A few years back, while listening to one of the priests that I respected and admired preaching his homily at a 4 PM Sunday Mass, a few lines in his homily struck my heart. I could still remember it as if it was yesterday! He said:
Thirty-nine years ago, I left Viet Nam on a boat like many people to find freedom, and we got lost at sea without food for days. Imagine the immense risks and dangers we had to face and chose in order to find freedom and new opportunities that were not afforded to us in a communist country! But, nowadays, how many people are willing to risk everything for eternal life? Perhaps not many, else this Church would be packed… but it is not.
Those words hit home and they hit hard because they were able to voice the sentiments I had when we were dealing with the many uncertainties and challenges that arose throughout the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Over and over again, we had to deal with many opinions, thoughts, suggestions, fears, reservations, and a plethora of human sentiments on what to do. Many people were very vocal and opinionated, making sure in letting us know how this pandemic was a scam according to their reliable conspiracy theories or their overreactive fears of having to face this virus that will destroy the end of this world. Oftentimes, we were constantly bombarded with those from the extremes who want our attention, calling us cowards or irresponsible people because we are not doing enough or do not speak up against the lies according to their standards. At the end of the day, too many people remained in their little bubbles and own ways of life, but no one really stepped outside of their little thrones to truly humble themselves and to seek Christ in the midst of all the chaos. It seemed like we had a lot of people who are either self-absorbed or self-righteous in their own fears or judgments that they were never willing to let go of their own criteria to truly seek Him and to personally choose to follow Him in the midst of the crises.
Too many times, we have people who say many things but not many willing to actually let their faith be enlivened with how they actually choose to live their lives in conformity to Christ Jesus. The biggest challenge, I believe, we are seeing in our very own nation and the world at large, as they are becoming more secularistic and humanistically driven is people abandoning their faith. We end up with many labeled and self-identified Christians or “believers” but they have little interest, commitment, or knowledge of their own faith. They might pray once in a while, come to worship or attend Mass when the occasion arises or when it is a “tradition” or convenience for them; however, at the end of the day, they remain their own little gods, making kingdoms and rules for themselves and expect others to obey. They have never really known or are willing to live anything outside of their own conveniences or self-created value system. Humility and obedience are the two hardest things for those people to practice and attain because they will only put up with certain things as long as they get what they want back in return to likable degrees. All things for postmodern people tend to boil down to self-centered benefits, desires, or needs. Many people are really scared to truly love and give themselves totally, completely, genuinely, transparently, and humbly to the other person and to God because they are scared of losing control and not getting what they want.
Love takes humility and vulnerability to go let go and let God shows us who we truly are, made in His image and likeness, formed out of love and for love. We cannot truly love or be taught to love until we allow ourselves unconditionally love God without having Him give us something back in return or regain whatever favors, desires, plans, or wants that we have for ourselves and expect from Him. It is hard for us to simply receive from Him and to be loved by Him in very simple, heartfelt, and ordinary ways beyond our self-centered standards, expectations, demands, or desires to be in control or have things our way. This seems to be so easy and foolproof but it is the hardest thing to do because it requires us to be simple, to let go, and to allow God to overtake every part of our being, to learn to receive and to be grateful with a genuine, childlike heart.
We can only understand what it means to love when we holistically fall in love with the Lord instead of simply seeking information to prove that He exists and is worthy of our love. Knowing everything about a person will not make us love the person! We might develop some feelings for them, but love does not happen until we open our hearts to get to know, endear, and love the person for who he or she is. The same thing applies to God, but on a deeper level, as He knows us more than we know ourselves and loves us more than we love ourselves. Here is our Christian paradox on love: Love Himself has formed and given us life out of love, and to truly know how to love is to be loved by Him.
Honestly speaking, if God is not real and if I am not in love with Him, there is no way in this world that I would have been a priest! As an Asian person, we were taught to focus on success and achievement to bring honor to our family and loved ones. We tend to be very focused on quantifiable achievements as success is expected and demanded from young people since their parents have sacrificed a lot for them. I will admit to you that I used to have those thoughts in the past as I tried my best to have a successful future, hoping to repay and give a better life to my parents, especially after witnessing the hard work, mistreatments, and many sacrifices they endured so we can have a better future than they do. Nevertheless, God is a relentless Lover and He never let me go. I knew I just had to give Him a chance.
Loving God and choosing to give up everything to follow Him is hard! There are days that this personal choice becomes harder and the temptations to walk away become very real. There are so many things in life and all around me telling me that there are greater pleasures, satisfactions, powers, riches, prestige, or the likes in the world if I just leave my way to pursue these tangible and worldly things. Nonetheless, life has taught me that what seems to be appealing and great at first are nothing but fleeting matters that will come and go. For some reason, in the midst of many temptations and worldly reasons, I just simply cannot let Him go because I know how much He loves me. I can feel it in my soul, from the bottom of my heart, and in the depth of my being. I know that He is real because I love Him. I am who I am today because He loves me!
I hope that makes sense. I am sorry if I am rambling on. I hope you can discover, taste, and fall in love with Him, too. There are many people who can share with you better than I can what it means to know deep within your heart and soul that God is real, especially when we truly desire and choose to passionately love Him at every moment. It is truly a journey worth taking, for only from the heart love can be understood! I would like to leave you with these words from St. Augustine:
“To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”