Something I often come across as a priest is this: when someone has died, or someone has become very ill, it often makes people angry, because they feel that God has let them down, or even betrayed them. Working in a hospital for a few years I would often hear people say: ‘I never hurt anyone. Why has God done this to me?’ ‘God owes me.’ It is as if there was a legal contract and if we keep our side of it, then God is obligated to keep his side of it, by looking after us and making sure that nothing happens to us. This is also one of the effects of Original Sin. We are suspicious of God and not convinced that He is good. We are quick to blame God when things go wrong and only to thank and praise him for the things that suit us.
The problem is that there is no love in this way of thinking. There is no love in a legal contract. It is just a contract, on paper, or by word of mouth. However, there is one big difference with the way God works. God relates to us on the basis of love alone. Everything that we have is a gift from God, out of love. We do not deserve any of it and we have not earned any of it. God does not owe us anything and will never owe us anything. If I manage to be faithful to my priesthood and to all that the Lord Jesus asks me to do as a Christian, then when I die, I cannot demand eternal happiness from him. He does not owe me anything. It is his undeserved gift, for no reason except that He wants to give it to me, just as we gifts to people we love, for no other reason than that we love them. That is why whatever we do on this earth for the Lord, is supposed to be done out of love for him and because he asks us to do it. Our relationship with God is meant to be one of love.
Look at the first words of the Gospel: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ ‘If you love me…’ What would you do for someone you love? Would you keep their wishes? Would you respect them? Would you keep their commandments, God’s Commandments?
It is interesting how many people have the idea that you should follow all the demands of your faith ‘in so far as they suit you’. If it doesn’t suit you then obviously you don’t do it. That is the mentality of our world and it is a selfish mentality. We are constantly told that we don’t owe anything to anyone and we shouldn’t have to do anything unless it suits us. What do I get out of it?
When you hear someone say that mass is boring, it really means they feel that they should get something out of it. It is about their satisfaction. But it’s not. Coming to mass each Sunday is about us making a sacrifice of our time to worship and acknowledge God, because He is God. No other reason is needed.
I have rarely heard people say they were bored at a funeral. That’s because they know why they are there.
The idea of sacrifice is not part of the thinking of our world. Jesus does not tell us to follow him on our own terms, but on his terms. In other words, we must try to live as He asks. They are commandments and not suggestions. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’
However, we must also remember that anything God tells us to do, is for our benefit. God knows exactly how we work and also what will help us to grow and blossom. He knows the path we need to follow, which will lead us to happiness. So, He points out the way and tells us how we need to live. ‘If you live as I command you, you will be alright.’ Unfortunately we do not always trust God and we often think that we know better. That is also why they are commandments and not suggestions. God is well aware that we often think we know better, so He tells us which path is the one to take. For our part we must trust him, even when it does not seem to make sense to us.
Our faith can certainly be demanding, but any way of life worth living is demanding. If I wish to be a Catholic and to follow the way of Jesus Christ, then this is what is expected of me. These are the demands of our faith, but while it is demanding, it is not beyond us, because God gives us the strength we need to live it. He gives us ‘The Advocate,’ the Holy Spirit, to give us both strength and understanding. The Spirit empowers us to live as God asks us to. Think of the Apostles when they received the Spirit. They were completely transformed and the Spirit took away all their fear. From then on they were able to preach with power and authority, because God had given them the strength they needed.
It says in the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostles continually prayed with people so that they would receive the gifts of the Spirit, what we call Confirmation. The Lord gives us everything we need to live as He asks, so we can never say that it was too much for us. Not only that, but the Lord comes to us himself in the Eucharist, to accompany us every step of the way. So we are not walking this journey on our own. Jesus is with us for as much as we allow him to be.
Jesus also says that the Spirit is ‘The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept.’ At this time in particular we need that truth, because it has become so distorted. How do we know what really is true? Ask the Spirit. Pray to the Spirit. God speaks to us through his Spirit, through his words and through his Church. If you are confused about what really is right and wrong regarding all the crazy teachings we are hearing about, read the Scriptures and pray to the Spirit. Jesus says, ‘He will teach you everything.’
The farther people stray from God, the more confused they get, until they no longer know what is right and wrong. But we are blessed, because all we have to do is read the Scriptures and listen to the Spirit teaching us through his Church. That way we are not dependent on any one person, or their interpretation of Scripture. ‘The Spirit of truth will teach you everything.’
Something I’m also asked a lot is how we are supposed to pass on our faith to the next generation. The second reading addresses this perfectly. ‘Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence.’ The best way to pass on our faith is to live it as well as we can. The crazier our world gets, the more people are trying to find meaning. When we live our faith seriously, it makes us different and people notice that. They may not say it to you, but people l do notice. One thing that people notice is that we have a sense of purpose and that we are not overcome by the craziness of our world at this time, because we know where to keep our focus and that is on the Lord. We are already seeing signs of this happening. I have noticed more younger people coming to Church, because they are searching. If people ask you why you believe what you do, or why you are not overwhelmed by what is happening, then you have the chance to ‘Give a reason for the hope you have.’ But for the most part, we just live this relationship with God.
In the early Church, people were drawn to the Christians because of the values and purpose they had. They were also living in a time of craziness, but they bore witness by the faith they had.
Remember too that God is as interested in your children’s faith and wellbeing as you are. You created their bodies. God created their souls. Don’t underestimate how much God is working in their lives, even though you may not see it. Just keep praying for them and doing penance for them and offer all that you suffer, for them.
‘Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence.’
‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’