Gratitude and Conversion

In recent days, the Morningside neighborhood in Wichita Falls announced that they will not have their annual Christmas lights display this year. Many were disappointed and sad (including me); however, most of the people understood the reasoning behind the decision and were grateful for the memories made in past years. It was a hard decision for the neighborhood, but many of the residents are elderly, and it does take a lot of energy, effort, and finances to set up, maintain, and pay for these lights throughout the holiday season. This pandemic has affected many of them in so many different ways, and due to the current social distancing restrictions, it was best that they cancel it this year. Nevertheless, some people did not take the news well and really said hurtful words on social media as if it is somehow an entitled “tradition” that “these people dare to take away from us and our family.” Some even said that the residences were just being stingy and selfish, simply “hiding behind the lame COViD-19 excuses.”

Nevertheless, I believe what is hidden behind this one episode is a missed opportunity for gratitude and a call for conversion. As human beings, we want things to go as we want — our ways — and when something is not up to our par, we tend to blame others, get bitter and resentful. We become nothing less than self-centered, entitled people who do not do the works but want all the results. We often forget that nothing is really free in this world! When something is offered to us for free, someone else has to actually do the works and make the sacrifices to make things happen. When we begin to point fingers, condemn, and say things like, “How dare they!”, we simply become nothing less than self-centered, childish, and immature people who want a lot but give little, not appreciative of the gifts given, kicking and screaming as we expect things to be our ways.

In a very similar way, we often do the same thing to God when we deem that He has failed us, too. Ever since this whole pandemic began, I and many other priests and religious have received numerous messages, emails, and comments from atheists, nominal Christians, and agnostics asking how can an all-loving and all-powerful God permits something like this to happen! For them, if He failed to allow this pandemic and tragedy to happen, then He is either not real, powerless, or not caring enough. Yet, behind all these pitiful blames and attacks, we have ignored our self-centered desire to have things our ways and to treat God as someone who we call to blame, demand, and expect to clean up our mess so we can get back living our lives. Nevertheless, we do not really remember or care about Him when things are normal and go right.

We go on sinning, making decisions only for our goods or benefits, not worrying about others and the likes when we have things our ways, acting like He is not part of the equation and is to be put into the corner until we need Him. Yet, this has caused a personal ignorance and dismissal of who we truly are as we make ourselves our own little gods and controllers of our own little universes. Hence, when people lose their moral compass, conscience, duty, and responsibility, only do things only for their benefit or to prove their power without worrying about others, we end up making decisions that will hurt so many other people.

Just like this particular pandemic, especially when we have numerous pieces of evidence that this virus was manipulated and manufactured unnaturally in a laboratory, those who are responsible have selfishly unleashed great moral, social, and human-made evils in this world that affected many. Even though they will be dismissed and will not have to take responsibility in the eyes of the world, the blood, sufferings, and deaths of the innocents and those who were affected by this unleash of the virus are on their hands and stain their souls! Sadly but true, too many people nowadays no longer have the moral sensitivity to avoid sin and bear upon themselves the sense of responsibility for the greater good, for too many only seek to do what is possible or beneficial for their own gains. Human selfishness and centeredness have caused many post-modern and even recent evils — including this pandemic, but what has happened and are still happening revealed to us the shameful truth that we are too self-occupied toward the point that we cannot see the real call for conversion, only our pitiful need to blame God and others for making life harder for us and when things do not go our ways.

Too oftentimes, we treat the Creator as if He is only good for us if He serves His purpose to be there to ensure that things go our ways, we get what we want, and life is according to our demands and expectations. Instead of worshipping, loving, and following His will, we impose our will upon Him and expect Him to be our little genie that grants us our wishes, serves us, and cleans up our messes when needed! Too many of us have made ourselves the center of the universe and godlike and turn God into a docile servant of our ego and selfishness. Hence, we have missed the call to conversion because we are too busy being mad, resentful, angry, frustrated, disappointed, or simply giving up because things do not go our ways.

Throughout this season of Advent, we are being reminded and are called to conversion, which is the changing of very own lives in order to conform our will to His! How is our prayer life? I hope we genuinely and humbly pray that His will be done instead of ours. How is our life of discipleship? I hope that we are leveling our mountains of pride and egotistical buildups, fill up our valleys of hopelessness and despair, and make straight the way for the Lord to come to us.

Let us ask ourselves this real question! If the Lord is to come to us today, will He be able to have direct, immediate, and personal access to us without hindrances, demands, expectations, and obstacles? Advent is this time for us to truly clean house, reprioritize, and allow ourselves to refocus on God and His goodness. Instead of being angry, frustrated, and pouting when things do not go our ways, may we take this opportunity to change our lives by shedding our ego, leveling our pride, and fill up our voids with His loving presence.

This is also the time for us to practice patience, too, because God‘s timing is not like ours. Please remember that He does not focus on giving us what we want here and now, according to what we deem and judge to be good and beneficial for us, but will, and at times, permit things to happen, too, for our eternal good! If everyone gets what he or she wants all the time, then this world will definitely be in chaos. If we simply get everything that we want, we will become bored, spoiled, and live life with many things but without meanings, because we will never really appreciate the gifts and blessings given to us. It really takes a lot of humility to recognize the small, personal, intimate, and seem to be ordinary blessings that come from His loving heart for us. Truly, nothing should be taken for granted and entitled, for everything that seems to be free and without costs to us are personally given and provided from His love — hidden behind ordinary means. Therefore, it takes a simple, grateful, and loving heart to receive the heartfelt, simple, and personal gift that God has for us.

When we do not get what we want right away, it does not mean that He is ignoring, being mean, downplay, or has forgotten us. The saints taught us to not lose heart, keep the course, and be focused on His love. Even when we do not what we expected or prayed for, we need to remember that God loves us more than we love ourselves and He truly desires our ultimate and eternal good, so He is making all things work for that destiny so we can spend eternal life with Him! For those who believe, we know that the life of faith and discipleship is never promised to be easy and without trials, but the Lord did promise that we will not be tested, tried, and given opportunities for growth more than what we can handle. Furthermore, He even promised that He will strengthen us in our weaknesses, failures, and shortcomings, too. So, true Christian faith and life of discipleship is not one that is supposed to go our way and have everything rightly put, but that it is filled with His loving grace, ordered for our eternal good, and given opportunities to deepen our strength, commitment, and self-giving sacrifices for Him in return for His love to us.

Furthermore, what happens at Morningside this year oftentimes can be seen at our local parishes, too! The attitude of entitlement is often imposed on other people, too, and not just only God. It is sad, but too many people nowadays are not committed to anything more than their own goods or self-centered benefits. Nevertheless, when they come to church at their convenience, they often find faults and blame others for how things are not up to their par, “not like what it used to be,” but they do not lift a finger to build the local community. They like to blame others for how things are not the ways they should be, but they do nothing except for being puffed up judges, spectators, and consumeristic shoppers who expect and demand that, “The customer is always right!” Truthfully speaking, the people who are always not happy with something are simply not happy with is themselves and their egoistical shallowness, void, hopelessness, lack of true faith, love, and service.

We have to remember that God‘s grace is what we have been given out of His generosity and people’s gifts are their personal blessings to us — not simply an entitlement! When things do not go our ways, may we see the sign that perhaps we need to get out of the throne of judgment and expectation to lift a finger, support others with our very own sacrifices, and humbly work in the vineyard of the Lord. If we change our ways, be a little bit more humble, patient, loving, and self-giving, we would perhaps know that, just like what St. Therese of Lisieux said, “Everything is grace!”