Precious and Quenched

This last week was an interesting week. It was one of those weeks that the good Lord had His own plan in putting different events that make me reflect on life so I can connect the dots and be grateful for His teaching moments. Those encounters taught me to value the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to rise above what this world is duping and falsely telling us in order to embrace and hold on to Him who is most precious, loving, and beyond all imagination.

I was asked to help out a local parish with their Lenten Penance Service since we do not have enough Spanish-speaking priests in the area. It was a long day, especially in consideration of the early military duty day and a long evening of many confessions. Nonetheless, I saw an old mural painting depicting last Sunday‘s Gospel reading ( John 4:5-42) at that penance service. On top of that, I was preparing a talk for a spiritual resiliency event that our Chapel Team was hosting for CGO members of the Base. I realized when those two things clicked that He has a message for me. In a very wonderful way, everything was coming together and the dots began to providentially connect.

My talk for CGO members was on the courage to embark on a journey of growth, based on the analysis, as well as comparing and contrasting two characters in the Lord of the Rings series. I compared Gollum and Frodo because they are both hobbits. On the one hand, Frodo has to learn to go out of his comfort zone, daily routine, and own way of life in order to embark on a journey for the greater good of the world. He has to learn to rise above the manipulation, control, and temptation — as well as the dangers of being hunted down — to not succumb and be controlled by the One Ring. There are moments in the story when he is really moved and desires the ring. Nonetheless, he also has friends who assist him and keep him grounded on the mission instead of seeking what is pleasurable, attractive, and appealing. On the other hand, Gollum represents a character that is enveloped by the One Ring. He lusts after it and spends a big part of his life chasing after it! He calls it, “My Precious.” It ultimately leads him to his own doom. (I actually wrote a more detailed reflection on it if you like to read it here.)

Both Frodo and Gollum are imperfect. Nonetheless, Gollum lets his lust and desire for the ring destroy him deep from within. Frodo has friends, especially Samwise, to keep him grounded and focused on the mission. Even though the One Ring tries to pull him in and control him, just as it does with Gollum, Frodo has to learn not to be controlled by its manipulative desire for vain power. Thus, we, too, have things that try to lure us in and enslave us. Too many people spend their lives chasing after power, prestige, wealth, influence, beauty, and control. Those things slowly creep in and kill them from the inside out! It is up, therefore, to each and every one of us to rely on others to keep us on the straight and narrow. But, most important of all, we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help us be reconciled with God when we have allowed ourselves to be manipulated, controlled, and chased after destructive matters.

We have to let go of whatever we have identified as our “precious” matters in order to hold on to the One who is truly worthy, loving, and precious. We are more enslaved when we choose to hold on to vanities and the things we have falsely identified as our ultimate (temporal) goods. You and I can see the destructive behaviors that kill people who are power-hungry, vain, controlling, addicted, or manipulative toward others. We can see our very own unhappiness through negativities, bitterness, and resentment when things are not as we like or how we like to control others. Commitment, self-giving, humility, and willingness to die to ourselves, conform our lives to Christ, and give our all in service to others are important qualities of that very life of discipleship. It is very easy to pick and choose or expect others to only meet our demands, expectations, agendas, and own ways of life… but that would only leave us more bitter, resentful, and lonely because we never really stepped outside of ourselves to live for others beyond our little bubbles. There is no genuine and long-lasting friendship and relationship without the desire to give ourselves, choose to love, and go beyond what is only good, convenient, or fitting for us. We remain miserable, lonely, isolated, and disconnected, but ever demanding, controlling, and unhappy when we choose to only put ourselves first. Simply put, we cannot live for the Lord and embrace others if we do not let go of our ego and its desire to be in control and in power! There is truly a difference between a fake relationship of convenience and a genuine friendship that is based on respect and choosing to love as He loves.

Furthermore, it takes a lot of humility to confess our sins and own up to our mistakes instead of blaming others or deflecting our faults. It is important that we become vulnerable, transparent, genuine, and humble when we come to confession and receive His grace. We have to lay down our pride and its desires to be in control or our lust after worldly matters in order to let God be God for us! We are like the woman at the well each and every time we come to confession, especially relying on the Lord to give us life-giving water instead of drawing water from an earthly well that will leave us thirsty again. Every time we come and put our trust in His love for us, especially through the sacramental grace given in and through the Sacraments instituted by Him, we are allowing ourselves to be humbled and freed from the enslavement of this world.

Just like the woman at the well, the Lord sees us in all of our history, past, and imperfections, but He loves us so much that He reaches out and gives us life. He sees us beyond our guilt, shame, and past history, calling us to return and receive life from Him. As a matter of fact, St. Paul reminded us that our hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Christ chose to give Himself and died for us while we were still helpless and enslaved by our sinfulness. God proved His love for us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. (cf. Romans 5:1-2, 5-8) I, too, believe our lives would be changed and transformed if we know deep within our hearts what it means to be so radically loved by Him.

How can we remain selfish and put ourselves first at all costs when we know how much He loves us? How can we spend all of our efforts chasing after the vain, empty, and fleeting things of this world when we know that nothing has ever deeply satisfied us? The woman at the well tried to find vain happiness many times in the past but was left empty and hurt. Gollum spends his whole life chasing after the One Ring that he calls, “My Precious.” Even Frodo is tempted, too, but he is able to rise above its manipulative power. Therefore, may we learn to repent, let go, and come back to Him instead of holding on to false enticements. Each and every one of us has to let go and come to encounter Christ. Our lives would be changed if we know how sweet is His love for us. It is only in loving Him that we are able to let go of our past and embrace Him. I genuinely do believe that we can be like the woman at the well — encountering, knowing, loving, and changing our lives because of His love.

He loves us in all of our brokenness and imperfections. He sees our past and calls us to a new life of grace. I believe we will be joyful like the woman at the well after our encounter with Him, sharing the life-changing moment with others, too. We cannot contain the love He has for us and will want others to know how loving He is. How wonderful it is to personally know the relentless and faithful love of God who never gives up on us! All of us have similar or ugly past histories like the woman at the well; nonetheless, all of us have the opportunity to draw life-giving water, be quenched by His grace, and change our lives for the better. May each of us leave the wellspring of worship and prayer and be joyfully changed in sharing the Good News of His love with others so they can be changed, too. I pray that everyone will come to know His love for us like the Samaritans as they said, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” (John 4:52)