As you can imagine, I meet quite a few people in my travels. In Miami a month ago, I met for the first time an executive hirer, a woman who goes out and hires corporation executives for other firms. Her approach is interesting. She always tries to disarm these prospective employees by making everything look casual - small talk, a drink, sitting leisurely on a comfortable chair, asks about family, football, whatever, until the guy is all relaxed. Then point blank, and looking squarely in the eye, she asks : "What's your purpose in life?" It's amazing, she was saying, how top executives fall apart at that question.
One guy however surprised her. She was speaking with this man when she popped up the one million question : 'What's your purpose in life, Bob? Really, what's the point in living? What the heck are you living for?' Without blinking an eye, he answered back 'To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can'. And then he added 'Obvious, no?' 'For the first time in my career,' she told me 'I found myself speechless! I just could not utter one single word....'
We live. Everyone has a certain number of years, months, days to live. No more, nor less. I remember once how this woman speaking at a funeral remarked how in an obituary they always print two dates - date of birth and date of death and in the middle they put in a dash - a dash that represents all the time that one spends on this earth. And she was saying how what matters most in life is that little dash! What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
Can faith make a difference in this dash? Can faith in Jesus Christ help us to live more peacefully, more happily? Or not? Many believe that it does not make any difference. The empty benches staring at everyone on a normal Sunday mass are a clear indication that many believe that life is elsewhere.
But others believe that faith does make a difference. Friday July 6 was the feast of Saint Maria Goretti, the young girl who was murdered - stabbed seventeen times - because she refused to be raped by a 19 year old neighbor Alessandro. When later on, her mother Maria Assunta was asked what she thinks of this guy who killed her daughter, she always answered "No, do not speak bad of him. He is so contrite! Maria forgave him, how can I not forgive him? Of course he has done a very serious sin, but God was able to bring out so much good from so much evil."
God exists. God cares. God is even able to bring good out of disaster. This is the vision. Jesus Christ came on earth to unmask the lie of the devil. The devil uses the bad things which happen to us to convince us that God does not care, that God is indifferent to our real-life situations, that in life we have to battle on our own. 'If God exists', the devil tells us, 'why this marriage, why this liver problem, why this lack of money... Give me a break, God is enjoying life up there, sitting on a sofa, and we are down here with all our problems, with all our pain, with all our struggles... To hell with God above and God below!' And we believe this lie and we find ourselves alone and sad.
Jesus Christ came to tell us the opposite. Even if you kill me, my Father will still love you. His love is bigger than your sins, whatever they are. Many are parents and so can emphasize well with the father of this story. An eighteen year old kid is brutally attacked and kicked and thrown to the ground. By the time the police intervene, this young man is completely beaten up - blood all over, face swollen,bones broken... The father, informed, runs to the scene, hugs his boy even if he is dirty and full of blood, and tries to encourage his son. "Father, listen, I am dying...." "No, son! You shall see. The ambulance will soon be here and we shall take good care of you..." "No, dad, I am dying.. I can feel it..." "No, son, you are not dying. Everything will be OK. You will see." "Please dad, listen to me. Can I ask you a favor?" "Of course my son, whatever you desire. Tell me." And in a breaking fainting voice the son whispers his last wish : "Father, ...please... forgive... those... who ...have... beaten me!" And then he dies...
This is not fiction. This is what happened on the cross in Calvary. God wanted to affirm through a real historical fact his immense love for us. He loves us even if we do the atrocity of killing his only son.
If only people would discover the love of God. Unfortunately many never think of God. Or, if they think, they think badly of him. They believe that he is up there with a stick ready to hit us if we do a mistake. A kind of a sin-terminator. If only people can discover that God has the heart of a mother : "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you..." " We may "nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast' and we may "drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom". The prophet Isaiah 66 is so emphatic and so real.
The good news of Jesus Christ is decisive. Souls depend on it. The happiness of your children depend on it. Jesus alone, and no other, is the answer to the human heart longing of something real. His Gospel is the news that everyone is expecting. We have the cure to cancer. We have found an antidote to aids. Fantastic!
This is why Jesus chose disciples and send them ahead of him. This is why He chose us and sent us to 'cure the sick', to announce 'peace to this house', to announce 'the kingdom of God'.... (Luke 10).
We are on a God given mission. "I send you out", he says, which leads St. John Chrysostom to comment: "This suffices to give us encouragement, to give us confidence and to ensure that we are not afraid of our assailants" (Homily on St. Matthew, 33).
I went to see a friend of mine who was in hospital. She looked so tired, exhausted. 'Are you not sleeping at night?' I asked. 'Why don't you ask the doctor to give you a sleeping tablet? It may help, no?' She smiled at me. That beautiful smile which only she has. 'I can,' she answered. 'But I do not want to. You see I do not want to sleep. Many times during the night my room mate here needs assistance. I need to stay awake so that I can call the nurse because she cannot do it..."
I always knew my friend was a good mother and an excellent wife. That moment I discovered that she is more, much more. She is Christ like. She is a Christian. She is announcing the Gospel.
This is evangelization. When the beggar at the Beautiful Gate asked Peter for alms (Acts 3:2-3), he answered, "I have no silver or gold" . As St. Ambrose points out, "It is as if he were saying, `You see in me a disciple of Christ, and you ask me for gold? He gave us something much more valuable than gold, the power to act in His name. I do not have what Christ did not give me, but I do have what He did give me: In the name of Jesus Christ, arise and walk'.
Faith conquers death. Every death.
(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.