We have heard it often enough, “I don’t need to go to church. I don’t need organized religion. I can just worship God in my own time, in my own way.”
If I would have chosen that path–which is often tempting on Sunday morning–to just roll over and pull the covers over my head and ignore the chaos and confusion of getting breakfast on the table and everyone dressed, presentable and to church on time, I would have been the one who would have suffered for it, for I would have been the one who would have missed out on friendships that have nudged me–if not catapulted me–in the right direction, the direction of holiness.
I would have been the one who would have missed knowing “x.” No matter how difficult life is she is cheerful, not in a bubbly pop-the-cork champagne way, but in a smiling calmly Mona Lisa way. Her serene demeanor is one that invites the other to unburden the cares and worries of the heart to an empathetic ear.
Her compassionate concern for others brings to life those saint stories of long ago, making them real and not just fairy tales. At the same time, knowing someone who strives to be good and kind offers refreshing hope in a world that seems to have gone bonkers.
She is one person of so many others who has touched my life for the better, stretching me outside of my box of self-complacency, fear, and withdrawal. I can dwell on those who are unkind, self-centered and mean-spirited or I can remember those who are kind and loving–often expressing their thoughtfulness with nothing more than a simple gesture, an opening of a door, a welcoming invitation or a grateful thank you.
I can act like those who have impacted my life in a positive or negative way. I can emulate her who has little by the world’s standards but has given much to others by God’s standards, or I can follow the example of those who are consumed with having more and more, especially power and prestige.
Life is full of choices. I can follow my self-centered will and repartee unkindness with unkindness or strive to be the better person, trying to control my volcanic temper when it is churning into an all out eruption–an eruption that never benefits anyone. Witnessing someone else who exhibits self-control in the midst of adversity, awakens admiration and inspires like-mindedness.
A priest once told me that he knew of more than one young man who entered the priesthood because of Blessed Mother Teresa’s smile, nothing extraordinary, just her smile. But in many ways her smile was extraordinary. It was a reflection of her soul beaming through her joy-filled eyes. Those joy-filled eyes are like the eyes of my friend who takes the time out of her busy schedule to say hello, how are you? I have time for you! When we are engaged in a conversation, she could be self-absorbed and monopolize the conversation talking heedlessly about herself, but she does not. Those little acts of kindness, which appear to go unnoticed, can mean the most, especially in times of stress.
At the same time, going to church is not just about the friendships that encourage, but also about the grace that sustains us in the midst of sorrow and weakness. There are plenty of churches that offer a lively Christ-filled community. But there is only one Church that offers an intimate union with Christ, a union that offers the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. There is only one Church that offers the grace to overcome all obstacles to holiness. There is only one Church, rich in God’s love and mercy, which offers us the opportunity to cleanse us of our sins to begin anew.
These are powerful reasons for going to church. Along the way, seeing faith put into action, embodied by those around us, can be a source of encouragement. Through others, we can experience God’s loving kindness in a concrete way.
We live in a world of competing values and virtues. Too many are dazzled by the glitter and glitz of the rich and the famous, the “hottest” sports, TV or movie celebrity making the current gossip on social media or the latest cover of People magazine. Too many admire the wrong people for the wrong reasons, subconsciously imitating their poor choices and like moths who are attracted to bright lights in the night end up getting burned.
Women desire to be beautiful, but what kind of beauty? Not recognizing that they were created in the image and likeness of God, possessing an inherent dignity, they flaunt their bodies as sexual candy to be desired, but then indignantly complain, “Do Not Touch!” They derive their self-worth by their sexual appeal to others, not knowing that they are precious and beautiful in God’s eyes. They think the more “sexy” they are the more beautiful they are. Sadly, in their craving for attention–and to be “beautiful”–they throw away their virtue.
As they clamor to be the most sexually provocative, they do not know how foolish they appear. They have lost all modesty. Plunging necklines are not enough. If I google an actress to see who she is, shamelessly, I can find her in the nude. A New Year’s Eve program brags “no swearing,” “no stripping” and then immediately cuts to a shot of the woman host dressed in her bra. Intended to shock, their lewd actions, such as twerking, and crass thoughts, may bring them attention, but certainly no respect. We need to admire people who possess a beauty of the soul, a beauty which far surpasses any other.
With our hectic lifestyles and busy schedules, we often don’t take the time to read about the saints. In the meantime, we can reflect on the noble virtues of those we admire. We can strive to imitate their holy example. You aren’t going to find them on the magazine covers in the grocery checkout aisle. But if you find the right church, you might find her sitting in front of you.