“Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14.22-23)
“Hello, Operator. Is heaven in the yellow pages? Mommy went to Heaven, but I need her here today. My tummy hurts and I fell down, I need her right away. Operator can you tell me how to find her in this book?
“Is heaven in the yellow part, I don’t know where to look. I think my daddy needs her too, at night I hear him cry. I hear him call her name sometimes, but I really don’t know why. Maybe if I call her, she will hurry home to me. Is Heaven very far away, is it across the sea? She’s been gone a long, long time she needs to come home now! I really need to reach her, but I simply don’t know how. Help me find the number please, is it listed under “Heaven”? I can’t read these big big words, I am only seven.
“I’m sorry operator, I didn’t mean to make you cry. Is your tummy hurting too, or is there something in your eye? If I call my church maybe they will know. Mommy said when we need help that’s where we should go.
“I found the number to my church tacked up on the wall. Thank you operator, I’ll give them a call.”
A question. Is this boy right? Does the Church really know? Can the Church really help?
Society in which we live
It was Abba Anthony who once said that there will come a time when everyone will become crazy and when they see a normal person, they will laugh at him and say ‘Look, a crazy man!’ Sometimes I think these are the times Abba Anthony was referring to!
I go to Church meetings and many bemoan how hard it is to live the Gospel today. Within the Church – let alone outside it! -, many believe that the world is ‘fun’ while Jesus Christ is demanding and burdensome. Sin is great while virtue is dull. When religion flashes in our mind, immediately the words sacrifice – melanchony – commandments zoom on the screen.
All of us are being fooled into believing the new commandment of our society – Thou Shalt Consume. We follow it blindly. The pulpiteers of consumerism with the media at their back lay the rules and demand that we comply blindly. One of the few remaining outspoken prophets of our times, Pope John Paul II, called it “tyranny”. Magazines, TV, Internet all scream out to us… the latest, the fastest, the cheapest, the most comfortable. A car becomes a “Trouble-free relationship.” “Love is musk.” People become buffoons on the media.. hugging toilet tissue or stroking velvety car seats! Consumerism feeds on our unhappiness. Happy people feel no urge to consume, they want to live! They do not find Merit in cigarettes, or Joy in a detergent, or Life in a cereal!!
The Church in which we live
What is sad is that few, very few know that in the Church there is an inheritance which can relieve us from all this pain. There is a treasure which is ours to claim. There is a pool which can regenerate us. There is an deep real answer to the boy of the story.
Because, believe it or not, it costs NOT to be a Christian today. Really! Saint Paul tells his Corinthians who had entered into this we-are-worse-off attitude that, “all things are yours … the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor 3,22-23). We are extremely rich! We are throwing away a fortune if we do not become adult Christians. We are missing on life! We are missing on joy, “an inexpressible and glorious joy” (I Pet 1,8). We are missing on security. We are missing on peace of conscience. We are missing on hope.
There is an exquisite story in the Desert Fathers. When the Abba was sick, one of his disciples came to help him. By mistake, instead of serving him the honey which he needed, he fed him the oil which the Abba kept for the lamp in front of the Icon. The Abba drank with difficulty the oil, until at a certain moment he said “I do not want any more. That’s enough.” The brother, in an encouraging mood, tasted this new ‘treat’. Immediately he realized his terrible mistake, and while making makes a deep curtsy in front of the sick Abba, asked him why he has not told him anything! The answer of the Abba is simply delightful: “My son, God wanted that this morning I drink this food. Otherwise you would not have put oil instead of honey in the food. It was the Lord, do not worry!” This is wisdom. The ability to see God in the events. The ability not to fight the events but to accept them, knowing that they are strokes of genius coming from a Master who is smart and loving. Million times smarter than us. Billion times more caring than we can ever be!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 313, carries these precious witnesses : “‘We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him.’ (Rom 8,28) The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth: St. Catherine of Siena said to ‘those who are scandalized and rebel against what happens to them’: ‘Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind.’ St. Thomas More, shortly before his martyrdom, consoled his daughter: ‘Nothing can come but that that God wills. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best.’ Dame Julian of Norwich: ‘Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord showed in this time – that ‘all manner (of) thing shall be well.”
This is the attitude which God creates in the Christian. Not a stupid indifference or insensibility. But a deep awareness in the presence of God around us and within us! This is our fortune.
Flip over the omelet
A French woman, a successful pianist and later a cloistered Carmelite nun, contemporary of her better known sister in Carmel, St Therese of Lisieux, Elizabeth Catez of the Trinity, lived all her later life on this simple conviction. “O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.” Never alone. Never unaccompanied. Always inhabited!
France again, this time a man, born over two hundred years before Elizabeth, lived this same conviction. And he was happy. His name was Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a humble Discalced Carmelite lay brother, cook and sandal maker to his large Carmelite community. He lived all his life focused on this simple truth : God is here. God is in me. God is present. “The holiest and most necessary practice of the spiritual life is the presence of God: of itself it is pleasing, it accustoms us to his presence, and by it we converse lovingly with him all the time….. It is not necessary to be always in church, to be with God. We ought to make our hearts an oratory, into which we retire from time to time, speaking with him there, sweetly, humbly and lovingly…. Do everything for the love of God. Everything can be used to show God our love and to maintain his presence within… I flip over my omelet in the pan for love of God… We could not have too much confidence in such a good and faithful friend, who never fails us in this world or the next….”
We are really lucky! We carry inside us an enormous treasure.
Christ, the Son of God, has conquered death for us and He comes with us. He accompanies us. What for? To relieve us from the burden of sin and to give us new lease of life. An inner transformation. His power gives us the fire we need. That is why the Orthodox Church writes “Nike! Nike!” = “Victory! Victory!” on the Eucharistic bread. Christ has won, he has freed us, he has broken the chains that kept us slaves. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Rest! Six million tourists come to Hawaii every year. Do they find rest? Are they victorious? Does Waikiki solve their problems?!
The Christian is called to be a herald of this enormous news. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8).
Jesus Christ makes us sharers of His Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He makes us Sons of the Father. And so we can call God “Abba!” daddy, father! He makes us one with the Father. He gives us God’s own nature. The divine nature!
These can remain words. Or they can become a living burning reality in our lives. “The triune God, Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, come to us while we are coming to Them: They come with help, we come with obedience; They come to enlighten, we to behold; They come to fill, we to contain” Saint Augustine.
The choice is ours! It is not a question of achieving these things. We can never do it! It is a question of receiving them. The inhabitation of the Trinity within us is a gift. This is why only one question is important now. Do you believe that God loves you so much and is powerful enough to create this new person in you?
No one can answer that for you!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.