Continuing the lessons from the feast of the Sacred Heart, today's liturgy teaches and emphasizes the absolutely necessity and trust in that Sacred Heart. A popular image of the Sacred Heart also has the phrase "Jesus, I trust in you" written below it. This at first, sounds incredibly cliche. Of course we should trust in God! Yet what does that mean? Why should we trust in God? I believe the prayers of today's liturgy shed great insight upon having a holy trust in God's will. We start with the Introit.
Look upon me, O Lord, and have pity on me, for I am alone and desolate. See my poverty and my pain, and pardon all my sins, O my God.
Ps. 24:1-2. I have lifted up my soul to You, O Lord, in You I place my trust, O my God. Let me not be put to shame.
What is one the scariest human emotions? While a man can endure great suffering, even hurt, it is loneliness that eats away at his very being. Why is this? As human beings, we are created as a social animal. We are called to communion with others, as John Paul II used to constantly stress. As Leo XIII tells us, humans are called towards society in all that they do. Focusing only on the individual self is contrary to human nature. When we experience that loneliness, we are experiencing something that we are not meant to have, and it obviously hurts our souls deeply.
While we are called for communion with others, most importantly, we are called to communion with God. One thinks of the famous statement in the Baltimore Catechism that God created you so that you may know him, love him, and serve him. When God created our first parents, he made them so that they could walk beside Him forever. Unfortunately, sin drastically changed that landscape. Through original sin, we become in a very real way separated from God. The reality of this situation changes everything about human existence. Even if we live a life of almost complete holiness, there is still that distance from God caused by sin. If anything, we become all the more aware of that absence, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta showed in her private diary.
Knowing this reality, the Psalmist begs God for pardon. Though we cannot live that communion in the fullest this side of the grave, we can still desire a deeper union with God, and God's grace and mercy supply that union. All we must do is lift our hearts and our souls to the Father and implore his clemency.
O God, You are the protector of all who trust in You, and without You nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Be even more merciful towards us, and rule and guide us that we may use the good things of this life in such a way as not to lose the blessings of eternal life. Through our Lord . . . (Collect)
We are reminded constantly in our Catholic faith to use the time we have on this earth for virtue. Not only is this the right thing to do in society, but we must always be mindful not to spurn the grace God has given us. If we wish to grow in holiness and union with God, we cannot accomplish this by constantly throwing the gifts He gives us away. If a friend constantly rejected your gifts, would you have a closer union with them? Would you not grow apart? So it is with our sins and God. A continual mindset of habitual sin leads to the loss of that unity, and then we are right back where the Psalmist started. Instead, we seek God's guidance in how to use the gifts He gives us. Who better to know the usage of a gift than the one who gives it?
Beloved: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Epistle, 1 Peter 5:6-11)
If there is one thing that loneliness does, it causes us to abandon all reason. We may not even be lonely, yet if we feel we are, very little can change that fact. We run the risk of sinking into despair. The devil loves this. He will seek those destitute souls out as if they were a beacon to him. When he finds those souls, he increases their sense of desperation and loneliness. I see this in a friend I have known for sometime, who has struggled being promiscuous. She does not necessarily like sleeping with one man after another. Sometimes she forces herself to get drunk to undertake it. Yet the temporary euphoria of sex gives her a release from the loneliness she perceives. We find it in the alcoholic, who no longer drinks out of a sense of enjoyment. He drinks to dull out everything around him. He would rather destroy his life then feel alone. Lest we think we are better, we must remember that the devil especially seeks us out. To break someone who has no knowledge of the truth, that does nothing for the evil one's pride. Yet to break one schooled in virtue, that is an undertaking worthy of his time!
Our first Pope gives us practical tools to fight against these feelings. The first is humility, which leads to repentance. That humility causes us to face those feelings of loneliness, and to remember that we cannot obtain constant bliss in this life. Only through Christ is such humility and awareness possible. Second, we must remember the sufferings of the brethren around the world. While we may be alone in a physical aspect, we are united in spirit with all those suffering around the world in the faith. We take comfort in that there are millions of souls in the very same situation as we are, yet they continue to fight. Indeed, we form a "band of brothers" in our suffering, and we are called to provide support for one another in that instance. A unity in suffering is one of the most powerful repellents of the machinations of the evil one.
Finally, we look to our eternal end. This suffering is only temporary! No matter how lonely we feel, this will not be forever! Christ one day will call you to Himself, state "Well done, good and faithful servant!" At this point, we will experience a unity that is impossible to describe in mere human emotions. To have a chance at something so great, we should be spurred to endure this isolation of communion with patience and holy endurance. Important as this message is, the message of the Gospel gives us something even greater.
At that time, the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
We do not have a God who puts "everything on us", as if we are to just endure those hardships, with no chance of improvement. The beauty of Jesus Christ is He seeks you out. He called you before the foundation of the world! His only mission, His very existence, is to seek you out. He frequently intervenes in the lives of those farthest from Him, even if we do not perceive it. We may not have the luck (or misfortune) of St. Paul, who was blinded by a very grandiose appearance of our Lord. Many times, we are like Elijah in the cave, who finds and discovers God in the stillness of the air. We are truly not alone! He underwent the worst of torments and sufferings, even death on a cross, to find us and bring us home. When we go to Mass every Sunday, we can throw off the loneliness of the world, and find him in the Blessed Sacrament. When we read the words of Holy Scripture, He touches our souls and gives us the truly heavenly wisdom, which gives us the strength to endure.
Yet most importantly for today's prayers, we can find Jesus in the sacrament of Penance. A priest is truly a great priest if he offers this sacrament as often as possible, for even the smallest of sins. God awaits you through the ministry of the priest. When one is burdened by sin, do they not feel a great joy once that sin is forgiven? Even our Protestant brethren, who lack this sacrament, speak of the truly life-changing moment when they are freed from their sins by repentance. Yet while they have that joy of the momentary freedom from their sin, it is through the sacraments and the grace they supply that one is restored to God. We confess our sins before heaven and earth in the confessional. We recognize the just punishment of them, but still throw ourselves at the feed of the merciful judge, begging his clemency. Yet God gives us one better. Not only does he bestow that clemency, but He calls us even closer to him upon it. Would not most men, even after forgiveness, be apprehensive to return to the state of closeness and unity with a brother who truly wrongs them? God proves His ways are not our ways in this and many other things. Yet we must repent. If that is the lesson of today, let it be this.
Priests, please offer the sacrament as often as possible. My brethren, seek out the sacrament and communion with our Master as often as possible, and as deeply as possible. If we feel loneliness, seek out Jesus in the sacraments. He will transform that loneliness through love.