This happened very early in my priesthood. I was listening to the confessions of small children and since there were no lines waiting, I entertained myself to a conversation with John, a small tiny kid of six.
“Do you love God?” I started. “Of course, Father!” was his immediate answer. “And can you tell me where he is?” I expected the normal obvious answer ‘everywhere’, so you can imagine my surprise when he said, “God is in the bathroom”.
This answer startled me. I was expecting anything but that. “What?!” I exclaimed, looking as composed as I could. “Why in the bathroom?!”
“Yes, God is in the bathroom”, he reassured me calmly. “Just before I came here to Church, my mum gave me a shower and I forgot hanging in the bathroom, the medallion of Jesus that I always carry around my neck!”
I just said ‘hmmm’ on the outside, but inside I laughed heartily at the naivety of this child.
A boy has the right to be naive and unsophisticated. However this simplicity becomes problematic when we carry it in our later years. My experience tells me that many of us carry the same misconception all throughout our lives.
Deep down we believe that religion is something that has value or utility only within the Church walls. Outside, life is different. Outside, we shed off our ‘religious’ garb and start thinking and acting differently.
Jesus Christ has nothing to do with sports, work, family life, business, leisure… I remember once taking cue of a very important soccer tournament that was going on at the time, to bring out a point in a homily. A parishioner apparently took this reference to soccer badly because he sent me a letter expressing his disapproval. “Jesus Christ has nothing to do with sports”, he concluded in his letter.
Really? I beg to disagree. I believe that Christianity is an all-encompassing reality that can and should permeate our whole life.
There is no split between religion and life. Religion is about life. And life can become religion – a liturgy of thanksgiving and of union with God.
Outside of the bathroom, God can make life more livable.
One thing, for example, that bothers us in life is fear. Fear of tomorrow, fear of darkness, fear of not being loved, fear of not finding the right job, fear of not having enough money to pay our bills, fear of what may happen to our kids, fear of getting sick, fear of failing an exam, fear of being reprimanded… fear… fear.. fear…
Sometimes this fear is so big that it eats us from inside. Other times it is so subtle that it paralyses us. Why are we afraid? Because we feel that the situation we are in is bigger than us. We believe we do not have the inner resources to tackle it adequately.
The Word of God however goes even deeper. (This is how religion helps us in life!) The first time the word ‘fear’ appears in the Scripture is after the sin of Adam and Eve. “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid…” This is very interesting!
No one believes that there is a relationship between sin and fear. Everyone believes that sin is fun. Sin is exciting, enjoyable! Sin is good, we think.
But the Word of God tells us that sin is poison. It weakens us. It destroys us. God told Adam not to sin not because sin offended God but because sin harmed Adam and God did not want Adam to be hurt.
Sin empties us of out inner strength. Gradually life becomes boring and we start being disgusted with ourselves. Sin weakens us.
On the contrary sanctity strengthens us. It bolsters our inner stamina. Because all the supernatural aid that is available in heaven trickles into us and gives us inner resources unimaginable before.
Take Amma Sarah. She was a woman who went to live in the desert to be constantly near to God and to help the world through her intercession to heaven. It is related that for thirteen years she waged warfare against the demon of fornication. However she never prayed that the warfare should cease but on the contrary she pleaded “O God, give me strength’. She knew she could make it with his power.
Take Abba Bes. Once a hippopotamus was ravaging the countryside just outside the desert where abba Bes, one of the desert Fathers lived. The people came to him asking for help. He left his cell and went waiting for this enormous beast to come forward. The moment he saw it coming, he looked into its eyes and commandingly ordered her “In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to ravage this countryside anymore.” The hippopotamus turned around and calmly went away. It never came back.
Take the cab driver in Ireland. “What are you reading?” a man asked as he entered the cab. “The New Testament, Sir.” “Why do you read it?” “I love it, Sir.” “What is your creed?” “Very simple, Sir: Believe in what Christ has said. Obey all that Christ has commanded. Expect all that Christ has promised.”
Let us bring God out of the bathroom!!
(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.