March 6, 2014
Do you know people who are truly miserable? I am not speaking here of that great percentage of the world who live in poverty and disease, in war-torn countries, victims of natural disasters that destroy lives completely, or where people face a choice of convert to this or that religion or die. I am also not speaking of sexually and physically abused children nor of those who have been trafficked for financial gain of others, nor of the many other evils in the world. That temporal misery is forced upon persons by outside powers for evil and selfish purposes. I am speaking of misery of heart and soul – an invisible misery that manifests itself outwardly most particularly by sins of the tongue, angry outbursts, rash judgment, destruction of property and/or relationships. The kind of internal churning misery that repels others and perpetuates itself both in oneself and in others in our lives with whom we interact.
We all know the constant complainer, the super-critic who is pleased about nothing, the selfish controller of others who continually resorts to manipulation to get what he or she wants. We all know our share of Chicken Littles for whom the sky is falling almost every day. Their lives are full of constant drama, singularly joyless. And who has not known active alcoholics and others addicts of all types? They live in a continual torment and spinning of fears, often using addiction as a way not to face the demons inside themselves. Maybe, just maybe, we can apply these descriptions to ourselves at one time or another in our lives.
Now that we are beginning Lent, a time when we put extra effort into growing closer to God and giving deep consideration to the passion and death of Christ as the great act of our redemption, perhaps we can look at our internal misery index. Perhaps we can face the fact that we may be stuck in the past, chained to events that still affect our choices today, and resolve with the help of Jesus to step out in trust and change something about ourselves that makes us miserable. The fact that we can change the way we look at things, the way we perceive others, means that misery is a choice.
In every case, if we challenge ourselves, we will see that the root of our misery is some form of selfishness. Others have failed us. Others have betrayed us. Others have truly wished us dead, or at least gone or living like a toothless tiger. We have been slighted, disrespected, ridiculed, bullied and even hated for no good reason. When we get down to it, each of us can own up to the fact regarding ourselves that it is all about me and how I see myself. Who am I really? Who defines who I am? The answer to that is…well, later.
A recently convicted and sentenced prison lifer told his adult daughter that he could understand if the Christians he knew didn’t want to have anything to do with him. After all, Christians don’t associate with criminals. When she told me that I said, “We are all criminals in the eyes of God because we are all sinners. Every Confession line is full of repeat offenders. Christians of all people ought to understand criminals.” And, in fact, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for having dinner with tax collectors and sinners, to which He replied, “They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill. Go then and learn what this means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. For I am not come to call the just, but sinners” (Matt. 9: 11-12). If we mean to imitate Jesus, we will not shrink from a criminal who seeks healing relationships.
I bring up this example because although we are all criminals, we are much more. Grasping this one point and considering it over time can help us overcome misery we create for ourselves. That point is:
We were each created by God out of love. We are His children, broken by the effects of Original Sin, but loved so greatly that Jesus died for us. No generalities here. Each one of us is loved by God individually. Our sins hurt us and hurt others, but Jesus in His mercy heals us if we turn to Him. By turning away from ourselves and seeking a relationship with Him, we gain a perspective that allows us to make choices that lead us to joy and not misery. As the best Father, God wants us to be happy with Him forever. We find out who we really are only in relationship with God.
Of course, having a relationship with God means getting to know Him. Getting to know someone takes time, peace and quiet, listening, studying his actions. What better place to start than with the New Testament where we have the words and actions of Christ to light the way? But that gets us into knowing about Jesus. We can’t stop there. We need to spend time with Him in front of the Blessed Sacrament or at least in quiet prayer thinking about what He taught us and asking to know Him better. The amount of time we give to these two things is relative to our internal misery index. More time with Jesus means less misery because we are focusing on Him and not stuck in our own self-centeredness. We will reduce the number of criminal actions (sins) against God and our neighbor by doing this, and instead bring the healing love of Christ to others. We reduce misery in our hearts by conversion.
We also need to get to know Mother Mary better. She always points the way to Jesus and can help us to reflect Him to others. Once we begin to experience more joy in these relationships with God and the Blessed Mother, we cannot keep it to ourselves. Joy is one of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit and the more selfishness we get out of the way, the easier it is for the joy in us to come out naturally and brighten other people’s lives as well as our own.
As we consider the season of Lent, let’s look at our misery index. What permanent changes do we want to make to become more like Jesus? What choices do we need to make to let more joy into our lives? Who is God placing in our lives to help us? Are we making the best use of Confession?
St. Benedict tells us, “Prefer nothing to Christ. In all things glorify God.” St. Paul wrote: “All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17).
We are all a work in progress, the Great Potter shaping us in love. Let us surrender to Him, let go of the past, live in the present moment, and look to the future of everlasting life and joy.
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R. Now and forever!
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