WE live in an extraordinary time where there are answers to everything. There is not a question on the face of the earth that one, with access to a computer or someone who has one, cannot find an answer. But the one answer that still lingers, that is waiting to be heard by the multitudes, is to the question of mankind’s deep hunger. The hunger for purpose, for meaning, for love. Love above everything else. For when we are loved, somehow all other questions seem to diminish the way stars fade away at daybreak. I am not speaking about romantic love, but acceptance, unconditional acceptance and concern of another.
There is a terrible aching in the soul of men today. For even though we have conquered distance and space through our technologies, even though we have “connected” the world through our gadgets, though we have mass produced food and material goods, though we have decoded human DNA and found a way to create life-forms, and even though we have access to all knowledge… we are more lonely and impoverished than ever. The more we have, it seems, the less human we feel, and in fact, the less human we are becoming. Compounding the despair of our times is the rise of the “new atheists,” men who through colorful but hollow and illogical arguments attempt to explain away the existence of God. Through their diatribes, they are stealing away from perhaps millions the meaning of life and any real reason for living.
From these and a seeming thousand other fronts, there has arisen an emptiness… a joy that has vanished from the human soul. Even among the most faithful of Christians: we are downtrodden, paralyzed by internal and external fears, and often indistinguishable among the crowds in our moods, language, and actions.
The world is looking for Jesus, but they cannot find Him.
The Church as a whole seems to have moved away from her center: a deep and abiding love of Jesus expressed in love for our neighbour. Because we live in an era of great philosophical debates (old debates, but new debaters), the Church herself is naturally caught up in these arguments. We also live in an age of sin, perhaps unparalleled lawlessness. So too, the Church must respond to these many-headed monsters which include new and disturbing technologies that not only push the boundaries of ethics, but tear at the very fabric of life itself. And due to the explosion of new “churches” and anti-Catholic sects, the Church has often found itself having to defend her beliefs and doctrines.
As such, it seems that we have shifted from being the Body of Christ to merely His mouth. There is a danger that we who call ourselves Catholic have mistaken monologue for Christianity, rote replies for true religion, articulate apologetics for authentic living. We even like to quote that saying attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words,” but often mistake the ability to quote it with actually living it.
We Christians, particularly in the West, have become comfortable in our armchairs. So long as we make a few donations, sponsor a starving kid or two, and attend weekly Mass, we’ve convinced ourselves that we are fulfilling our duties. Or perhaps we’ve logged onto a few forums, debated a few souls, posted a blog defending the truth, or responded to a protest campaign for a blasphemous cartoon or a lewd commercial. Or maybe we’ve contented ourselves that merely having religious books and articles or reading (or writing) meditations like this one is the same as being a Christian.
We have often mistaken being right for being a saint. But the world continues to hunger…
So often the Church’s counter-cultural witness is misunderstood as something backward and negative in today’s society. That is why it is important to emphasize the Good News, the life-giving and life-enhancing message of the Gospel. Even though it is necessary to speak out strongly against the evils that threaten us, we must correct the idea that Catholicism is merely “a collection of prohibitions”. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Address to Irish Bishops; VATICAN CITY, October 29, 2006
Because the world thirsts.
The world is thirsting for love. They want to see the face of Love, to look into His eyes, and know they are loved. But often, they are only met with a wall of words, or worse yet silence. A lonely, deafening silence. And so, our psychiatrists are overrun, our liquor stores are booming, and pornographic sites are raking in billions as souls search for some means to fill the longing and emptiness with temporary pleasures. But each time souls grasp such an idol, it turns to dust in their hands, and they are left again with a deep aching and restlessness. Perhaps they even want to turn to the Church… but there they find scandal, apathy, and a parish family at times more dysfunctional than their own.
Oh Lord, what a mess we are! Can there be an answer to this confusion and weeping at the crossroads of this long road of human history?
The first draft of my recent book, The Final Confrontation, was nearly a thousand pages. And then, on a winding road in the little mountains of Vermont, I heard the dreaded words, “Begin again.” The Lord wanted me to start over. And when I did… when I began to listen to what He actually wanted me to write rather than what I thought He wanted me to write, out flowed a new book, which according to the letters I receive, is filling souls with hope and light to guide them through this present darkness.
So too, the Church must begin again. We have to find a way back to our foundation.
…you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. (Rev 2:3-5)
The only possible way we can become the face of love to another— and thereby provide them proof and contact with the living God through us—is to know that God loves us in the first place, that He loves me.
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
When I trust that His mercy is an inexhaustible ocean and that He loves me, no matter my condition, then I can begin to love. Then I can begin to be merciful and compassionate with the mercy and compassion He has shown me. I begin by first loving Him back.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
This is as radical a Scripture you will ever find, if not the most radical. It demands that we throw our whole selves, our every thought, word, and action into the act of loving God. It demands an attentiveness of the soul to God’s Word, to His life, His example, and to His commandments and instructions. It demands that we give of ourselves, or rather, empty ourselves the way that Jesus emptied Himself upon the Cross. Yes, this passage of Scripture is demanding because it asks of us our very lives.
Listening to Christ and worshipping Him leads us to make courageous choices, to take what are sometimes heroic decisions. Jesus is demanding, because He wish es our genuine happiness. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, World Youth Day Message for 2005, Vatican City, Aug. 27th, 2004, Zenit.org
It is this “genuine happiness” for which the world thirsts. Where will they find it except flowing like living water from you and me (John 4:14)? When we have smashed our own idols and purged our hearts of our past sins and begun to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then something happens. Grace begins to flow. The fruit of the Spirit—love, peace, joy, etc.—begins to blossom from our very being. It is in living out this Great Commandment in faith that I rediscover and plunge deeper into that Ocean of Mercy and draw strength from that inexhaustible Heart that beats for me each moment, telling me that I am loved. And then… then I am truly able to fulfill the second half of our Lord’s words:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:31)
This is not a linear process such that we have to wait to become something we’re not in order to do something we should. Rather, each moment, we can begin again, smashing the idol we are clinging to and then putting God first. In that moment, we can begin to love the way He loved, and thereby become the face of Love to our neighbour. We have to cease this vain and silly ambition of wanting to become a saint as if it were something that will happen at the end of our lives with crowds clamoring about us trying to touch the hem of our garments. Sainthood can happen within each moment if we simply do what our Lord said, and do it with love (“official” Saints are simply those who have a greater collection of these moments than most people.) And we must put an end to any pretension which seeks to convert the multitudes. You will not convert a single soul unless the Spirit of God is flowing through you.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing… If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love (John 15:5, 10).
God, like His incarnation, almost always works through small beginnings. Love those around you with the heart of Christ. Recognize the great missionary field, first within your own soul, and then within your own home. Do little things with great love. It is radical. It takes courage. It takes a constant “yes” and humility in the face of one’s weakness. But God knows that about you and me. And yet, His Great Commandment remains before us in all its boldness, in all it demands, in all that it insists upon since the very moment it was spoken. That’s because the Lord has our happiness in mind, for to live Mark 12:30 is to become fully human. To love God with our whole being is to become fully alive.
Man needs morality in order to be himself. —POPE BENEDICT XVI (Cardinal Ratzinger), Benedictus, p. 207
What appears as an infringement on human freedom actually leads to being freely human—fully liberated through the exchange of love between you and the Creator. And this life, the Life of God, has the power to transform those around you when they see no longer you, but Christ living in you.
The world is waiting… how much longer can it wait?
This century thirsts for authenticity… Do you preach what you live? The world expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, obedience, humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. —POPE PAUL VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, 22, 76
Note: Dear reader, I read every letter that is sent to me. However, I receive so many that I am unable to respond to them all, at least in timely fashion. Please forgive me!
- Have you read Mark’s new book? It is a summary of our times, where we’ve come from and where we’re going based on the prophetic words of the Popes and the Early Church Fathers. Mother Teresa’s co-founder of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, Fr. Joseph Langford, said this book “will prepare the reader, as no other work I’ve read, to face the times before us with courage, light, and grace…”. You can order the book at thefinalconfronation.com