go to Hell in a handbag.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing,I needed to hear this today.God is so amazing how he helps us through other people.Thank you again

  14. Dear Monsignor Charles,

    Thank you for sharing.

    “A week in the hospital for evaluation, a month off to recuperate, and years of good spiritual direction, psychotherapy and sacraments have been God’s way of restoring me to health.”

    Glad to know that you have been restored to health by Him and are now trying hard to restore the spiritual health of others through your writings .

    I guess it is that long road that each of us has to take in our lives to find our way home.And every road is different for everyone though the destination is always the same.

    May your example of the long road you have taken be a true inspiration for others.

    Take care & God bless.

  15. Msgr. Pope

    You are truly a man of God. I have so much respect for you. Your humility is awesome. You inspire me to be more accepting of myself and have faith that our maker is truly a loving father. Thank you for setting an example and teaching so graciously.

    I am so grateful and blessed. I am sure God has placed us along this path as you continue to lead me and others to have faith and inch closer and closer to the light.


  16. Thank you for your bold honesty and humility. I have tears in my eyes as I read this post….we live in a world that demand perfection…in our appearance, home decor, achievement of our kids, the number of good friends we can claim, fascinating vacation destinations we have been to…it is not good enough anymore to be ordinary. I often read my husband’s alumni magazine from University of Chicago…the list of current activities from the twenty and thirty somethings is over the top…treks in Nepal, opening an organic sushi bar with pals, teaching English to a remote tribe in some offbeat corner of the world on a vacation from being a hedge fund manager of a major bank…the list goes on. This has affected our entire society and the true value of who we are before God has been lost. We are all in a mad race to live up to expectations that make us always feeling we can’t measure up. My sons know to get into a good college with a scholarship they can’t just be straight A – they need to have a resume of extracurricular activities that will IMPRESS!
    I think we need to meditate on the story of Martha and Mary…only one thing is necessary. Perhaps all of us need to take a breath and choose the” better part
    May God bless you always.

  17. There has to be something radically wrong in our society when a Priest takes his inspiration from a fantasy especially a movie. What ever happened to Jesus Christ and God? Then where are the saints especially Mary? Are you listening to the guiding light? otherwise known as the Pope? God’s word does not come through fantasy. The word fantasy and the word fan (spectator in sports) comes from the word fanatic. So it would be well for the good Priest to spend some time in discernment to see where he should be. We place our modern values in the secular world and completely forget our obedience to God and charity to all. For that we will surely pay the price just as Moses did in the forty years in the wilderness………

    1. Ah Rev. Father you must not be regular reader of this blog. Any regular reader knows that I take great inspiration from the scriptures, the catechism and prayer. You perhaps could take some greater inspiration from them as well and engage less in rash judgements. The blog seeks to explain and celebrate our faith but also to make connections to culture and find the Gospel where we can. It’s a mutlifaceted approach. Find a place in your heart in your heart for us dear father …..

    2. Christ looked in the world around him for “teachable moments” and brought into his circle those considered undesirable by polite society. Should he have walked silently by the woman being stoned, or spurned Peter the lowly fisherman?

      Why should our clergy not use elements in the world around us today to illustrate the teachings of the Church?

      1. God speaks to us through various mediums, Fr. John. Yes, you’re right, Scripture is one. And the Holy Father also. But God can also inspire us, speak to us, through people we meet, places we visit, the movies we see (fantasy or no fantasy), the internet, etc. The point is Msgr watched a movie, (by the way, he’s not the only priest that watches a movie and mentions it to the faithful in his reflection, my parish priest does it also), which helped him in his recovery. Should we not be rejoicing at that? It’s through the grace of God, via Buzz, that we still have Msgr around. Why don’t you give it a try, watch, “Toy Story.” You just might like it, Fr. John.

        Msgr, carry on, you’re doing a great job evangelizing! Thank you!.

  18. After clicking this link from a Catholic associated e-mail from my mother I figured I wouls read a couple of lines and discard. I am so happy I didn’t. This one I will save for future reference and inspiration. We are all broken and have a void that will never be completely filled until we are called home. For me personally the metaphor of this cartoon to our own recognition of humility (and therefore our growth in love for our Father ) was very touching. Physical and then later emotional pain coming from the events in downtown manhattan years ago made me have to reflect (which is ongoing lol) on how weak I am. But also how this pain can purify us so that we are more open to His love. And yes it takes humility to realize that God can touch our hearts even through a cartoon.

  19. What a kind reply to the previous comment, Msgr. Thanks so much for this post – it also brought tears to my eyes. I can remember exactly the moment when I jumped out the second story window. My “arm” and psyche still haven’t totally healed (playing God takes so much out of one!), but I am slowly learning to just be Buzz… I mean Jane. It’s a great blessing to have a priest who is willing to be vulnerable enough to enable the rest of us to be able to truly relate. God bless!

  20. I think I read that von Balthasar wrote that the saint is the person who most realizes they are not God. (I think it was a work of Cardinal Ratzinger in which I read it.Good intentions not being enough to get me into von Balthasar’s trilogy, one book of which, if I remember correctly, the quote is from. ).

    To be what we are created to be; isn’t that exactly what we are all struggling with ? And the God that is passionately reaching out to do this for us in many more ways that we ever realize. God often comes to us in ways not clearly labeled as God. Something the Pharisees were known to have a problem with.

  21. God bless you Mnsgr for this contribution. i too am young hopeful each day i pray to God He makes use of me with my Economics degree here where poverty is rampant and the nation needs schooled and God fearing graduates. your contribution will remind me to ask God to help me take it easy as well, with His help.

  22. You spoke to me and touched my soul. I am 65, widowed for 2 years. I lost a sense of myself, who I was or thought I was. I see in the little boy, many of us, wanting to use our own power instead of the power of “Our Real Father”. Guess I have to take off the Darth Vader mask and put on the Aromor of God. Thank you

  23. I was forwarded this by a parishioner. I was very touched by your sharing of such a painful time in your life and the grace of God working through it all. A wonderful reminder to me and all of us of what we are called to be. A humble relief isn’t it?

    God Bless, Michael

    Here’s my parishioner’s comments:
    I thought of you when I read this – all the activitieis you are involved in. I don’t know if it applies to you in anyway or not, but I thought I’d pass it along because I’ve been reading his stuff for several months now. He is really balanced in his viewpoint (he even lightened me on the music issue in a recent post. Go to the side of the page and read his recent posts.)

    After I sent this to you, I went into the family room and the kids were watching Toy Story II. Coincidence, I’m sure…

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