I pulled a great prank on my parishioners today at Mass. Several people told me it needs to be on my blog, so here it is!
I like to ask you three questions. Please answer them in your mind as best and honestly as possible: number one – why are you here? number two – what are you doing? and number three -where you going?
First why are you here? Why are you on the earth at this moment in time? Different people might answer that in different ways. Some people might say “well I’m just a step in the chain reaction that began with the Big Bang, and once the Big Bang began one thing started affecting another and now it’s just my turn to be here. So if we follow that through then we’re nothing more than cosmic dust left over from the Big Bang with no rhyme or reason and no specific purpose for being here at this time. Others might say – as a teenager once said to another upon whom he showed up on rather unexpectedly, “Where did you come from?” He answered, “well, my mother and father loved each other very, very much!” In that case we can say we’re simply the result of a conjugal act. Perhaps we might be able to say if we knew that mom and dad had planned to conceive a child at that point that we were at least willed into being by our parents, but if not, then we were just a byproduct of a conjugal act, maybe even an “oops!” Neither of those gives you much sense of personal value today. There is a third answer which of course is the Christian answer: why are you here? because God has willed it. He wants you here at this moment in time. None of us here is an accident to God; every one of us is here on this earth at this moment because God wants us here. That gives me value! That helps me know that I have a reason for existing, that if I don’t seem to matter to anybody else in the world, I matter to God and God wants me here.
Number two: what are you doing? What is your purpose for existing? Why you get up in the morning and get dressed and go to work or to school or whatever it is that you go each and every day? What’s the reason behind it? Some people never think it through. A lot of people have no answer to that question. “Well I just do it because that’s what we do. That’s what we’re trained to do and we just do our thing.” For many people it simply survival, just like animals in the wild who, whenever they wake up, they go to hunt and find their food and keep themselves from being some other animal’s food. So every day is just a struggle for survival – “eat or be eaten!” Of course that doesn’t give us much comfort. Then there’s the Lord’s message to us. The Christian answer to “what am I doing here?” is that I am here because God wants me here and God made me in his image and likeness. You are the only person just like yourself that God has ever made, and God is showing himself to the world through you in a way he has never done before; you have a way of showing God to the world that only you can do! In whatever you do each and every day you are called to radiate the face of Christ, to be the very face of Jesus to everyone you meet, so that the world by knowing you can know God, and the world will be a better place because you are in it! If you live your life each and every day remembering what you are doing – being Christ in the world even if it’s only in the simple gifts I have, in my limited ability to meet other people and interact with them, then whatever I do, whether it’s big-time or little, I do it to show the face of Christ to people. That gives me tremendous meaning! That gives a sense of worth to every day because every new day is an opportunity for me to show God to the world once again in a way that only I can do. It’s not anything I can pat myself on the back for, but that has been given to me by God the day I was created, and that gives the automatic answer to question number three, “where are you going?” What is the purpose of your life? Sadly, for many people, the ultimate goal again is just like everyday – survival, just trying to make sure we don’t get swallowed up before eventually something takes our lives, and that’s pretty dismal! When you think about it, when that happens our lives are no different from a bunch of prairie dogs running around frantically yelping a call to the others to try to find food and get into our holes quickly when a wolf or predator comes to try to grab us as a meal. We’re spending all of our time only trying to survive and avoid being swallowed up by the cruel cold world around us. That leads many people to live simply for pleasure, simply for hedonism, just to enjoy each and every day. In the beginning perhaps maybe that can feel good, but after a while it becomes pretty empty. We need more than just little pleasures.
For other people their goal is to make it big. Maybe they want to go to top. They want to be able to make something big of themselves so they can go to their high school reunion and show all those people who thought they were good for nothing what they became, and then of course they do go to their high school reunion and find out that all the people they thought were going to be impressed by them are more successful than they are, and they become rather depressed because they failed to achieve their goal. Their goal was too dependent upon other people and being better than what other people have done, and of course when they find other people also doing well, instead of being happy for them, they get annoyed.
Some people only want to move up the corporate ladder, to be number one, to become president or CEO or whatever it may be and they never do. Their goals are forever unaccomplished. Or perhaps they do get there and something happens and everybody is publicly embarrassed in the news and they need a scapegoat, and so the Board of Directors decides the CEO is the best to go, and all of their happiness – everything they worked for – is gone, just like that! For other people it’s to have that retirement home: doing everything possible to save money so when I retire I can buy myself a beautiful home on the shore and just sit and look at the sea every day and listen to the sound of the sea creatures. And they do, and that beautiful home gets wiped out in a hurricane! How many people set goals for themselves that never happen, that are either unrealistic or they don’t do anything to make those goals happen, and sometimes what we think is going to be so important turns out not to be very important at all. Maybe they dream of a huge mansion, and when they get it, they find out that it hasn’t made them happy; in fact, it’s just more rooms to clean! Our lives are filled with stories of people who claim they got everything they wanted and are still unhappy. It’s not a rare moment that somebody gets everything they wanted on this earth and quickly discover they have nothing!
Where are we going? Of course God ultimately has one thing in store for us: he is calling us to his glory in his kingdom. God wants us to be with him so that we when we pass through this earth when we can sit and bask on the glory of the face of Christ. Sometimes we dismiss that all too quickly; we look for all the earthly things and we forget about the heavenly things. If it sounds like I’m praising myself in what I am about to write, please forgive me as that’s not my intention, but I can tell you that as a priest that I know great happiness and peace following God every day. How many people if they found out their life were ending might lament that they didn’t accomplish all the things on their bucket list. I can honestly say that if I were to find out that my life was ending tomorrow I have done what I wanted to do, that I have already reached everything that I have wanted in my life. My purpose in living is not to reach a personal goal of anything I want to accomplish in this life but just to continue each and every day doing what God has asked me to do. You may know that Pope Francis is not keen on making monsignors. Someone asked me if I was disappointed and I responded, “Who cares? I don’t like the color magenta anyway!” Twenty-four years ago I got the only title I ever wanted, the title of “father”, and since then I have just been doing what God asks of me. I’m not perfect and I am not trying to make myself out to be a saint. I have my sins and my shortcomings and my failures, but my life is not an ambitious goal to try to do something for myself but trying my best to do what God wants me to do each and every day, to be his face to everyone I meet, so that when I die I can enter his kingdom and gaze upon Christ forever. Has given me a peace each and every day that I would wish on anyone of you, that I would hope that all of you could know, and when we realize that we are here because God wants us here, that we are called to radiate his face to everyone we meet, and are going to the glory of his kingdom, that gives us all the meaning our lives could ever desire! When you have Jesus, who could ask for anything more? May Jesus Christ be praised!
From time to time I enjoy reading comments people post related to internet news stories. Some are juvenile and insulting, but others are intelligent and well-written. Today a story appeared on MSN of yet another fragment of an ancient text that says that Jesus had a wife. Of course, many people immediately hauled out the worn-out canard that another proof that the Church is wrong has surfaced, and that the Church maliciously suppressed these documents because they showed a truth they didn’t want to acknowledge. Historians have always known that these documents existed, but they also have always known that they have no historical credibility. They were not written by people reporting what Jesus truly said and did. Rather, they were deliberately fabricated by groups such as the Gnostics in an attempt to make people believe the vision of Christianity that they desired to see but which Jesus did not in fact create. A married Jesus would suit their needs well, so they created it. The truth is that these documents were not delegated to the dustpans of history because they were ruthlessly suppressed, but because no one took them seriously, and they were simply abandoned as worthless.
But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I wish to comment on what some people wrote in defense of the faith. Numerous people, in a valiant attempt to defend the veracity of the Church, pointed out that the heart of the Gospel is not whether or not Jesus married but his call to love one another. There were numerous posts of this nature: “God just wants us to love one another”, “Love God and love your neighbor”, “Be kind to one another”, etc. All of this is and true and good. But it is not the summation of the Gospel, and therein is where I think we have been weak in defending the faith and perhaps why it is not as popular is it should be.
I frequently receive responses from people stating that “Jesus understands” and “God just wants me to be happy.” The implication is that if Jesus loves us he’ll never allow us to be uncomfortable or suffer. Even parishes often avoid anything uncomfortable, and some priests have restricted their preaching to what I call “marshmallow theology” – soft, sweet, and fluffy, but containing no nutritional value. They limit themselves to preaching a sort of self-help psycho-spirituality, where you simply remember that God loves you and that you are special, so give yourself a big hug from God and remember how much he loves you! Well that’s nice and that’s true, but that’s Barney! Somehow I think the second person of the Blessed Trinity took on our human nature and died on the cross to teach us a little more than we can learn from a purple dinosaur! Some people even go so far as to think that Jesus doesn’t care about sin but only about how much we love him. I think Jesus cares about sin very much – enough to die on the cross to save us from it. Yes, God is all loving, all-compassionate, and all-forgiving. But there is more to God than that, and we frequently forget that side of him and have thereby presented the world with “Jesus the wimp!”
Any high school student playing a sport knows a good coach presses him to be the best he can be. At the time, the kid may not like it very much and may even curse out his coach. But when he wins a tournament or a medal, he is grateful that the coach pushed him even when he felt like he was at his limit, for he knows it was the coach’s belief in his potential and his constantly challenging him to be all he could be that made him succeed. Well, God is no different! Jesus loves us unconditionally and wants us to overcome sin and be strong against the devil. Yes, he tells us how much he loves us, but precisely because he loves us, he is not going to allow us to make excuses as to why we can’t do what he teaches us. He tells us the road will be rocky, but he will help us walk it. I specifically remember debating a young man who was gay who was trying to convince me that Jesus understood his plight and would allow him to have a homosexual relationship. He asked me, “What do you think Jesus would say to someone who told him he was gay?” His assumption was that Jesus would say, “I understand. Go out and love another man.” Instead, I told him I know exactly what Jesus would tell him, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me!” Jesus is not a wimp, and the Gospel is not for wimps. To follow the Lord is a real challenge. Sometimes we forget to challenge people to be better than what the world says they can be. Maybe the fact that we have not presented people with the challenge but with a wimpy Jesus is a big part of the reason people don’t come to church any more. Who wants to worship a wimp?
Yes, following the Lord can be hard at times. If people have fallen into a deep pit, and one is able to climb out, what does he do for the others? He tells them that, yes the walls are steep and the climb will be difficult, but that is the only way to get out of the pit. He encourages them every step of the way to follow in his footsteps, as that is the only way to salvation. He doesn’t just sit on the rim and tell them to hold hands and sing Kumbaya!