Life is a Test and Temporary Assignment

“The way you see your life shapes your life” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 41).  Some people may see life as a journey, or a roller coaster (up and down), or a question mark (we don’t know what it is).  Some of us may remember what G.K. Chesterton said: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered”.  According to this, if one were to see life as an adventure, a lot of inconveniences would start to make sense.  This idea helps but personally doesn’t speak to my heart!

[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
[View Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]

The way we see life shapes how today is supposed to work and what we can expect from it.  For many of us here in Vancouver, there have been more societal changes this past week as our province slowly reopens businesses, some of which have caused stress, some of which have caused joy—how do these fit into the way we see our life?

St. Paul begins the Second Reading with a prayer for the Ephesians, a Christian community in modern-day Turkey that he’s never met, and so his prayer could easily apply to us: “Brothers and sisters: I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him” (Eph 1:17).

He’s praying that they have a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Peter S. Williamson, Ephesians in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 46), Whom they already possess through Baptism, but St. Paul wants them to have more of Him.  He specifically wants them to have more of the Holy Spirit’s ‘wisdom,’ which can be interpreted as knowing the world through reason, and His ‘revelation,’ which is when the Holy Spirit reveals truths to us (Marius Victorinus in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 114).

With wisdom and revelation, the Ephesians can know three realities of the future which God the Father is offering them: “So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe…” (Eph 1:18-19).

1) ‘Hope’ refers to eternal life with God.  2) ‘Inheritance’ in the New Testament refers to heaven, and all the qualities of the Promised Land in the Old Testament: “a place of life, peace, security, blessing” (Williamson, 43).  3) St. Paul wants the Ephesians to know the ‘immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power.’  This is because they’re living in a culture with a different world view and morality, and which will persecute them.  So the Ephesians need to know that Christ will give them strength (Ibid., 51).

If, as St. Paul is teaching us, life is about getting to heaven, then how do we see our life now?  Here are two metaphors, thanks to pastor Rick Warren.

First, life is a test.  “Words like trials, temptations, refining, and testing occur more than 200 times in the Bible.  God tested Abraham by asking him to offer his son Isaac…  Adam and Eve failed their test…  You are always being tested.  God constantly watches your response to people, problems, success, conflict, illness, disappointment, and even the weather!  He even watches the simplest actions such as when you open a door for others, when you pick up a piece of trash, or when you’re polite toward a clerk or waitress” (Warren, 42-43).  This is extremely life-giving because it makes sense.  God wants to see who we really are, and our character is revealed through suffering.

And God wants us to pass.  That’s why He never lets us be tested beyond our strength, and why He gives us His grace.  He doesn’t test us simply to make life hard.  Tests are opportunities: He gives us, for instance, the opportunity to be truly patient with bad drivers on the road.  He also gives tests because the nature of heaven is that only people without sin and attachment to sin enter there (attachment to sin means we long for it (Cf. CCC 1472)).

For example, if Deacon Andrew and I were to go to heaven right now, we’d ruin it.  Everyone would be singing and praising God, and then I’d lean over and say, “Psst… Deacon… you’re singing too quickly.”  And then he’d shoo me away with his hand!  Heaven would be over.  We’d both bring our impatience to a place of perfection.  Actually, we wouldn’t even be able to enter because we’d have something inside of us that goes against the state of perfection.

So life is a test specifically to get rid of all sin (whatever offends God, whatever is bad for us, and whatever hurts our neighbour (Cf. CCC 1849-50)) and, more positively, these tests allow us to grow in love.  And love means to will the good of the other, always to choose that which is good for the other.

“When you understand that life is a test, you realize that nothing is insignificant in your life.  Even the smallest incident has significance for your character development.  Every day is an important day, and every second is a growth opportunity to deepen your character, to demonstrate love, or to depend on God…  All of them have eternal implications” (Warren, 43).

Remember what we discussed at Easter: Our capacity to love = our capacity for joy.  So, when we’re tested and circumstances push us to our limit and we feel overwhelmed, if we choose love, then we’re actually increasing our capacity to love, and that means our capacity for joy, because our arms, so to speak, are always open to loving more, and so we can receive more.  And that connotes more happiness in heaven, because we’ll be able to receive more of God.  Everyone in heaven is perfectly happy because they’re all filled to their limit, but everyone has different limits, and that’s another reason why now is so important.

Second, life is a temporary assignment.  Today St. Paul prays that we know our eternal homeland, which is why “the Bible uses terms like alien, pilgrim, foreigner, stranger, visitor, and traveler to describe our brief stay on earth” (Warren, 48).  There are four implications of this reality:

1) You don’t have to suffer forever.  Yes, life is a test, it’s hard, and it’s necessary to grow in love, but you don’t have to do it forever.  When I heard Fr. Robert Spitzer remind us of this in his explanation on why God allows suffering, that brought so much relief!

2) Things come into perspective: We can let the little things pass.  Many of us get bothered by little things and sometimes react disproportionately to some of our problems in life.

Now it’s true that we should take life seriously because we only have one shot at this!  But we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.  For instance, some of us sometimes take failure too hard.  We’re distraught, but, in the end, it’s our pride that was hurt.  And some of us can become scrupulous, meaning we see sin where there is no sin, and overreact in a way that doesn’t help us love God more, but just focuses on our own bruised ego which admits that we’re not that holy.

A reporter once asked Pope Benedict XVI, who’s often misrepresented by the media as the Panzer Cardinal, which in German, means tank cardinal, “What role does humor play in the life of a pope?”  He answered, “I’m not a man who constantly thinks up jokes.  But I think it’s very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension and not to take everything too tragically.  I’d also say it’s necessary for my ministry.  A writer once said that angels can fly because they don’t take themselves too seriously.  Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn’t think we were so important”.  God wants us to fly spiritually like angels.  They’re constantly in His presence, focusing on Him, not themselves.  Focus on Him!

3) We know the outcome.  Because Jesus has conquered the devil, sin, and death (Cf. CCC 654, 2853), we know that, if we’re faithful and when all is said and done in our lives, Jesus will win.

4) Don’t get too attached.  “When you grasp this truth, you will stop worrying about ‘having it all’ on earth.  God is very blunt about the danger of living for the here and now and adopting the values, priorities, and lifestyles of the world around us.  When we flirt with the temptations of this world, God calls it spiritual adultery [Cf. Jas 4:4; Jer 3:6-10; 31:32; Hos 3:1]…  Imagine if you were asked by your country to be an ambassador to an enemy nation.  You would probably have to learn a new language and adapt to some customs and cultural differences in order to be polite and to accomplish your mission…  But suppose you became so comfortable with this foreign country that you fell in love with it, preferring it to your homeland.  Your loyalty and commitment would change…  Instead of representing your home country… you’d be a traitor” (Warren, 48-49).  St. Paul calls us ambassadors for Christ, reminding us that heaven is our true home.

I have a very simple question for today’s online chat: What truth or idea in today’s homily will help you the most this week?  Is it that life is a test, that we’re ambassadors for Jesus, that nothing is insignificant?

And, if some truth or idea helped you, would you pass it on to people you love?  And would you invite them to Alpha starting on June 4 and 6, 2020?  The truths we’ve just discussed are small compared to what can be gained in Alpha, which presents the essence of Christianity.  And this could help people understand what life’s all about.  In December 2019, we wrote down the names of those for whom we’re praying and whom we hope to invite.  I’ve written down my list and am praying for them.  Do the same, please.  And then invite, and don’t worry about the outcome—leave it to the Holy Spirit.

Let’s end with a brief meditation: Could you imagine what it would be like to be happy forever… where the happiness never stops?  It would not just be that the pain is over, but there would be continuous happiness and it would never end.

Being able to perceive heaven is a very important part of life.  St. Paul refers today to ‘the eyes of your hearts enlightened.’  In the Bible, the heart is our deepest self.  So, if we’re going to perceive what’s awaiting us in heaven, then something deep inside us needs to see life differently.

I’ve had moments in prayer where I can taste it, and it starts to affect the way I see life and how I act.  Everything we go through here is worth it if we choose to love more through it, and nothing we do can equal what God wants to give us.  We’ll never be worthy of such a gift.  It’s just too good.

Knowing that we’re called to heaven helps us understand why life is a test and a temporary assignment.

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