When I was a new priest, I was stationed in the Hudson Valley of New York, a couple of thousand miles away from my sponsoring diocese (Rio Grande). So there was a priest back home who was assigned to keep up with me. He phoned one day and asked how I was doing.

As it happens, yours truly had been taught in grade school that it is wrong to say, “I am good,” since “good” is an adjective and what one needs is an adverb, a word that tells how you are doing, not what you are. My teachers had said that the correct answer is, “I’m well, thank you.” In New Mexico, I had noticed people saying, “I’m fine, thanks,” which does the same work, “fine” being an adverb also.

But in those days, New Yorkers talked differently. They said, “I’m good.” In those days this was (it seemed to me) a regional difference, although now it’s everywhere. I was learning how to talk (and live) like a New Yorker. So I told him on the phone, “I’m good.”

Without missing a beat he replied: “No one is good but God alone.” He chuckled over the line—he was that way, sharp and witty but also friendly. I could imagine the smile on his face as he said it. The line, of course, is Jesus’, replying to people who had addressed him as “good teacher.” But this experienced New Mexican priest was (as I like to say) correcting at once both my grammar and my theology. I might be doing well, but only God is truly good.


 These thoughts recently recurred to me. I was thinking of that lovely, simple hymn, “There is a green hill far away,” which is about Jesus’ death on the cross. One stanza says: “There was no other good enough.” Jesus was good in every respect: he was the only truly good human being. He was truly, fully human—no one else was. “Good” applied to him as an adjective in truth: he was just what a human being should be.

All the rest of humanity falls short. We are not truly or fully human (which is what we mean when we say we are sinners: sin is a subtraction from our humanity). Only Jesus is good enough: only he is fully human, a truly good human being.

The hymn goes on to declare: “He died to make us good.” Jesus died so that sin and its effects might be taken away from us, which is to say, he died so that we ourselves might become fully human. To be fully human is to be a good human being. He died to make us good.

All of which means: if someone asks you how you’re doing, and you think of yourself as living in Christ, if you think of yourself as you will be when salvation is consummated for you and for all who are in Jesus, then it is correct to say, “I’m good.”

Jesus died to make us good.


Out & About. At the lovely Holy Trinity Church in Bonham, Texas, on Thursday, October 5, at 5:30 p.m., I will launch a study of my little book, A Post-Covid Catechesis. I will also join them at the end of their study, on November 30. Bonham is a gem, worth a visit—feel free to join us.

On Sunday, October 8, I will lead the Good Books & Good Talk seminar in a discussion of Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Anyone who reads the novel is welcome to the conversation: at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas from 5 to 6:30 p.m. And if you aren’t able to read it, you’re still welcome to come and listen.

 And the next Sunday, October 15, also at 5 p.m., I will offer the fall theology lecture, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. My topic is “Divine Distinctions.” You can come for the lecture—or for the Q&A—or for the reception (or any combination of the foregoing)!

September 11, Twenty-two Years Ago

As everyone who was in the area remembers, September 11, 2001, was a clear, shining day. Not so memorable, perhaps, is what it was like to live in the world before the iPhone. My wife, Susan, and I were even less connected, having eschewed television. Thus, when I drove her to physical therapy at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, we knew not what was going on.

I left her there and headed for Marist College, where my ethics class was meeting at 9:30. I had turned on the radio and soon learned that a plane had flown into a building in New York City. (I think now that it was the second plane.) Although the drive was short, I heard enough to reckon this was going to be big.

My students were all there, ready for class (as ready as college students can be at 9:30 in the morning). I had decided to say nothing about the planes. They said nothing about them—if they knew. We had a normal class, which is my instinct: Class time spent on the timeless is worth more than timely discussion in the long run (and we would have been speculating without any knowledge at that point). At the end I told them something had happened that morning, something closely connected to ethics, and that we would be discussing it when we met on Friday.

I joined my wife for the end of her therapies, and we spent the rest of the day in that odd quiet space that I’ve oft imagined is like the eye of a hurricane. . . .

My ethics class was different that semester. My students had the acquired reflexes to think in relativistic terms. About some ethical claim, they would say, “That might be wrong for you, but for someone else it could be right.” They had been trained to be sensitive to people who had different opinions and beliefs; and indeed, it is a good thing to try to get inside other peoples’ minds, to see things as they do.

However, for the rest of the fall of 2001, whenever someone would make a relativistic comment, another student would say: “But flying those planes into the Twin Towers was wrong.” Something new in our lives had happened: We had seen a horror perpetrated on a large scale not far from home. We had a point of reference for something that was wrong, period. . . .


    The above is extracted from a column I wrote for the Human Life Review website. For the whole column, go to:


    Out & About. This Sunday, Sept. 17, I am to preach at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, at 9 and 11:15am.

    On Oct. 8, I will lead the Good Books & Good Talk seminar in a discussion of Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Anyone who reads the novel is welcome to the conversation: at St. Matthew’s from 5 to 6:30 p.m. And if you haven’t read it, you’re welcome to come and listen.


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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: