Last year I can honestly say I experienced a taste of heaven. I was in Poland for World Youth Day and our parish group was assigned to a church in Warsaw. (I had never seen so many blonde people in my life!) What gave me a taste of heaven was that the children were so happy: They would readily smile; they were open, natural, and innocent! I know the people in Poland have their problems, but the difference ttttween our culture and theirs was striking. And a part of me would love to go back to a place where people are happier and focused on Jesus.
The other thing that struck my soul was encountering a priest I told you about before, Bl. Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was murdered in 1984, at the age of 37, after defending the Polish people against atheistic communists. He was a simple priest, but loved Jesus with all his heart and was incredibly strong and courageous. Remember his motto? “Overcome evil with good.” He was kind even to communist soldiers who hated him! After they murdered him, when the Soviets found out that there was going to be a public funeral for him, they were expecting an uprising. Over 500,000 people went. You know what happened? No uprising; the people chanted, “We forgive… We forgive,” having learned from the example of their simple, holy priest. Here’s a short video showing who he was and what God did through him.
His life is so inspiring that I want to be like him! I ask myself, “How do you get to be that holy, determined, and strong?” And when we hear about kids being so happy, we ask ourselves, “How do kids get to be so happy and natural?” It’s God who puts these desires for greater happiness in our hearts; our desire for a better life and our desire to become better people, are designed to lead us to Him. For example, when we see a couple happily married, we ask, “How do you get a happy marriage?” Or, when we see people handle stress well, we ask, “How do you deal with it so well?” Jesus gives us an answer in one of His parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Mt 13:44-46).
The parable points to the truth that when God shows us something precious and beautiful, we happily give up other things to obtain it. Bl. Jerzy, I found out, set his heart on Jesus alone and gave up everything else. Already at a young age he would leave home one hour early so he could serve Mass before going to school—this wasn’t a sacrifice for him, but he perceived it as a grace. When he was recruited into the military, every time he was granted leave, he first went to Mass, to receive Communion (Pastoral Letter from the Polish Bishops’ Conference before the Beatification of Venerable Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, 1).
When I talked to a friend who went with us to Poland about all those happy, well-adjusted Polish children, we observed that their culture focused on Jesus. There was a plaque in the Warsaw cathedral which one person translated as saying: If you take Catholicism out of Poland, you don’t have Poland anymore. Faith in God is everywhere; it’s normal to talk about Jesus. So, in a culture where people are more focused on Jesus, who is truth, goodness and beauty, logically the culture will be healthier. We also noticed that the people we met were also more focused on important things: They were more community-minded, whereas Canadians now are more individualistic; they focus more on manners, while in our culture, etiquette, politeness and manners have gone out the window; their children also weren’t as plugged in as ours are. So we saw that Poland sacrifices other things to get the pearl of Jesus, who is true happiness.
The temptation for us is that, when we discover the pearl of great price, we try to get it while hanging on to everything else. But that’s not possible.
Imagine you’re a student who’s just graduated high school. You’re in a chamber with five doors in front of you: Behind door number one is the path of college, behind door number two is taking up a job, behind number three is hanging out with friends, four is sports, and five is travelling. Now we’ve all been trained to think that we should do all of them, because they’re all good; so we go through door one and then come out, then try door two, and all the rest.
But here’s the thing, we can’t do all of them well: We can’t flourish full-time in college, and have a full-time job, and hang out with our friends while playing sports and travelling. While it’s true that we can achieve a certain balance, where, for example, we get a job and take some courses on the side, we cannot, at the same time, go travelling, do sports as much as we’d like, and spend lots of time with friends. Something has to give.
Many of us never obtain the pearl of great price because we don’t commit. Our culture tells us we have to try everything. Some people have ‘Bucket Lists:’ things they want to do before they die, before they ‘kick the bucket.’ That’s why when we go on a vacation, we have see every city, sight, and unique attraction (We try to squeeze so many attractions into the schedule such that there’s only time to take pictures, and we’re able say “I was there” without having really experienced and enjoyed the place); and so we come back tired—that’s illogical. The point of a vacation is to choose the door of rest, but we feel a compulsion to try every single door that’s offered on the vacation, and never come back renewed.
Choosing multiple doors can’t satisfy our hearts, because, as St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless for You, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in You.” (Confessions of St. Augustine, Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5).
The whole point of life is not to try all five doors equally and keep on going through them. The point of life is to choose the doors that lead to our Father in heaven, to commit all our time and energy to obtain the one thing necessary, Jesus Christ, who is life in abundance and eternal life. Yes, we can serve God by going to college and doing many things, but not college for college’s sake. We do it if it leads to Jesus.
Many people, unfortunately, struggle with making a commitment in life, with settling down, with their faith, with a relationship, with their purpose in life, etc. Perhaps they’re afraid of making a mistake or they get distracted with different doors. But Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Mt 6:24). We cannot follow Him while trying to pursue our own plans and do whatever we want.
Let’s go back to our good desires, which God implants in the human heart like homing beacons to lead us home. For me, I deeply want to be like Bl. Jerzy, so that I can love Jesus more, who’s everything to me. To become more like Jesus, I’ve chosen to sacrifice some things in order to commit myself more to contemplative prayer. What do you want? If we take 10 seconds and ask, “How do I want a better life? How can I be a better person? How can I grow closer to Jesus?” what comes to mind? Focus on that pearl. Now can we joyfully make even a small commitment to obtain that pearl?
Let me quickly suggest two things that may help us build the virtue of commitment:
1) The vast majority of us want to grow in our relationship with God—this is a pearl of great price! And what rises out of this desire is to commit or re-commit ourselves to daily prayer, because we know that no relationship grows when a person is non-committal.
During the day, there are many doors to choose from (work, family, friends, exercise, eating, sleeping, etc.), but God wants us to choose the door of prayer for at least 15 minutes every day. Why 15? Because that’s enough time to listen and speak to Jesus. Five minutes is what we give to people we’re not interested in – like some of you do with me after Mass. (Fr. Jacques Philippe, Time for God, 83-84). When do we do it? It could be when we wake up, during a lunch break or before we go to bed. What do we do during these 15 minutes? Mix it up: Five minutes of reading the Bible slowly, five for talking to Jesus in our own words, and five for a decade of the Rosary. It could also include our favourite prayers or reading a Catholic book.
2) Some of us parish hop, meaning we never commit to a parish but go to whatever Mass is convenient. We’re saying, in effect, “I’ll choose the door of St. Anthony’s, or St. John’s when I sleep in, or St. Paul’s when I’m busy, etc.” This isn’t the best idea because we should find the parish where we get spiritually nourished. If you’re not being nourished here, it’s better for your soul to find a parish that does. Also, when we parish hop, we lose out on Christian community, where we can nourish other people and grow in the virtues of generosity and service. Christians grow through friendships with other Christians. The real question is: Why are we hopping? Is it for a spiritual reason? Of course, there are exceptions to this, so, if it doesn’t apply, then don’t worry.
The Holy Spirit has put a desire in all of our hearts. Write it in our Mass journal, and what we’re going to commit in order to obtain it. Then ask the Holy Spirit to bless our commitment, because, without Him, we can do nothing.
I told you once about the man who had everything going for him, but still wasn’t happy. A doctor at a party recognized this and suggested he stop by a church for ten minutes on his way back from class. Of course, he didn’t take the advice until the restlessness started getting worse. One day, he stopped by, sat at the back of the church and planned his day with God. He said, “I felt so peaceful. I think it’s the first time in my adult life where I remember feeling genuinely peaceful. And I liked that, I liked that a lot. I came back the next day.” And now he says, “I’ve spent 15 years trying to convince people to spend ten minutes a day in prayer, because that’s where it started for me” (Matthew Kelly, A Call to Joy, Track 6, 1:37). Thousands of lives have been touched because they committed themselves to 10 minutes a day (15 is better!).
The pearl of great price is Jesus, and He’s worth – more than worth – every commitment.