Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Approximately one year ago, a priest friend of mine recommended to me the works of a French author who is a convert to Christianity. His name is Fabrice Hadjadj. He teaches philosophy at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. His books make one stop and think. I find him very witty too. I have read some of his books translated into Spanish.
I am currently reading one entitled “Be successful when you die.” The original title in French is “Réussir sa mort.” In a section entitled “Supermarket of idols,” the author argues with great eloquence and wit that modern marketing projects divine attributes onto objects, so as to generate in the consumer the desire to acquire the product. Thus, for example, there is an anti-aging creme that is sold under the brand name Eternity, because it seems to promise eternal life.
Undoubtedly all of us aspire to perfection and the fullness of being, something that many promise, but only God can realize in our lives.
Just as the anti-aging creme promises eternity, the super-computer promises infinite knowledge and so on and so forth. Of course, all those promises end-up disappointing because, as Hadjadj maintains, “divine things are only divine in God and only the one who receives them as a gift from His Goodness can fully enjoy them… To acknowledge the Creator is not to reject the creature. To divinize the creature, however, is to destroy it. The one who flees from the Holy Face does not find other faces, rather will lose them and will only find around him masks and cartoons.”
That is why the warning of the Lord in the Gospel for this Sunday is so important. It is not that family life is in opposition to the love of God or service to Him. On the contrary, an intense family life is a grace, a gift from God. Additionally, it is very much needed for our physical, emotional and affective health. However, it ought not to be divinized or replace God from the center of our existence. A family life centered in Christ is fecund, a source of incomparable joy, because it is grounded in Love, Beauty, Truth, the attributes of God. True love, whether filial, conjugal or fraternal is rooted in God who is the Supreme Good, otherwise it can very easily degenerate into sentimentalism, self-seeking or anything else.
For our family life or any other dimension of our existence to bear abundant fruit and bring us to true happiness, it must have Christ at the center. Our very lives, our entire being must be oriented towards God. If He is not at the center of our being, we experience an inner division, a deep alienation that will end up destroying us.
When we engage in self-seeking, when we remove God from his rightful place and place ourselves there or any other idol, everything becomes difficult, arid, insipid. Religious life can also become sterile, a burden, an occupation, self-seeking. On the other hand, when God is the center of our lives, even difficulties are endured with a serene joy. The one who dives into the love of God forgetful of self, finds the fullness of life. Family life, our relationships, our work acquire meaning when they are ordered to God and are nourished by His love. To acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our lives, far from enslaving us, sets us free.
That is what the saints have fully understood. They were capable of placing God at the center of their existence, even as they faced countless difficulties. That is the reason why they prevailed in their struggles. In the face of suffering they were strong, serene, joyful, centered. There were successful in death. Some even received the crown of martyrdom.
St. Joseph, for example, who had great love for the Virgin Mary, was capable to set his personal projects aside for her good. In the Gospel according to St. Matthew we find him thinking how he was going to protect her from scandal when the angel appears to communicate to him God’s plan. This just man has the ability to act according to God’s plan, even though it will mean exile for him. In doing so he ends up more closely united to his wife because he reaches communion with her in Love, a bond that is full and intimate in holiness.
The great missionary saints, the holy founders of religious communities, those who dedicated themselves to teaching, theological investigation or the natural sciences have placed God at the center of their projects and affections. They faced difficulties, yet they were fecund and joyful, precisely because they were focused on service of God.
St. Alberto Hurtado, a Chilean Jesuit, who dedicated his life to care for homeless children, whom he would pick up in his Ford truck and take them to a shelter he founded, which he named “Christ’s home”, died young of pancreatic cancer. As the disease progressed and pain was ever more intense, people were moved to see him so joyful. It was precisely because his communion with Christ was so deep that note even physical pain would take away the joy experienced by someone who tastes the love of God.
I could offer many more examples. Fabrice Hadjadj mentions St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta. We all probably remember the final weeks in the life of Karol Wojtyla, marked by suffering, but perhaps among the most luminous of his rich pontificate.
These days, there is yet another luminous example in the person of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who has an intense family life. His mother and his sister lived many years with him. He has a beautiful bond with his older brother, a priest, ordained the same day. Last week he went to Germany to visit him because he is very ill. He only aspires to cooperate with Truth. His fidelity to God led him to take a historic decision to resign, demonstrating that, as Pope Francis likes to say, true power is found in service and to follow Christ is not about self-seeking, looking for comfort, places of privilege or honor, but fidelity in personal self-giving, in the silence of ordinary life, in the simplicity of the cross.
Current difficulties, especially the pandemic, have made manifest the fragility of our condition and the precarious situation of creation. They should lead us all to stop and think, especially us, Christians, about our place in the universe, the world, in civil society. We, Christians, ought to place Christ at the center of our being, of our doing, of our family and social relationships. If we do that, we will truly become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If we live for him, as St. Paul says in the second reading, “as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus,” surely our family relationships will flourish and our lives will be fuller and more fecund, even if we find the Cross, the instrument with which Christ heals us and saves us.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid