In 1965 Archbishop Sheen quoted Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, who stated that about a third of people who saw him didn’t have a “clinically definable neurosis,” but were suffering from “senselessness and aimlessness” in their lives! It’s an existential crisis, a lack of meaning and purpose, an anxiety, and a problem of living. This reminds me of our culture, which is spiritually empty: We don’t seriously reflect on why we exist, the meaning of life, and what comes after death. Our emptiness has deepened now that we’re more anxious about our physical health and are more isolated.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
Do you know what Sheen’s first solution to this is? It’s not prayer. He suggests that later on. First, people have to get out of themselves and help their neighbour (Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Your Life is Worth Living, 5-6).
Since I’ve been back, my initial thought was to build you all up spiritually before reminding you of our mission to go out and evangelize, but then praying over the Gospel, I realized that God wants us to go out now, and that that will be part of our beginning again. There’s healing when we think about the good of others and share Jesus with them. While we need to take care of ourselves, sometimes we become too focused on ourselves. Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a psychiatry professor, mentions that “helping others in their needs… can help with a depressed mood” (Aaron Kheriaty, The Catholic Guide to Depression, 198). The gift God is offering us today is very simple: Let’s begin again by shifting the focus somewhat from ourselves to others. How do we make that switch? By realizing that Jesus wants to bless us and others in a special way this Advent and Christmas season, and we need to be more open.
Listen to the Gospel: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn 1:6-9). There are two ideas on which we want to focus in this passage:
1) We’re like St. John the Baptist: We’re actually ‘sent from God’ into other people’s lives. Think about it this way: Tomorrow, God is sending you and me to encounter the exact people He wants us to meet at a specific time, and our mission is to give them the person of Jesus and love them in the best way possible. The Gospel uses the words ‘witness’ and ‘testify,’ which are legal terms. We’re on trial, so to speak, in terms of our response to Jesus and in how we respond to other people: Do we love them, bring them Jesus (Daniel Mueggenborg, Come Follow Me, Year B, 11)?
2) ‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.’ The light is Jesus. He reveals the true purpose of our lives. We get to point people to that light!
Here’s an example of how we do this. Last week, I introduced you to Venerable Bruno Lanteri and his teaching of Begin Again. In 1818, in one letter to a woman named Gabriella, a mother of six, who had already lost two of her sons, but now lost another, he wrote, “When I learned from your mother-in-law that you had lost your little Enrico, I felt great sorrow for what you must be undergoing, because no sacrifice could be more painful for you… And so, because of this, you have every reason to feel his loss and weep for him.”
What does he do here? He’s being compassionate, sharing her suffering, validating her human sorrow. That’s what all people need: We need others to share our pain, and that’s what Jesus does with us! But later in the letter, Ven. Bruno takes her to a higher level, which she also needs:
“Because you love him so deeply… do not imagine that you have lost him… You have lost him only from sight, and not in reality. Consider that he is at your side like another angel, that he encourages you to dedicate yourself to the things of heaven… Remain in continual and loving conversation with Enrico. Speak to him about all that you experience in your own heart, all that happens in your family, and anything of importance for you… Be on guard against thinking that he does not care about you”.
Ven. Bruno takes her to the spiritual level, which her soul needs, and shows her that Enrico is still alive and can pray for her, and that her relationship with him still exists. This letter must have meant so much to Gabriella that she kept it her whole life (Fr. Timothy Gallagher, Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement, 77-81).
When I was in Whistler for my 14-day quarantine after returning from South Dakota, a young man rang my doorbell and kindly asked me to consider donating to B.C. Children’s Hospital. Standing more than two meters apart, I declined because I told him that I like to give money to organizations that don’t get any government funding because they rely only on donations. The conversation continued and it turned out he was from Vancouver College, our local Catholic high school! I praised him for what he was doing, because taking a year off to volunteer is a noble endeavour. But I asked him to consider: hospitals truly do great work, but they can’t do the greatest good because they can’t take care of a person’s soul, which is a matter of eternity. And then I asked him about his faith, and it turned out that he had several theological ideas that weren’t quite right, such as everyone is going to heaven, that the essential point of Christianity is to be a nice person. Here’s my point: I acknowledged that what he was doing was good, because it was, but then I tried to take him to a higher level, which is what was ultimately good for him and was the best way I could love him. He actually thanked me because no one had made him think about these questions.
The first step in loving people is always praying for them: We bring them by name to God the Father and ask Him to bless them. God the Father expects us to ask for blessings because open hearts receive more gifts. But also, when we pray for people, our own hearts grow in love, right? Because we’re expressing concern for them, and that’s part of our own healing and beginning again. Then, when we meet them, our hearts are already expanded.
As we’ve done for the past two years, we’re going to write down the names of people we love and pray for their salvation, which is, in its most basic concept, coming back to God the Father, turning away from sin, and following our older brother, Jesus.
I’d ask you to write down on your phones the names of people you know who are far from Jesus and need God’s help, and then, every day at 11:02 a.m. or p.m. pray for them (Remember, it’s 11:02 because Lk 11:2 is about learning to pray the Our Father). And then love them whenever you encounter them. In addition, if there’s an opportunity, invite them to Alpha on January 6, 7, or 9, 2021 which is completely virtual, and in English and Chinese. Alpha is the best opportunity to begin again spiritually.
Think about five to ten people; they could be family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, or even people with whom we’ve lost touch. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring these people to mind, and think boldly about whom they may be.
Also, if you have one minute, please fill out the Google Form on our website, with the names of those you love, and then we’ll print them out here, place them under the altar, and we’ll remember these people daily at Mass and at adoration.
Can we see tomorrow as a new beginning, a chance to get outside ourselves? Jesus, the Light, is coming! And so we have our mission. Every day, at 11:02 a.m. or p.m. we pray for others, their eternal good, and love them.
Archbishop Sheen talked about a young man who had given up his faith in Jesus and was bitter with himself and everyone else, but a few years later, he regained his faith and morals. How? He went to a school in Mexico, away from home, and met some other young men who built a school for the poor and started taking care of them physically and spiritually. The young man did this for over a year and it healed him.
So, Sheen says, “The first way to escape the anxiety of life is to find your neighbour” (Your Life Is Worth Living, 8). Let’s begin again by going out of ourselves.