When I was 23 years old, in my first summer assignment as a seminarian, I was assigned to Sts. Peter and Paul Parish with Fr. John Horgan, who recently passed away. In addition, I helped Msgr. Greg Smith three days a week at the chancery. And something very interesting happened: everything I did for Monsignor turned to gold, and everything I did for Fr. John turned out badly. I anticipated every need of Monsignor and all the work I did for him was great. However, when I was with Fr. John, he would say, for example, ‘Leave the lights on in the church after the first Mass, because, if you turn them off, they take a long time to start up again.’ What did I do? I turned them off!
One day, the ladies who worked with Fr. John said one of two things (I can’t remember which): ‘You’re letting him intimidate you,’ or, ‘Stop trying to impress him.’ Both were right. I was intimidated because I was trying to impress him. Is there anyone in our lives that we allow to intimidate us, that we’re trying to impress? Are there people in our lives that we allow to influence our decisions in a way different from what God wants?
In two weeks, we have the Christ the King Challenge. Do we wonder what other people here will think if we put up our hands, indicating that we’ve made Jesus the centre of our lives?
I will be away next Sunday for vacation, so, I’d like to prepare us for the Challenge using today’s Readings. In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us through grace and gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them” (2 Thess 2:16-17). Everything starts with God the Father’s love. If we’ve made Jesus the centre of our lives, that’s a gift. If we’re close to doing so, that’s also a gift. If we’re still not ready, God still loves us—that’s important, because you can’t make the decision to follow Christ under pressure (More on that later).
St. Paul then prays that the Philippians may be rescued from wicked people. In our case, we pray that we’re rescued from people we’re trying to impress. I remember that a good man shared what his spiritual director said to him, “Sal, you have to be your own man.” He had such a hard time making life decisions and was always trying to please people.
That’s why St. Paul writes, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess 2:5). We’re here to please God, no one else. When I say you have to be your own man or woman, I’m not saying, “Do whatever you like,” or, “Do something sinful if you feel it’s good.” What I’m saying is: You have to own your decisions. Please God alone. If people aren’t happy when we give our hearts to God, they’re the ones who have to grow.
Our decision to make Jesus the centre of our lives is like a marriage. Jesus says in the Gospel, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Lk 20:34-35). This is where we get the truth about marriage: ‘until death do us part.’ Human marriage lasts as long as we’re alive. Once we die, our marriage is over. Now, the love that exists between husband and wife will endure, and St. Catherine of Siena teaches that our relationships that were rooted in God on earth will be even richer in heaven, but Jesus teaches that ‘those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage,’ because, in heaven, we’re all married to God.
When we make Jesus the centre, just like a marriage, it has to be free. We can’t be pressured to love Jesus. If we don’t love Him, He will still love us. We will miss out on many blessings (just as if we hide from the sun, we’ll get cold), but His love for us won’t change.
When those ladies at Sts. Peter and Paul verbalized that I was trying to impress Fr. John, I felt free; my secret was exposed!
Jesus is the perfect lover. He offers us salvation from sin, death, and hell, but, ultimately, He wants us to love Him for a higher reason, not only because of what He did for us, but because we love Him. Please look at the relationship diagram which we’ve shown before.
The top three images show levels of commitment, when one is single, when one is dating, and when one is married: When we’re single, that person is outside our lives; we know him, but he’s not involved; when we’re dating, that person is very important, but not the centre and it’s not lifelong; but, if we’re married, we make all decisions with him in mind; we also want him to be happy; we live for him and him for us!
The bottom three images represent where Jesus is in our lives: When Jesus is outside of our life, we still know Him, but He doesn’t impact the goals and decisions of our life. When we start dating Him, if you will, He’s a part of our life, and we consider Him; but there are more important factors in our life like ourselves, our family, and career. When He’s the centre, all those other things are still important, but they’re secondary to Him. We make our choices primarily based on what He wants, and our goals are all aimed at Him.
We don’t have to be perfect to make Jesus the centre. There was a girl who, during Confirmation class, had a moment of clarity about what Jesus did for her on the Cross, and told Him silently that she believed in Him and wanted to live according to His will. Years later, when she went to college and took Faith Studies, and was at Lesson Five of the first level, she thought she couldn’t make Jesus the centre because she wasn’t living the way Jesus wanted her to live. But the missionary pointed out that couples don’t become unmarried when they fail to love each other perfectly. It’s not about being perfect now, but about living her life for Christ. That’s when she realized that Christ was still the centre (Andre Regnier, Clear & Simple, 41-42).
Here’s a question: How do we know when Jesus is the centre of our lives? My answer is: How do you know you’re married? You make a lifelong choice. A number of us made this choice in Lesson Five, or silently, or with the help of a friend who led us in a heartfelt prayer. I heard of a young man who made his decision on a bus.
Where is Jesus right now in our lives: Is He outside, a part, or the centre? The more important question is: Where do we want Him to be? If we could point at which diagram we’d want to represent our relationship with Jesus, where would we point?
Realize that someone’s at the centre right now. It could be ourselves, our boyfriend or girlfriend, our family; maybe it’s our career. Are we happy with that? Do we want more? Jesus wants to give us so much more.