I am a lover of history, the events which shaped the world we live in today. From this history, I’ve learned the world we live in is shaped by events which are ugly, constrained by perspective, self-serving, monumental, courageous, corrupt, ground-breaking, and beautiful. Often times the perspective of the author writing the books is based in the times they lived. For example, stories written hundreds or even a thousand years ago are less worried about exact times and dates, and the stories are more focused on point and context. Though in the last few hundred years, we see the context become more regimented and facts with time become more relevant. Once constant we do see time and again, are those who the history is written about, those characters, sometimes larger than life, attempting and sometimes succeeding in achieving an immortality of a uniquely historical framework. This is especially relevant for those people, who brought about change, either good or bad, and the world forever moved away from the paradigms of the past. Undoubtedly, the most significant and influential person who ever lived, was the Divine Christ. Some will argue the validity of his divinity, some will argue his purpose, others will argue his relevance, and perhaps the most baseless of all arguments is his existence. For purposes of this, I’m really speaking to the veracity of historical figures and their place in our lives from an influential standpoint. Where would we be without Jesus Christ, as a nation, as a society, as a people seeking common moral and objective paths for ourselves and the generations to come? The truth is, history is littered with those who have a past, but history is also replete with the beauty of those who found faith and became the brightest reflections of God’s light possible.
Every year on November 1st, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints, a holy day of obligation, and a celebration of those who once walked with us, and through God’s Graces, their acknowledgement of their past and sins, and their unwavering desire to love God, they became saints. I always tell people if you have a doubt about those who became saints, read their biographies and I promise, even if you still don’t believe, you will be moved. Isn’t this what God wants from each and every one of us, the ability to compassionately look into the life of another, and see the beauty they possess as a unique creation of God’s Love? St. Augustine, wrote and Oscar Wilde made more widely known, “The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” A simple and unique perception of who we are as people and where we desire to be. When Christ walked among us, he preached, performed miracles, exposed his divinity, and showed us hope. This hope is fire which burns in all of us, for the promise of a better day, a sublime forgiveness for the mistakes we’ve made, and the redemption we all seek as imperfect human beings.
I actually love this phrase because is sums up everything about us as humans, in such few words. I’ve had conversations with people in the past about where they wanted to be when their earthly life was over, and most people give some sort of vague answer, as if little or no thought has ever been placed on a question like this at all. In most cases, the conversation ended, and I was given the distinct impression of their unwillingness, at least for the time being, to put any more thought into such and cavernous question, to move forward with thoughts and actions on this topic. Although, I wasn’t worried, I’ve always asked the question, why? Why don’t people want to handle those hard questions first and settle the path for their lives? Why don’t people want to really start living, and stop with all the material foolishness which seems to inundate our lives with a daily barrage of everything we don’t truly need? The hardest lives to live are ones of holy contemplation, which is precisely why most people don’t do it, but if we look at the saints and the lives they led, this is exactly what they all did. If we’re unwilling to commit to a life more focused on prayer, love, contemplation, and forgiveness, where do we realistically expect to be when we die? Perhaps, this is why we fear the question, because when we acknowledge the paradigm, it becomes either do or do not with nothing in between. Most people would prefer to live in the gray, unfortunately, the gray is filled with obfuscating world which embraces sin as a matter of course because a belief in self is more important than a faith in God.
Bishop Robert Barron stated, “The only difference between us and saints are they acknowledge their sin”. His statement is profound, because I think at points in time, we all recognize our sins. However, the ability to do it every day, and the ability to acknowledge our shortcomings as something only to be overcome by the Grace of God, leads down a path to sainthood. However, this path is one which from the vantage of the saint, is lonely at times and one which faces a temptation at every turn. What is precious in the eyes of God, is most assuredly something Satan covets. Though, for those of us looking up to see the path of the saint, we see remarkable circumstances mixed with extraordinary events. St. Paul, lived a life where he asked three times of God, to remove the thorn of persecution, distress, and reproach. It was these three attributes, among many more, which the Devil twisted into his side and made what seemed to everyone around him God’s blessings, but for him it was a future of toil and hardship. Even as his future was a mountain of continual ascension and struggle for footholds, his past was something even worse. His upbringing, was as a Pharisee, a group within the Jewish people who were influential in politics and the general ruling body for many Jews. The Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was led by the Pharisee, Caiaphas, who was the High Priest for that year. The group which made up the priests of the Pharisees was learned, well versed in the languages (i.e. Greek) and usually men of means comparatively to the average person of the day. St. Paul, was raised in this life, he was incredible intelligent, and believe in God’s dominion over all of the Earth. So, when a little know tekton from the hovel in Nazareth has died, and people everywhere seem to be abandoning Jewish teaching, like many, he rebels against this change. He fervently seeks to destroy the Jesus uprising, and in doing so, he was either instrumental in the deaths of early Christians or at the very least was complicit. His fervor to seek out and destroy the uprising was becoming his pathway to a life of ambition. God did not see this for Saul who eventually became St. Paul. Instead, a bright light knocked him from his horse, on his journey to Damascus to persecute more Christians, and a voice asked why Saul was persecuting him. Saul, blinded by the light, exclaims he doesn’t know who he is speaking to, is answered with “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”. From there, he went on to Damascus, still blind and in need of compassion from those around him. He was sent to Ananias where he had hands laid upon him, and where scales fell from his eyes, allowing for him to regain his sight once more.
In St. Paul’s story, we see a man, who lived a life he believed to be proper and in line with God’s will, but as his perspective changed, and as the truth was revealed to him, he quickly realized the error of his ways, and the need to embrace a future of God’s light. His past was dreadful, and his future full of hope. This becomes abundantly clear when he states what is now in 1 Cor 4:13
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
Paul, continued with this fervent belief in love for the rest of his life, where eventually we was put to death. What St. Paul’s story tells us is, his past, as awful and degrading as it was, wasn’t beyond God, in fact God’s will allowed Paul to seek redemption and thus find it among those people seeking God. His future was uncertain, but it was his, and his choices and his free will to find God in all things.
We are a lot like St. Paul, in the sense, we are all not immune to the mistakes of the weak. Our nature is bound to become a sinner, and is relegated to a weaknesses which creates in us a void always in search of God. What we believe, and what this culture wants us to believe is, if we gain more things and work harder, we’ll be rewarded with those gifts we desire. This is untrue, and dangerous to the redemption of our souls. If we are to find joy in this life, we must be willing to embrace the sin which has prevented us from the joy of God’s Love. Sin is the stain which permeates our souls and keeps ups from attaining the light. Think of it like being in a room with no doors and no windows, what seems hopeless, is only the devil’s game, it’s only the lie which keeps us from trying. What we don’t realize is the darkness is behind us if only we would turn around, if only we would lift our heads, and if only we would wipe the blindness from our eyes. This is what St. Paul did for Christ, he wiped away those scales from his eyes, and what was interminable blindness, causing him to stumble, fall, and question hope, suddenly became clear. I can only imagine the elation he felt from once again being able to focus on what was in front of him. Once his eyes were opened, he spent the next three years in Damascus, and began to grow this faith, which he believed he always had, but truthfully, a faith which was only half developed, a faith where he was embracing the past, so his future had no chance. God made him this mustard seed, and he grew and grew, all the while knowing at some point, he would lay down his life to fully embrace Christ.
Those of us, still looking at the past, still embracing our proverbial pain, are given a choice. We can either recognize, everyone has a past, varying and distinct in their own ways, or we can condemn not only our past but the past of the others around us. Which one do you think will truly carry the light of joy in your life? We constantly see shows on television, where the hosts tear down people, all for the purposes of creating profit for the goal of entertainment, but all the while failing to recognize the destruction of another is most assuredly not a pathway to growth and love. If you sit alone at night and feel a twinge of self-consciousness or embarrassment, then good, learn you aren’t perfect, and embrace your imperfections. It’s the only way, as a sinner, you will ever be able to embrace the future.
As we begin a journey into another Advent and Christmas season, take the time to realize, your imperfections are what make you who you are. Acknowledging this and seeking redemption for this is what puts you on the pathway to a life of love in God. Failing to recognize the hurt you cause, the detriment to others, or the arrogance to unchanging stubbornness, doesn’t just create in you a situation of constant turmoil, but for those you care most about, you are teaching them self-reliance more than a reliance on God. As creatures of our God and King, we were never meant to be lowly guilt-ridden beings always hunkering down out of shame and fear of the unknown. Instead, God wants us to be saints, God wants us to embrace a life of non-stop love. Loving our families, our friends, and our enemies. God’s desire is for us to reach a humility aimed at knowing what we’ve done, and correcting it because there are those people who are still in the clutches of their past, and the only thing which will bring light to their darkness is the reflection of light you will bring into their lives with your presence. Remember, God loves you beyond all measure, and your free will is his gift to you. Choose his path, choose his ways, and above all else, look to a future with God. May God bless you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!
Catholic Campus Ministry