Here’s a man who hasn’t been to church in years, hasn’t always been faithful in his marriage, and does seriously dishonest business practices when he feels it’s necessary. In God’s plan, however, his son’s taking catechism to receive First Communion, and a thought comes to his mind: what if my son asks, “We [Mom and I] go church, why don’t you?” So something starts stirring in his heart.
One day, while driving home from work, the radio’s off, and he’s thinking: he’s not that happy, his wife’s not happy with the way he’s living. Questions come to him like, “Why do I do this to her [my wife]? How long will this go on? When I look back, am I going to be happy?”
He decides to go to Confession, starts going back to Mass and begins to love what’s happening in his life.
One Sunday, in the homily, his priest suggests reading the Bible ten minutes a day and this clicks with him; he really wants to do this. He decides that he’s going to talk to his wife that night about how to do this.
But at dinner, the conversation with his son doesn’t go well, and now there’s this greyness. He remembers that he was going to talk to his wife, but now the enthusiasm is gone and his thoughts are different: “Who am I kidding? This is a waste of time. When has she [my wife] supported me in the past?”
What we’re talking about today is how God and the enemy work on the soul. They both suggest different thoughts to us, and we should learn to tell the difference. (By enemy we mean the devil, our sins, bad habits, and anything around us that moves us away from God.)
In the first reading, “Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me’” (Is 49:14). The people of Jerusalem are feeling abandoned by God. Now, where does this feeling come from? How do we know it could come from the devil? Because it’s a lie; it’s just not true. Jesus says in John 8:44, “The devil is a big fat liar.” Actually it says, “He is a liar and the father of lies,” but I prefer the translation, “He’s a big fat liar.”
The man in the story started thinking: “This is a waste of time. When has she supported me in the past?” But because this isn’t true (It’s not a waste of time to try reading the Bible. His wife has been supportive.) we know it’s not from God.
Ever have thoughts like this? For example, “They don’t care,” or “I’m not good enough. I’m such a loser,” or “Don’t talk to the priest about it. He’ll get mad at you; he might laugh,” or that everyone knows the sins we’ve done?
During one of my World Youth Days I remember thinking for a few days about how my friends were ignoring me, weren’t spending time with me and even made fun of me. But I had been taught to ask an important question, the question God always wants us to ask: “Is it true?” Was it true they weren’t spending time with me, were ignoring and making fun of me? No. But I had misinterpreted their actions and my thoughts were playing games with me.
The devil loves to sow misunderstandings between us. Sometimes we think: “They did it on purpose.” But after talking it out, we find out they didn’t do it on purpose. Our friends make mistakes; they may say and do stupid things. But they still love us.
Pay attention also to exaggerations, which the devil will use: “No one loves me.” No one? “They’re all jerks.” All of them? “I can’t do anything right.” Anything? “There’s no point. Nothing ever gets better.” Nothing? (Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV, The Discernment of Spirits, 64-65,194).
The first thing to remember today is to notice when the enemy is tempting us. Looking back on this week, for instance, can we now see where we were tempted to think things that just aren’t true, where we misread things in our life?
God, on the other hand, always roots us in truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). In the first reading, He asks Zion a question: “Can a woman forget her nursling child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” Unlikely. So neither will God forget us. But, He adds, “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” The truth is God never abandons anyone. He loves us so much, and is always trying to communicate His love.
Let’s talk about two ways He communicates His love: 1) The Holy Spirit likes to sting our conscience. The man in the story was wondering if his son would ask, “We [Mom and I] go to church, why don’t you?” This question doesn’t make him feel good, but it is a good question, because he’s been avoiding his faith. Then, when he was driving and his heart was open, he starts asking himself other good questions (obviously from God), “Why do I do this to her [my wife]? How long will this go on? When you look back, are you going to be happy?”
It’s important to recognize that when we feel bad about what we’ve done or are doing, that’s the Holy Spirit telling us that we’re meant for more. Guilt may hurt but it’s a sign of God’s love. Many times I’ve had conversations with people in which we talk about morality, and they’ll say, “I feel so bad.” And I’ll say, “That’s because you have a good conscience. If you didn’t feel badly, that’d be a sign that you’ve damaged your conscience. But you’re actually very close to God. That’s why you feel this way.” This truth always comforts people.
2) God communicates His love through other people and prayer. The man we’ve been talking about is now in a tailspin of thoughts because of the bad conversation at dinner. But, just when he’s on the verge of giving up, his three-year-old daughter comes into the room, gives him a big hug, and now he’s encouraged. The heaviness lifts and then something in his heart says, “I’m starting tomorrow,” referring to reading the Bible.
I heard a true story about a woman who was so invested in her parish but everything was going badly. One day after Mass, while she was leaving, she decided she was never coming back. But when she was walking down the steps of her church, someone smiled at her and it changed everything.
Two weeks ago, we heard how Crystalina Evert led a wild life of partying and sex. One night after a party, she went to the adoration chapel and God reminded her that He didn’t just want her when she was perfect, but wanted her in her mess, because He loved her so much.
Be self-aware. What are we thinking right now: thoughts of peace, truth and love, or thoughts of anxiety, falsehood and anger? Are these thoughts true? Are we exaggerating?
When things are going well, we should be aware of this, praise God, and try to follow Him more closely.
But when things are going badly, the first thing to do is to not sin: Don’t follow the suggestions of giving up, getting negative, cutting ourselves off from God, the Church or other people. Be patient; God will console us when the time is right. (He doesn’t always console us immediately because He wants us to live not being a rollercoaster. The man in the story is a good man, but unfortunately, he is a rollercoaster: he’s up when the priest gives a homily that connects, he’s down when he has a bad conversation with his son, and up again when his daughter hugs him. God wants us to learn to be steady when we’re being rocked by problems.)
And then be proactive: Praying and coming to Mass are antidotes, because they root us in reality, with God and other people, and in love.
Someone once told me: “Every time I’m at my lowest point and tempted to think, “No one cares,” the Mass blows me away, meaning that it strengthens her powerfully. For me, I’ve told you before how, whenever I feel low and get to the words of consecration, these words lift me up, because they are words of love and sacrifice, and this always rejuvenates me. When I’m suffering greatly or seriously confused about something, I go to the chapel and say, “Lord, I’m not leaving until you give me peace.” He doesn’t always give joy or take the problem away, but He will always give peace. He doesn’t give it right away but He does give it.
Today we’re going to use Eucharistic Prayer IV, which goes through salvation history and speaks, in a special way, of the love of God the Father and of Jesus for us. These words are God speaking to us.
Remember Jeremiah 29:11 (KJV), where God says, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you… thoughts of peace, and not of evil.” Between thoughts of God and thoughts of the devil, there’s a big difference.