The Christian Life: Friendship with God
If there is ever a mass in which a priest will be forgiven for talking briefly about himself in his homily- it’s his mass of thanksgiving. So, I will take advantage of that: From my young teenage years through much of high school, I found myself fascinated with the great figures of history: some of my favorites were Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Abraham Lincoln, and especially Peter the Great. I read biographies and histories about these men, and even dabbled in writing a weird pseudo-historical novel that included all of them in some surreal timeline. It was not good, and luckily it did not survive through the years to come back and embarrass me today. The crucial criteria- for me at least- that all these men had in common was that they somehow rose above their time- we remember them, we study them, they are, in that classical sense, immortalized. I realized this and actually began considering and working out a programmatic approach to doing exactly that- The guide to being immortalized.
This is a common desire, whether it is the desire for physical immortality- a serious benefit to my friends in the medical field- or the immortality of the memory, which is usually a serious detriment to the world as “great” men and women try and make their mark on the world. Jesus says the opposite in today’s gospel: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body. Why would Jesus say that, when death brings an end to our world, a world pronounced by God himself to be very good. If you have traveled at all you realize the world is a wild and fascinating place (of which Montana is the absolute best portion). So why does God encourage us to face death with a sense of indifference?
Blessed John Henry Newman (the saint on my ordination holy card) said you could measure the goodness, the beauty, the worthiness of everything in this world by looking to Jesus Christ on the Cross. What does this mean: Well, I have been a Cleveland Indians fan since 4th grade and I track them decently well. But in the end, when I look at my life, what is the worth of baseball in light of the Cross? More seriously, what is the weight of democracy and the United States of America? Or our families? We see everything in a very different light when we look at it in the light of the Cross- Things that seem important melt away while others we often take for granted- namely our relationships- take on serious weight.
So, what of the world then? Does this homily seem to be sucking all the fun out of this pleasant world? Not at all, the cross teaches us the deepest truth, the true order of things. Anyone who has lived in the world for some time, as well as seeing how fascinating it is, has also realized the joy this world has to offer is not lasting. It is fleeting! An example- I am a skier, and at the beginning of each winter I love watching ski movies to get me pumped for the season. A few years ago I was watching a film and the best skier in the world skied what was, at the time, almost certainly the most difficult line anyone had ever skied. Later they asked him- how did you feel dude? And he said, “all I could think about was getting back up there and skiing an even gnarlier line. What? This guy accomplished an incredible feat and had about 10 seconds of satisfaction from it.
When we actually examine this life, and look out upon the world, we realize that, as bright and shiny as it appears, it will not fulfill its promises. But it is so difficult for us to recognize- I know it is for me- because the other option, the Christian life, begins by looking upon the sorrowful scene of the cross and repenting of our sins!
But regardless of how we go about it, when we get to the very bottom of things, that moment of clarity, when the superficiality of this life wears off, we will either lift our heads to see Jesus Christ upon the Cross, or we will look out upon this world and see only a trackless waste, a desert void of meaning or direction.
I know that seems awful black and white, and it probably doesn’t sit well with my millennial peers. Is there not a third way? Can we not find meaning in life by a collective of meaningful acts which come and go over the course of our lives? Certainly, all those small pleasures, the momentary satisfaction our world gives, can just be sought out continually and add up to a relatively meaningful life…
This approach does not satisfy, for the Gospel today calls us back to the singular truth that shows every worldly pursuit for what it is- the inevitable fact for which there is no answer: death. Death brings an end to all the promises of the world. Yet simultaneously death brings to light the true joy of Jesus on the cross. Because Jesus came that we might have life, and life to the full!
He died upon the cross that we would be freed from the grip of death- do we actually believe this? If we did, then we would not fear death.
So, we have the world- which promises great pleasure, power, and comfort, yet ends with bitterness. Then we have the cross which begins with sorrow and repentance but promises joy in this life, and eternal life after death.
So, what is it to lift our eyes to the Cross? What is it to be a Christian- and what does that look like? How can we possibly reject this world, yet be happy here in this life? Being a Christian does not mean leaving the world, or taking no joy in our daily life.
Being a Christian consists, first and foremost, in a friendship with God. And everything in the Church is ordered toward bringing the world into this great friendship. Jesus at the end of his earthly life tells his disciples: “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” The God of the universe calls us friends. No other religion has ever proclaimed such a bold doctrine.
When God called me to priesthood, he called me into a new and deeper friendship with him, and I will never be able to repay fitting thanks for such a profound gift. All I can hope to do is spend my life bringing everyone I meet into this profound friendship. The moment we really begin to make God the center of our lives, when we make the Cross the measure of our world, everything takes on profound meaning. Our joys can be seen as a gift given by the God who loves us. Our sufferings become an opportunity to suffer on the Cross with Jesus, and death becomes the doorway to eternal life with our creator and redeemer.
I have experienced a joy in these past 24 hours that I did not imagine was possible, and one that surpasses anything this world could ever promise to give. It has simply been the gift of realizing that God has chosen me, lowly Kirby Longo, for a particular mission, one no one else can accomplish. That is humbling.
But know that each of you has your own mission- one that neither I nor anyone else can accomplish. You will only know this mission if you let Christ be the measure of your life, if you let him call you… his friend.