I have a habit of hanging onto every word of wisdom that issues forth from the mouth and the pen of Bishop Donald Hying and I have frequently shared his columns and my notes from his talks here. But I've been slacking and hadn't shared his excellent column from the Milwaukee Catholic Herald that was published two weeks ago. Wouldn't you know that just as I was getting ready to post it, he came out with another fabulous column. What to do? I thought I'd cheat and just print my favorite parts from each column but after re-reading them both, I just can't pick out any one part that is better than the other, so, here they are in their entirety-two fabulous columns from the bishop who is an expert at moving hearts toward ever deeper love of God and the desire for complete unity with Him.
From the October 11th, 2012 Milwaukee Catholic Herald:
To be human is to be restless and not fully satisfied most of the time. Ask a high school senior, an engaged couple or a seminarian in his last year of formation if they are ready to move on to the next stage of life! We seek all sorts of things to fill up the emptiness inside us – new friendships, a spouse, a job promotion, a bigger house, a smaller nose, more money, athletic victory, popularity, and yet when we achieve what we have been pursuing, it is never enough. Our hearts still long for more.
Our Catholic faith tells us that this restless dissatisfaction is a good thing! How can that be? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (27).
In other words, God has placed a homing device in our hearts that will ceaselessly keep us seeking more until we rest in God. St. Augustine knew this truth well; living in the waning years of the Roman Empire, he embraced various philosophies, lived with a woman, fathered a child, feverishly looking for the ultimate meaning of life until he listened to the preaching of St. Ambrose in the Milan cathedral and his heart opened to the truth of Jesus Christ.
Knowing my restlessness to be a good and holy thing helps me to channel my desires to God as my ultimate end. When we are tempted to fill our interior emptiness with anything less than God, we can more consciously remind ourselves of what is actually going on here, that we are really seeking the divine.
If only God can truly satisfy all my longings, then money, alcohol, career prestige, a new car, pornography on the Internet, going shopping or any of the other distractions that tempt us are ultimately illusions that leave us disillusioned and emptier than before. When I am drawn to sin, to put something or someone in place of God, I try to immediately pray, to refocus the desires of my heart on the only One who can truly satisfy.
Helping others name their interior longings is a great form of evangelization. When a friend shares her grief over a broken relationship, we can gently turn her toward the Lord as the one who heals and consoles.
When a coworker talks about his mid-life crisis, we could suggest that maybe he is looking for God without even knowing it. When a relative is battling an addiction, we can talk about the need to surrender to a higher power.
As G. K. Chesterton said, even the alcoholic and the prostitute are looking for God; they just don’t know that that’s who they are really seeking. It is our job to help them to know.
As we enter into this exciting Year of Faith, the church invites us to explore the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for in these pages we will find raised the ultimate questions that each person must answer. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here? Does God exist and how can I know that? Can I be forgiven? Why is there so much suffering and evil? Does death have any meaning? Is there life after death or is there just nothing? What is heaven really like?
Because humanity, down through every age, has always sought answers to these questions, we can say that the human person is fundamentally a religious being. Only religious faith can attempt to resolve such fundamental and perplexing mysteries that gnaw at our minds and souls.
“In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior; in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations and so forth. These forms of religious expression … are … universal … “ (CCC, 28).
For us, as Christians, the Lord Jesus is the door, as he says in John 10, which leads to life, salvation, forgiveness and peace. In his perfect union of divinity and humanity, Jesus is the complete expression of God to us and the fully integrated person who stands before us, inviting us to become fully alive by giving ourselves completely to him and the reign of God.
This Year of Faith may be just the time to examine what is dead, sinful, incomplete or frustrated in us and to turn it all over to the healing power of the Lord.
Are we still looking for love in all the wrong places?
From the October 25th, 2012 Milwaukee Catholic Herald:
Does God have a plan for my life? Is there an order and purpose to my days or is my existence just a random collision of people, events and decisions?
Our minds and hearts long for meaning; we want our lives with the work, joy and suffering that we experience to ultimately matter to someone. As Christians, we believe that God comes to meet us through a divine plan of Revelation, inviting us into a sacred relationship through Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “God, who ‘dwells in unapproachable light,’ wants to communicate his own divine life to the men he freely created, in order to adopt them as his sons in his only-begotten Son. By revealing himself God wishes to make them capable of responding to him, and of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity” #52.
While our individual vocations of marriage, parenthood, priesthood, serving as a nurse, a cook or a lawyer are a mysterious convergence of God’s intention and our free will, ultimately, we all have the same purpose – to become adopted children of God, to enter even now into the sacred life of the Trinity, to love the Lord with all our hearts and to serve the unfolding of the kingdom of heaven.
In his infinite love for us, Jesus invites us into the very relationship he enjoys with the Father. Who Jesus is by nature, we become ourselves through the initiation of baptism and the subsequent sacraments.
St. Paul speaks of this spiritual adoption, this divine filiation in Romans 8, Galatians 4 and Ephesians 1. The catechism mentions it 23 times; it is also prevalent in the Roman Missal, especially in the prayers for baptism and confirmation. Through the whole Christ event – the Incarnation, public ministry, Passion, death and resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost, God opens the door of his heart, inviting us to enter into the very life of the Trinity, even as God comes to dwell within us through the wonder of sanctifying grace.
St. Irenaeus beautifully images this union of the divine and human as God and humanity becoming accustomed to each other: “The Word of God dwelt in man and became the Son of man in order to accustom man to perceive God and to accustom God to dwell in man, according to the Father’s pleasure” #53.
I love the idea that my life is a romantic adventure, a marriage of my soul to God, that my days and years are a gradual unfolding of the Lord and me growing ever more comfortable with each other, that the meaning of my life is mysteriously eternal and knowingly transparent in the immediacy of the present moment.
When we come to realize that we only exist for the praise of God’s glory, that even now we are enjoying this new life and identity in the very heart of the Trinity’s eternal love, life becomes full for us.
Our prayer goes deeper and longer, our participation in the Eucharist grows in understanding and feeling, our confessions become more honest and self-aware, the trivial does not bother us as much, suffering leads us into the self-emptying of the cross and our human relationships are marked by a sacrificial love that leads us beyond the petty concerns and fears that are constantly nagging us for attention.
Henry David Thoreau famously said: “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
How sad it would be to come to the end of our lives only to discover that, in fact, we had never really lived, that we were preoccupied with the wrong things, that we never really discovered who we are or why we were here.
The practice of our faith gives us the meaning and purpose for which we long, our spiritual adoption in Christ bestows an identity upon us richer than our wildest dreams, our particular vocation needs all the love that we can give in order to flourish, every day presents a fresh opportunity for God and us to become more accustomed to each other.
When we find ourselves astonished by the overwhelming graciousness of God, all we can do is pass on to others what we ourselves have received. That beautiful handing over of self is truly the work and project of a lifetime.