I once read about a kind of depression called “Sunday neurosis.” It’s when we’re completely busy during the week, and then, when we quiet down on Sunday, we feel this immense void within ourselves (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 129). Have you ever felt this emptiness? It can happen also during Christmastime. We’re so busy shopping and seeing people, and, after the rush, we feel lonely.
The biggest sign of this emptiness is boredom. I remember during my teen years looking forward to playing my favourite video games, but when I was done, I felt depressed.
I also see this typically in high-powered, successful adults, usually in their 40s and above: we work so hard to achieve what we want in life and, when we get what we want, we’re not satisfied; there’s got to be more.
The Holy Spirit is speaking through this emptiness! He’s calling us to find the true meaning of our lives. And the First Reading tells us of the source of our meaning in life: The prophet Isaiah says, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me… And the Lord said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified’” (Is 49:1-3). These words are applied first of all to Jesus, but they’re also applied to St. John the Baptist, whose birth we celebrate today. In addition, they equally apply to us who are baptized and united to Jesus. They tell us about three things: Our relationship with God, our identity, and our mission.
1. Relationship: Isaiah says, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” The fundamental fact of our life is that we’re loved by God in a personal way. He’s not just an idea but a person who loves me in a particular way. The fact that we’re loved gives life and existence meaning.
2. Identity: If I have a relationship with God the Father, then who am I? A son or daughter of God. Isaiah says that we’re servants, not in the sense of slaves, but in the sense of Jesus, who’s a son and servant of the Father.
3. Mission flows from these above two. Our life isn’t meaningless! We have a mission to love as God. When Isaiah says, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword,” he’s saying that St. John’s mission was to speak God’s truth.
The way to remember this is RIM: Relationship, Identity, and Mission. When we have these three things in our life, we won’t feel that emptiness.
I know a man who floundered most of his life: He underachieved professionally, had low self-esteem, and a bad marriage. He was, of course, a good man but had no purpose other than to enjoy life and be with people he liked—that’s not a great mission. Everything changed when he felt a desire to go back to Confession after many years. When he came out of the confessional, he was a changed man: He felt loved and experienced the forgiveness of the Father. Now what happened at that point? His relationship was restored.
Because of that, he knew he was a son of God (identity) and so wanted to act like one; he wanted to act like a man (mission). He started fulfilling his responsibilities, apologizing when he made mistakes, and leading family prayer at home. We were part of a men’s group, and when I stepped down as leader, I asked everyone to vote on who should take over. They all voted for this man, because he was clear about his identity and mission.
Let’s apply RIM to the Church and our parish. What’s the mission of the Catholic Church? Isn’t that interesting? We don’t have a ready answer. What’s the mission of the Canucks? To win the Stanley Cup. What’s the mission of Apple? To make great computers. What’s the mission of McDonald’s? To kill us with delicious, unhealthy food. And they’re fulfilling their mission well!
We don’t know the Church’s mission because we’ve forgotten our identity. That’s why most parishes are dying. To know the Church’s mission, we have to start with her relationship, not to us and the world, but to Jesus—that’s her primary relationship. Her identity flows from this: She’s the bride of Christ. And her mission is to receive His love and pass it on to the world. Jesus specified this mission when He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).
Bl. Pope Paul VI wrote in 1975 what is now a famous teaching: “Evangelizing is… the… vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say… to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass.”
Here at the parish level, we phrase what he said more simply: We exist to make disciples for Christ and lead them to heaven. This is why we talk all the time about our relationship with Jesus and evangelization. This is now our fifth homily on evangelization.
Now I’d like to invite someone to speak about his growing relationship with God. He’s discovered his deepest identity, and I’m going to let him take part in the Church’s mission: He’s going to invite us to Faith Studies to live our RIM.
For those that don’t know me, my name is Richard Wang and I’m here to tell you a short story about me and my faith journey.
I was never baptized but was a student at a Catholic school from Grades 4 to 12 and as a result, I thought I knew everything there was to know about “being Catholic.” “I know the Our Father by heart, I can recite the Apostles’s Creed” I used to say. I even got an’A’ in religion class!
Then I met a lovely young Catholic girl named Astrid. We got engaged, married and had three kids of our own. She wanted to raise them Catholic. I said “sure, I can help with that, after all, I’m an expert”. One by one the kids were baptized. One by one, they received the sacrament of Reconciliation. One by one, they received their First Holy Communion.
The story diverges a bit here. A couple of years ago, I was experiencing some personal and professional things in my life that I was having some difficulty coping with. My ever-loving wife suggested I pray. I’ve never really prayed in my life. I didn’t know how or what to do. But I tried it and it felt… awkward. So I tried it again, and again, and again and then something interesting happened. I felt some comfort come over me, I felt loved, I felt heard. And so I continued to travel down this new path, to learn, to understand, with an open heart and an open mind, what this all meant. This path led me to Faith Studies.
My kids attend St. Anthony of Padua School and I’ve been a parishioner here for 8 years. I joined my first Faith Studies session earlier this year. It has made such a difference in my faith journey. I was in a small group of 5 like-minded individuals, all with much more religious experience than I. There was no pressure put on us and sometimes we had different opinions on certain topics, but the lessons and the discussions were very insightful. It has broadened my mind, enlightened my views and confirmed my beliefs. I now recite the Apostles’ Creed and actually mean what I say.
Last Sunday during Father Justin’s homily, he asked “why do you want to be Catholic?” Coincidentally this past week during my Faith Studies session we discussed docility to the Holy Spirit. I truly believe I have been called by the Holy Spirit which is what has led me on this journey to find my faith. Jesus was outside my door to which I am now opening to let Him into my life. I understand this now through my discussions during Faith Studies.
I have enjoyed my experience so much that I haven’t stopped, I am just finishing up the second level of Faith Studies now and in two weeks time, will start the third. I truly recommend it and I invite you all to sign up and try it. You will not be disappointed if you are trying to rediscover your faith, or even if Jesus is already in the centre of your life.
I’ll finish by telling the end of this chapter of my story. My youngest, my son Nolan, just received First Holy Communion a couple of weeks ago. For me personally, it was a different feeling this time around than when my two daughters received theirs. I cannot express to you how much emotion I felt and how proud I was when he was filled with the Holy Spirit upon receiving the Body of Christ for the first time. It is not something I would have understood fully if not for Faith Studies. Truly understanding the significance of Jesus’ saving us from our sins through His Passion, death and Resurrection, a gift of salvation. The lessons have helped me better understand God’s love for me and for all of us, which in turn made me the proudest father when I got to witness it with Nolan.
Thank you for listening to my story. I hope to see you all in two weeks time at the next Faith Studies session.