Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pope Francis & Contemporary Church Issues

Deacon Mike Meyer will be speaking on the topic of "Pope Francis & Contemporary Church Issues" on Wednesday October 1 from 6:00-7:00 pm in the Parish Hall of Immaculate Conception Church, 316 Old Allerton Road, Annandale, NJ.  The same presentation will be repeated on Wednesday October 8, same time, same place.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Run Together - A Wedding Homily for Julie & Chris

I’m not a runner.  In fact, the closest I ever come to running is, well, walking in snappy new running shoes given to me by real runners.  But fortunately, I have a lot of friends who run, so I exercise vicariously through them.  Now, when I think of my friends who are serious runners, I see three characteristics that they all have in common:  discipline; passion; and insanity.  Our readings talk about these three qualities, and I see all of them in Julie and Chris, which gives me great confidence that they will have a long, happy marriage together.  Allow me to explain.

All runners, and all of us who watch runners, know that serious running takes discipline.  In our second reading, Saint Paul uses an analogy to running to encourage the Corinthians to be disciplined, to train themselves in the pursuit of true love in God.  Love requires discipline.  “Love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling.  It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced (in Christian marriages) by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.”[1] We have to work at love, especially in marriage.  “[L]ots of couples forget that when they got married, they committed to run together.  It is easy to get so involved in all of the individual activities that we run our own course.  Marriage is about sharing, helping, and running together.”[2]  Marriage is about disciplined love.  
We also have to remember that without God, we couldn't have love, because God is love.  In our Gospel passage, Jesus practically begs us to remain in the joy of God’s love by keeping the Father’s commandments.  He doesn't make us remain in God’s love; love can’t be forced.  That’s why we’re given free will - so we can freely choose love.  And that brings us to passion.  Passion is that burning feeling that gives us the will and the drive to achieve our goals, to win the race, to obtain the imperishable crown by choosing love.  “Relationships and running both start the same way, with that magic potion called passion.  Both spark a thrill that inevitably wanes and takes ongoing effort to rekindle.  The rekindling happens by deliberately trying new things, new routes, new challenges."[3]  Julie and Chris, whether you love each other through the most challenging times of your marriage will be your choice.  As my high school gym teacher, Mr. Rotella, used to say, “You gotta wanna.”  Marriage is about passionate love.

Insanity.  You know, there’s a back-story to our first reading from the Book of Tobit that we don’t hear in today’s passage.  Tobiah is Sarah’s eighth husband.  Each of her previous seven husband’s died on their wedding night, and Tobiah knows this going into the marriage.  Is he crazy?  Yeah, crazy in love.  Love means taking risks, stepping out of our comfort zone, becoming vulnerable.  Just think about it, “[o]nce you say, ‘I love you,’ you stand foolish and exposed until the other says, ‘I love you too.’”[4]  I've already made clear that I think runners are crazy – you choose to push your bodies to extreme limits; you choose to run in traffic with people like me driving.  Well, I assure you that married people are a little crazy, too – we choose to cede some of our independence to another person; we choose to wake up every morning with someone else’s bad breath blowing in our faces.  Marriage can be crazy.  So what should we do when the crazy gets a little too crazy?  We should do what Tobiah and Sarah did - we should pray.  Through prayer, we tap into God’s love for strength, for wisdom and for healing in the crazy times.  And as crazy as it sounds, it worked for Tobiah (he lived).  Marriage is about insane love.

          I’m not a runner, but even I know that running is a great analogy for marriage.  I've seen tons of articles comparing marriage to running a marathon and even one that compared marriage to a Tough Mudder.  Both running and marriage take discipline, passion and a little insanity.  Julie, you've run in the Olympics!  That takes discipline, passion and insanity.  Chris, you've taken a hobby, turned it into a job, and turned that into an empire!  That takes discipline, passion and insanity.  If you’d just get a haircut, you’d be perfect.  But you are perfect for each other.  I’ve been so blessed to be able witness your love for each other first-hand in our time together preparing for this day.  So I have every confidence that 50 years from now, (OK, maybe 45, Chris is kind of old) as you run together in your matching track suits, sharing a bottle of Ben-gay, admiring the performance of your shiny new knees and hips, you’ll be able to look back at your marriage and know that you ran the race to win it, that you ran it together, and that you've won the imperishable crown of God’s love – together.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, Harper Collins, 1980) at 109.
[2] Josh Ketchum, “Running Together:  A Marriage Analogy,” Life in the Kingdom Blog (July 26, 2013),
[3] Sarah Lavender Smith “Marriage:  The Ulitmate Long Run,” The Runner’s Trip Blog (June 30, 2011),
[4] Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Strange Reality - Homily for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

          As a Japanese major in college, I was often asked what studying Japanese was like. The best description I could come up with was that it was like someone grabbed hold of my brain and turned it around backwards inside of my head. Everything was different: verbs were at the end of a sentence instead of in the middle; “yes” can often mean “no”; and a simple grunt can mean “yes,” “no,” “maybe” and a dozen other things. Japanese was very strange, and studying Japanese required that I accept a whole new way of thinking. But once I did, I was introduced to a new and wonderful world. Today’s readings are very strange as well. They also convey a message that requires us to accept a whole new way of thinking – a message that leads us to a new and wonderful world. 

          Today’s readings present a series of contradictions. In our first reading, God heals the Israelites from poisonous snake bites through an image of a snake mounted on a pole. The instrument of their suffering, becomes the symbol of their healing. In our second reading, Saint Paul tells how God highly exalted Christ because he humbled himself to the point of accepting death on a cross. Humility leads to exaltation. And in our Gospel passage, Jesus explains that he will be “lifted up” to give us the gift of eternal life. Crucifixion and death bring salvation and life. These readings present a strange reality that is so different from what we expect in this world.

          But the Christian message is filled with seeming contradictions. It’s very strange. That’s because our God is mysterious and incomprehensible. As Blessed John Henry Newman said, “Unless thou wert incomprehensible, Thou wouldst not be God. For how can the Infinite be other than incomprehensible to me?”[1] God is beyond our understanding. And so, with an incomprehensible God, we’re faced with a strange reality: a strange reality where God repeatedly offers salvation from the yoke of slavery, notwithstanding our repeated disobedience to his commandments; a strange reality where God humbles himself to take human form, turns water into wine, heals the sick, raises the dead and transforms bread and wine into his most precious body and blood to prove that he is with us always; a strange reality where “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And that brings us to the strangest reality of all: the Cross.

What would you think of a religion that turned to a hangman’s noose or an electric chair as its symbol of faith? What would you think if the followers of that religion wore miniature nooses or electric chairs around their necks, hung them on their walls, or traced them on their bodies? You’d probably think that it was very strange. Well, that’s what we do. The cross is an instrument of humiliation, torture and execution. Crucifixion was the most horrible and the most feared form of execution of Jesus’ time. And yet, we wear a cross around our necks, we hang it on our walls, we trace it on our bodies and we even dedicate a day, today, to exalt it and declare it holy. We must be very strange.

          The mystery of the cross presents a difficult challenge to the believer. How can we imagine an all-powerful God by looking at the Cross of Christ? We want a God who “vanquishes our adversaries, who changes the course of events, and who takes away our pain. . . .  Faced with evil and suffering, it is difficult for many of us to believe in God the Father and to believe that He is all-powerful.”[2] But faith in our God requires that we accept a whole new way of thinking. Our God’s omnipotence 

isn't expressed in violence or destruction but rather through love, mercy and forgiveness; through his tireless call to a change of heart, through an attitude that is only weak in appearance, and which is made of patience, clemency and love. Only the truly powerful can endure evil and show compassion. Only the truly powerful can fully exercise the power of love.[3] 
 Divine power responds to evil not with evil but with love. Suffering and death are conquered because they are lovingly transformed into the gift of eternal life through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. This is the strange reality of the cross: through humble, obedient love, Jesus Christ transformed an instrument of torture, humiliation and death into the symbol of his exaltation and our salvation. 

          So what does this mean for us? Well, it means that we have to accept a whole new way of thinking. We have to accept that “the path to exaltation runs through the Cross because God’s Kingdom is a place of reversals where emptying leads to filling and humility to glorification.”[4] Bulging résumés, high-powered jobs, big houses and gadgets galore will not lead us to our life purpose, to true happiness, to success or to salvation. We “cannot know the meaning of human life without grounding it in the reality of Jesus’ life,”[5] which includes the Cross. We have to conform ourselves to Christ so that “every time we cross ourselves . . . we profess our willingness to take Jesus seriously, to live the radical Gospel fully, and to die for . . . our commitment to God, to Jesus and to one another.”[6] I’ll bet you’ll think twice now before dipping your finger in the holy water font. It’s a strange reality, but one that brings with it the promise of a wonderful new way of living now and for all eternity. 

          I have to confess that when I started studying theology in diaconate formation, it was a lot like studying Japanese. It felt like God grabbed hold of my brain and turned it around backwards inside of my head. I was catechized as a child, but I had never heard God presented to me in this way. I learned of a strange reality that was hard to grasp, and even harder to accept. Studying theology required that I accept a whole new way of thinking. But with the help of great professors who introduced me to the writings of brilliant theologians, and with a lot of prayer, I finally accepted a fundamental principle that opened my mind and my heart to the strange reality of the Christian message: “The God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, who lifts us up beyond ourselves and moves us to salvation, the God of ecstatic self-offering, the God whose outreach of love is greater than we can think or imagine – is very strange.”[7]

[1] John Henry Newman, “Meditations for Eight Days,” The Works of Cardinal Newman, vol. 37 (New York, Longmans, Green and Company, 1900) at 218.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Weekly Catechesis, January 29, 2013.
[3] Id.
[4] Graziano Marcheschi and Nancy Seitz Marcheschi, Workbook for Lectors. Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, 2014 (Chicago, Liturgy Training Publications, 2014) at 253.
[5] Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville, Abingdon Press 1995) at 555.
[6] Patricia Datchuck Sánchez, “Sign of Our Salvation,” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 50, no. 23 (August 29 - September 11, 2014) at 23.
[7] Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas:  Spiritual Master (New York, Crossroad Publishing, 2008) at 61.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Defense of God - Holy Hour Homily, September 11, 2014

          “I have a feeling that God wants me to defend him.”   That’s what Josh Wheaton said when asked why he accepted his atheist philosophy professor’s challenge to prove the existence of God, in the movie God Is Not Dead.  I didn't really like the movie all that much, but that one line stuck with me, playing over and over in my head.  It stuck with me because I have that feeling, too.

          Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that God needs me to defend him.  God needs nothing.  He’s perfect and perfectly happy in all respects.  God is also omnipotent, meaning that there’s no power in heaven or on earth that can overcome him, so he doesn't need defending, and he certainly doesn't need defending from me.  But I do think that God wants me to defend him.  Why is that?

          Well, Scripture is filled with passages that call us to be a witness to God’s saving grace.  Our passage from the First Letter of Peter is a great example when it says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”   So, if we’re all called to be witnesses, what’s a witness?  Well, it’s someone who has seen or heard for him or herself, and tells the truth about it; someone who defends what he or she knows is right.  Under that definition, all of us who have seen God’s wondrous deeds, who have heard the Word of God inviting us to new life or who have felt the warmth of God’s loving embrace, are qualified witnesses.  We just need to be willing to testify to what we have seen, and heard, and felt.

          Giving testimony isn't always easy, especially in a highly secularized society where religion is often looked upon as a silly superstition or the “opiate of the masses,” in a world where horrible crimes against God and man are committed in the name of religion.  But this is exactly the courtroom where our witness is most needed; where I feel like God wants me to defend him.  It may be awkward or uncomfortable; we may be hated or ridiculed.  Some are even tortured or killed for their defense of God.   But the word “martyr” comes from the Greek word meaning “witness.”   And that’s our call.

          + We’re called defend God by declining an invitation to a social or sporting event when it would interfere with Church;
          + We’re called to defend God by praying in public when we go out to dinner;
          + We’re called to defend God by defending the poor and persecuted;
          + We’re called to defend God by speaking out against injustice;
          + We’re called to defend God by defending life.

          The Christian mission isn't an easy one, and it seems to be less and less popular these days.  But fortunately for us, our loving God is always with us to strengthen our resolve to be his compassionate and humble witnesses to the world.  He’s with us in Scripture.  He’s with us in Spirit.  And he’s with us in this most Blessed Sacrament of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God has given us all the resources we need to be good and faithful witnesses to his truth.  So it’s up to us.  Will we sit back and remain silent, or will we defend God before the world?  I feel like God wants me to defend him.  How about you?

Reading:  1Peter 3: 8-9, 13-17

My September 11, 2001

         I wrote the following essay on September 11, 2002 to preserve my memories of that horrible day 1 year before.

            Though I can’t imagine that I will ever forget where I was and what I saw and experienced on September 11, 2001, time does dull the memory, and I can’t avoid the inevitable fact that some day I will no longer be here to tell my story.  So I decided some time ago that I would commit my thoughts and recollections to paper and there seemed to be no better time than now – September 11, 2002, 8:45am.

            It was a beautiful fall day – the kind of day when office workers joke about playing hooky.  On September 11, 2001, I was working for Goldman, Sachs & Co. in the Washington, DC office.  I was in my office when a member of our Investment Research group announced that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  He had access to CNN at his desk, so several of us gathered around to watch.  Initial information was very limited, and most reports indicated that it was a small plane.  I feared that it was the Washington – New York Shuttle, which typically flies a route close to the World Trade Center.  I was a very frequent shuttle traveler, and the thought of a plane crash bothered me.  Three members of our office had taken the shuttle to New York that morning.  We had heard from them just before they boarded the plane in Washington, so we were quickly able to calculate that their plane could not have reached the New York area by that time. 

While there was some talk among us that it could be a terrorist attack, I don’t believe that anyone, including myself, ever took that thought seriously.  We, like most of America, could not conceive of that possibility.  After watching the news for a while, we dispersed but occasionally wandered back to the television.  A group of us were watching when the second plane hit the tower.  However, the camera angle that we were viewing did not show the airplane.  We saw an explosion from the view of the first tower.  To us, it looked like there was another explosion in the first tower.  The coverage quickly replayed the angle showing the plane hit the tower, but we thought that it was a replay of the first plane hitting the first tower.  After a few moments, the reports were clear that a second plane hit the World Trade Center.  We all knew without a doubt that it was a terrorist attack. 

At some point after the first attack, I called Jessica to tell her that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  We did not have a long conversation, and as we left the call, she was going to turn on the television.  At some point after the second attack, I was looking out of the window of my office in the direction of the Washington Monument.  I saw a commercial airline that appeared to be traveling slowly at an altitude and speed that would suggest that it had not just taken off from Reagan National Airport.  The plane was obviously outside of normal air traffic routes, which are very limited in Washington.  The plane was so obviously out of place that I noticed it and thought that it might be another terrorist attack.  I quickly rationalized its position thinking that as a result of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, the authorities must have decided to close National Airport.  I supposed that this plane had just been diverted during its approach to the airport, and that is why it was outside of ordinary air traffic routes. 

Roughly a half-hour after the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I called Jessica again.  While we were speaking on the phone, I was again looking out of the window in the direction of the Washington Monument.  I very vividly remember Jessica asking me, “if they’re doing it in New York, why aren't they doing it in Washington?”  At that moment, I saw the Pentagon explode.  I did not hear anything or feel any impact.  I just saw plumes of black smoke.  My first reaction was to say to Jessica, “There has been an explosion.”  She asked me where, and I said that it was out near the Washington Monument.  The building across the street – the Old Post Office Pavilion – obstructed my line of vision, so I could not actually see the Pentagon building.  I didn't have good perspective on the distance either, so I thought that there was some sort of explosion – a car bomb I thought – on the far side of the Washington Monument somewhere on the Mall or along Independence Avenue.  I never made the connection to the plane I saw until hours later when news reports told the story about the plane circling the area before it hit the Pentagon.

Jessica started to cry when I told her that there was an explosion.  I told her to hang on and I ran out of my office and told everyone that there was an explosion and that we should all leave.  I went back to the phone, told Jessica I was leaving and got off the phone.  I was the only Vice President in the office at the time - everyone else was support staff.  During the half hour or so between the second plane and the Pentagon explosion our office administrator was trying to contact Goldman Sachs security for instructions on whether we should evacuate.  She was not able to make that decision herself.  

I decided that I would make the decision to evacuate for three reasons.  First, I felt very strongly that I BELONGED home – the right and appropriate place for me to be was home.  In fact, it very much felt like my obligation or responsibility.  Second, I believed that we were in danger of being trapped in the middle of several attack sites.  The Goldman Sachs office was on Pennsylvania Avenue very close to the Justice Department and FBI and in between the White House and the Capitol Building.  I did not fear that we were in danger of direct attack, but rather that we would be in the middle and wouldn't be able to get out.  Finally, I realized that no one felt that they had the authority to make the decision.  I do not know if I actually had the authority as a Vice President, but decided that someone had to decide so I did. 

I was surprised by some of the reactions of my colleagues.  Certain colleagues appreciated the gravity of the situation and quickly gathered their belongings and left.  Others dilly-dallied and questioned whether we should leave at all.  My sense of obligation to wait for everyone to leave before I left was battling a very strong urge to get out quickly.  I finally left when I felt that the dilly-dalliers were sufficiently in motion that I knew that they would be out soon.  I did not wait until they actual left the building because I felt that they were being foolishly slow.  As it turns out, there were no further attacks on Washington.  However, we left the city just in time.  Soon after we left, the city became grid locked with people trying to leave and roads being closed for security reasons.  I have heard stories of people waiting in traffic for hours.  My colleagues and the head of the office later thanked me for making the decision that got everyone safely where they belonged – home.  Their thanks meant a lot to me.

When I left the office I consciously took my usual route (Pennsylvania Avenue to 15th Street to Constitution Avenue).  I took that route knowing that I would get closer to vulnerable sites, but deciding that since it was much shorter and much more direct, I would get by them quicker and with less delay.  As I turned the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street, I saw government employees pouring from the Commerce Department and the Treasury buildings.  All federal employees were told to evacuate the buildings immediately, and I was seeing the beginning of that evacuation.  When I turned the corner of 15th Street onto Constitution Avenue, I again saw the smoke from the Pentagon.  While traffic was not grid locked at this point, it was somewhat slow.  I kept looking to the skies for threatening airplanes as I went through this area, and noted that this might be the last time I see the White House or the Washington Monument. I am generally not a melodramatic person, so in hindsight, my having thought such thoughts reminds me of how grave I thought the situation was.  As I approached 17th  Street and Constitution Avenue, I saw a black SUV filled with Secret Service Agents traveling toward the Washington Monument.  The agents were holding machine guns out of the windows of the truck. 

I felt somewhat relieved as I passed 17th Street, but knew that I wouldn't feel comfortable until I reached Virginia.  I knew that I had to pass close by the State Department, another potential target.  Near the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street, a news report came across the radio that there was a car bomb at the State Department.  I decided to go my normal route (C Street to the E Street Tunnel, which passes directly behind the State Department) again because I knew it was quicker and because I was developing a sense that the news reports were not wholly accurate.  It turns out that there was no car bomb at the State Department.  As I began to cross the Roosevelt Bridge, I got a much better view of the Pentagon.  It was much worse than I had thought.

Once I made it onto the George Washington Parkway I felt much safer and called Jessica to tell her that I was out of DC.  The only thing I particularly remember about the drive home was the news on the radio that the South Tower of the World Trade Center had collapsed.  I simply did not believe it.  I think that one of the first things I asked Jessica when I got home was whether the tower had collapsed.  She confirmed that it did and that she saw it on television.  Of course, we saw it replayed on television a hundred times, along with the collapse of the North Tower, which we witnessed live on TV. 

At home, we spent a lot of time glued to the television.  We were particularly following the stories about rerouting air traffic and closing US airways since we lived near Dulles Airport and were concerned about additional hijacked planes.  While stories about the plane that ultimately crashed in Pennsylvania were coming through, there was very little detail and it was hard to discern if it was a credible story.   At some point in the late morning or early afternoon, my sister (who lived in New Jersey) called to ask if we had heard the story that the air force was tracking a plane over Northern Virginia and might shoot it down.  I ran outside to see if I could see anything but there was nothing.  No planes, no sound.  Everything was eerily silent.  We decided that we should leave our house to go to some undetermined safer place.  Since we felt like we had some time, we agreed that we could pack clothing, toiletries, baby food, bottles, etc.  We also discussed what to do with Bubba (dog), Chimayo (cat) and Caspar (cockatoo).  Since we had time, we decided that we would take them with us so we packed food for them.  Our packing (which took no more than ten minutes) was frequently interrupted by our running outside to look for the errant plane.  By this time, fighter jets began to patrol over head.  They were very loud, and often flew so high that you couldn't see them.  Every time a fighter jet flew over, we ran outside to check.  During this time Caitlin was napping upstairs.  I wanted to wake her since I didn't want to leave her in the house when we ran outside.  Jessica wanted to let her sleep, which we did.

Once we were packed, cooler heads prevailed.  We realized that we did not necessarily have a safer place to go and that we likely would have gone west.  However, since the western side of Virginia is more rural, it seemed more likely that the military would try to shoot down a plane out there, to avoid as many ground casualties as possible.  So we decided that we would put our belongings near the door and be prepared to leave, but would otherwise stay put.  Within an hour or so, the news was reporting that all air traffic had been grounded or otherwise accounted for, so our races to the yard every time we heard a fighter jet could stop. 

The rest of the day was spent watching the reports on TV, contacting colleagues, family and friends to make sure everyone was safe, and pondering the enormous tragedy that we had just witnessed, but thankfully escaped.  

It was a beautiful fall day – the kind of day when office workers joke about playing hooky. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

          As the old saying goes, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”  If that’s the case, then I’m pretty sure I heard the Vox Dei through the Vox Populi at least two times in the last four days. 

          The first was at Mass on Sunday.  Around national holidays, our choirs, cantors and musicians make an extra effort to include some patriotic or thematically-inspiring hymns at Mass.  Being Labor Day weekend, the 9:00 am Mass choir chose Let There Be Peace On Earth as our recessional hymn.  In my humble opinion, an excellent choice:  it’s a beautiful song that everybody knows and it sure seemed appropriate in light of current events here and around the world.  It seems that the Populi agreed.  After a few bars of introductory notes, the singing began, and boy did it begin.  The congregation joined right in with the choir (which does not always happen), full-throated, confident and downright loud.  Our parishioners didn't just sing along to a familiar tune, they proclaimed in unison the simple but profound message of that hymn with every ounce of conviction in their bodies – and they meant it.  The voice of the people cried out for peace.  It was absolutely beautiful.  It was the voice of God.

          But God doesn't always speak to us in loud, booming tones.  As we hear in the First Book of Kings, God appeared to Elijah in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12), and he often speaks to us in the silence of our hearts.  Now, we tend to associate silence with weakness, disinterest or inaction, and sometimes it is.  The silence of world leaders in the face of the horrifying religious persecution going on in the world today is deafening.  But silence can also be deeply meaningful, profound and prayerful.  That brings me to the second time I heard the Vox Dei through the Vox Populi this week.

          Just this morning I attended Morning Prayer at our parish school.  Before prayer started, our principal asked the students to try something new today.  Instead of grabbing their backpacks and chatting their way to their homerooms after prayer, she asked them to leave in silence, carrying the peace of prayer with them, allowing the Holy Spirit to continue his quiet work within them as they made their way to class.  Again, the Populi agreed.  With just one little reminder at the end of prayer, the children quietly collected their belongings and proceeded to their classes in silence.  The children and their teachers went off to their day’s work in peace.  The voice of the people embraced peace.  It was absolutely beautiful.  It was the voice of God.

Let There Be Peace On Earth, by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller,  performed by the Empire State Youth Orchestra and Chorale

Friday, August 29, 2014

Never Entirely Satisfied

                My friend Mike is an Ironman – he just completed his umpteenth Ironman race in July.  Me, I’m more like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  The closest I've come to doing an Ironman was reading about Mike’s races here on his blog.  After his last race in Lake Placid, we exchanged the following messages:

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man:  Congratulations!  I hope you’re happy with your time.

Ironman:  Happy, but not entirely satisfied.  But then again, never am.

SPMM:  There’s a theological explanation for that.

Ironman: Oh God.

SPMM:  Exactly! 

OK, I made up the last two lines, but I’m sure that’s what Mike was thinking, and I certainly would have come back with such a witty retort.  In any event, I owe Mike an explanation.  Here it is.

                We all have goals.  It’s in our nature.  Some may want to travel to exotic locations, learn to tango or climb Mount Everest; others may want to lose some weight, clean out a closet, or just get out of bed in the morning.  And for the certifiably insane, it’s doing Ironman races.  It doesn't matter what the goal is.  Big or small, we all have goals.  We’re hard-wired to strive for new and better things.  Why?  Well, it’s because we’re constantly and persistently called to greater things by “that which nothing greater can be thought”[1] – God.  Just think about it.  Most would agree that we've never seen perfection in this world, but for some reason, we have a concept of what it is, and we strive for it.  That reason is God.  God lives in and around us, incessantly calling us to his perfection.  In fact, the Holy Spirit that dwells within us never stops reaching out of us to be in perfect union with God, and he drags us right along with him.  When we strive to better ourselves and our lives and the lives of others, we’re really reaching out to God, whether we realize it or not.

                Our natural inclination to strive for perfection is also the reason we’re never entirely satisfied.  We can’t be completely satisfied in this world because perfection transcends it.  Perfection resides in God alone.  So until we’re completely united with God, we’ll never be fully satisfied.  As St. Augustine confessed to God, “My heart is restless until it rests in you.”  That’s why God keeps calling us to him; he knows that we’ll never be fully satisfied until we rest in him. 

If that’s the case, why keep trying?  Well, achieving our goals is very satisfying – it may not be completely satisfying, but it’s satisfying nonetheless.  With each goal achieved, we get a taste of what perfection is like; we get a little glimpse of heaven.  That’s what this journey on earth is all about – doing everything we can to live the Kingdom of Heaven as best we can here on earth until the time comes when we experience it, in all of its perfection, eternally.

While I might me puffier than Mike, and I’m certainly more sedentary, we do have a few things in common – we both have goals, and we’re both at stages in our lives when we’re reassessing our goals.  As for me, I’m discerning between two pretty ambitious goals right now (doing an Ironman is not one of them).  I don’t know if I’ll pursue either one.  If I don’t, I’m sure another goal will soon take their place.  It’s just the way I am.   I’ll be setting goals for myself, big and small, for the rest of my days on this earth.  While I know I’ll never be entirely satisfied in this life, I’m happy for each little victory along the way as I strive for the ultimate goal we all share – perfect union with perfect love.

[1] Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion.