Br. Peter Trinko
We often find ourselves in situations where we are forced to make a choice or judgement on a situation or event. For example, last year during a competition at the seminary, I found myself as one of three judges trying to determine the winner of an art competition. We had three fantastic entries, a painting of Divine Mercy, a painting of St. John Paul II by the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a sketch of St. Maximilian Kolbe on a train going to the mission in Japan. Each of the entries had their own strengths and weaknesses, and we struggled to determine a winner.
What made this decision so difficult? It became clear to us that we had a major problem: we had not determined what the criteria of judgement were for this competition. With a vague and abstract ‘Best Art’ contest, how could we pinpoint a winner when each excelled in some areas and were weaker in others?
The same question comes to us in our everyday circumstances in life: under what light do I judge and interact with the world around me? Often times this is not a question that we explicitly ask ourselves, but rather one that comes to us later upon reflection. For example – I don’t receive the grade I think I deserved on an exam. Am I indignant at my professor? When I’m driving home after a long day and someone cuts me off on the road, is my reaction one of anger and resentment? When I’m consistently given a hard time by a colleague at work at classmate at school, do I grow bitter and isolate myself from others?
We have two ways to look at events such as these. The first is that of the world: to be indignant, angry, bitter, resentful and so on. This way demands human justice, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Worst of all, this way becomes a selfish closing in on self rather than a charitable giving of self.
The other way is of course the way of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We read in the gospel of John “God so loved the world, that he gave up his only-begotten Son, so that those who believe in him may not perish, but have eternal life. When God sent his Son into the world, it was not to reject the world, but so that the world might find salvation through him”. (Jn 3: 16-17) When I see these same events in this light, that is, the light of the providence and love of God, I can view them as opportunities to grow in holiness, to unite myself with the suffering Christ, and to save my soul and others rather than simply festering in negativity.
It becomes clear that we are faced with two different and incompatible ways to view reality and to engage with the circumstances of our daily lives: that of the world, and that of Christ.
St. Pope Paul VI writes in Evangelii Nuntiandi that ‘The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times’ (20). Our Lord Himself tells us Jesus Himself tells us: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt. 10:32) There are countless examples in scripture of the total incompatibility between the ways of the world and the ways of Christ.
If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (Jn. 8:31-31)
We know we should see things in the light of the Gospel, but it often isn’t easy. There are many obstacles: the flesh (e.g. the passions), the world (e.g. popular opinion), and the devil (e.g. temptations). How are we to overcome these forces that blind us to the real truth? Our Lord teaches us: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:31-31)
So, Jesus tells us to be free is to remain in His truth. But concretely, how does one do this?
First, we must live an intense spiritual life. This includes daily prayer, reception of the sacraments, devotion to our Lady, reading of Sacred Scripture, daily examination of conscience, and above all a great desire to grow in holiness and in one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
Secondly, one must continue their formation and study of the faith (a study that of course leads to good action, not merely for curiosity). Then we can be confident that of “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you”. (1 Pet. 3:15)
Thirdly, we must develop and foster authentic Christian friendships. To remain strong in one’s faith with the onslaught of attacks against it is extremely difficult, and true friends can help each other to preserve in their faith. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Mt. 18:20)
For all Catholics, and in a particular way youth and young adults, it is important to seek to grow in our relationship with Christ. It is only in this way that we can face all of the chaos of our daily life and remain at peace. If we judge by the standards of the world, which upholds riches, honor, and power as its points of reference, we will find ourselves sorely disappointed and unhappy. But if we strive to see all in the light of the Christ, in His Providence, and in His love for us, we will little by little, come to encounter the Truth.
When struggling with this, we need look no further than Our Blessed Mother, who immediately after accepting the greatest task ever given to mankind, to be the Mother of the Redeemer, “went in haste” to help her cousin Elizabeth. In the eyes of the world, this makes no sense. She should take care of herself. She had not been told to go. Why take the risk? And yet, she goes, trusting completely in God's will. May we, as Mary did, not look at the events and challenges of our daily lives in the light of the world, but rather, in the light of Christ.
For the Voces Conference on this topic, see here.