So what makes you happy? Ever think about it? I did a quick survey of the kids and teens in our parish schools during visits and the answers: money, family, chocolate (Amen to that), Netflix, coffee, football. I asked a few of the couples that came in for baptism appointments the same question: promotion at work, more sleep, no mortgage, a lottery win. I asked a couple of the ladies in one of our small groups: if my husband would just listen. I asked a few of the fellas: if my wife would have less things on the list for me to do.
Did you notice that in all of those replies, it was “outside in”: circumstances or something which other people should change. Think about it. When we were kids, if our team would win we were happy, and if they lost the opposite was true. When we were teens, our happiness was often a reflection of how we were accepted by our circle of friends. When we were young adults, it had to do with career path, academic success or material possessions.
But if it’s “outside in” — circumstances — then some would say that when these are not reality then neither is our joy. “Outside in” makes us vulnerable not to God, but to others. The great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable but to not be vulnerable is to be in a casket.” Here is the dilemma. We want joy so bad, but to pursue it breaks our heart. And yet to detach makes us less human: dead. Yet, it is not circumstance which make us alive; it is not change in others which makes us happy; it is not current events which make reality a joy.
Happiness comes when, in our Way Forward, we make every effort toward a faithfulness found in peace! A peace rooted in Him. A peace that comes from Him. A peace that is founded upon His principles.
In today’s schools, universities and workplaces, so many people who have grown up avoiding conversation show up wearing earphones. Walking through a local university recently, I saw the same thing: we are together but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. People work away quietly at workstations with a whole array of technologies spread before them: laptops, iPads, iPods and multiple cell phones. No one dares to break the silence with a greeting of “Hello!”
In the silence of supposed connection, people are carefully kept at bay. We keep one another at bay. We seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. It is our role to tell people to look up, look at one another and to start the conversation again. The Word became flesh… not an e-mail, text, prompt or probe!
Pope Francis warns us: “Some people… want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off.” He continues: “The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us.”
If a person was staying at your house while you are away and they said, “Canada Post showed up at the door. They wanted to deliver a letter and there was $20 postage due, so I paid it. Here is the letter.”
Well, you would probably say to that person: “Thank you! Can I repay you?”
But what if that same person instead said, “The police and Revenue Canada showed up. The police had a drone watching your driving and issued tickets for all the rules you broke and thought you got away with. The fine comes to 20 years of your earning capacity. As well, Revenue Canada did an audit and is fining you 100 years of your earning capacity. But don’t worry, I paid it for you!”
What would your response be? You would probably fall to your knees: “Thank you! But that is 120 years of your earning capacity. You will never be able to repay it.”
When you say this and they still insist, “It’s okay,” mercy enters.
One significant way in which mercy reveals itself through us, in our daily lives, is in the power of our words. In the Book of Genesis we hear God creates — with a word (Genesis 2:7). He breathes His word and it is created. We are created in His image — and we are not God — but we also have the ability to aid in creating. We do so with our words.
We contribute to creating the self-image of another with the power of our words. We know that is true because that is what happened to us. A coach or teacher or priest told us something which built us up, our confidence grew. A friend or significant person in our life invested in us through their words and we had a sense of self-worth. A parent told us we could or believed in us, and we achieved more than we otherwise might have. The opposite is also the case. When someone pulls us downward with their words and says you are incapable, you are not worthy to be my friend, you are not talented or beautiful, it can devastate us. Words, they create marriages, families, life, community, society. We can even create or influence people’s views of God by what we say.
St. Luke tells a story (Luke 9:51-62) about Jesus and His disciples being around a Samaritan town. Jesus was looking to Jerusalem and the people were getting on the nerves of the Apostles. They were tired, weary and probably the crowd was causing them anxiety. So they asked Jesus if they could command fire down to consume them. A rather strange response — or was it?
I bet every single one of us has experienced a moment like that:
o a slowly moving line at the grocery check out;
o a wailing child in the waiting room;
o a lingering visitor at our door;
o a sibling, child or grandchild who is annoying;
o a spouse, friend or co-worker who doesn’t recognize social cues.
And we think to ourselves, if I had the power to command down fire right now! Yet, you do.
By the things that we do, mainly in our words, we can slice and can burn and leave an imprint. Our words can encourage or enflame, they can be life giving or destroy a relationship, they can fuel anger or create calm, they can give perspective or lead another into a pit.
When in malice we use a comparison word, a cutting word, a critical word, we are commanding fire. Words define our heart and our heart defines our words. Does that mean our words must be flowery and untruthful (insincere) all the time? No!
One of my favourite pastimes is sailing. Recently I joined a friend of mine and his three brothers sailing. It was their first time and, to be honest, I was thrilled to share the experience with them on a truly picture perfect day! Let me share what I told them what I love about sailing.
First, the calm. On a beautiful day, with the right breeze, nothing beats it. There is a serenity.
Second, the truth of sailing. You can’t fake a sail boat. It will not go where the wind is not. Power boats, well you can make them do whatever with the bluster and power of an engine, but a sail boat goes only where the wind allows it. There is a truth to it!
Our words must be always in truth, and they must be in love, not of self but love of others. Words of truth without love are not truth. They are a power boat — filled with gas! Love without truth is not love. It is a water sport — only for showing off.
The Letter to the Galatians (5.1, 13-18) puts it well when it reminds us to submit to the Spirit. Do not go against the yoke (this means do not go against what is true!). You should discern before you speak, and then respond in truth, not react in anger.
Being untruthful or unloving is destructive. Speak the truth in love, in love for the other. For in that truth we demonstrate not only love for them, but for God and self.
And in this love of truth we more than survive, we truly thrive.
(Fr. Frank Freitas is the pastor at St. Mary of the Visitation parish in Cambridge, Ont. More than Survive — 112 pages, $14.99, with a foreword by Cardinal Thomas Collins — is published by Catholic Register Books. For copies, see the ad on page 20, call 416-934-3410 or visit catholicregister.org)