Every morning I set my alarm clock to 5:00 A.M. or 6:00 A.M. in order to spend time studying the Sacred Scriptures before starting my day. This habit has become so ingrained in me over the past 26 years that I couldn't break it if I tried. From the time that I was in my early twenties, I had excellent teachers who taught me the importance of disciplining myself to spend time with God in prayer and in His Word on a daily basis, and their wisdom has proven itself to me time and time again.
Not only do I spend time studying the Sacred Scriptures, but I also take time to study a small portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church each and every single day as well. I only read one paragraph of the Catechism a day so that I can reflect, meditate, and absorb what God is saying to me through what I have read.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has drawn me closer to God and has inspired me to see the Catholic Church for the indescribable gift from God that she is. The Catechism has caused me to love the Church, her leaders, and all who belong to her like no other writing ever could.
So many Catholics are ignorant of the Catechism. The only instruction they have received is that which was given to them when they were children and unable to appreciate and fully understand the rich teachings of the Catholic Church. This is why it is essential that we continue our religious education on our own by studying the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism on a daily basis. The more you study these, the closer you will draw to God and the hungrier you will become for Him.
Having made my plug for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I want to take this opportunity to expound on one of the many rich teachings which I have gleaned from my study of it.
The Catechism teaches that man was created by God and for
God. It teaches that man will never be happy in this
life unless he is living the God-centered life for which
he was created. Man was created for three
reasons: (1) to know God, (2) to love God, and (3) to
serve God. That is the threefold purpose of
man. If those three purposes are not being
pursued in our lives, we will know it by the absence of joy, peace, contentment and fulfillment in
If a man is depressed or feeling empty inside, there really is no need for him to spend hours stroking chins with a psychologist in order to discover the cause of his unhappiness. One of those three purposes is being neglected in his life, and this is why he is feeling the way that he does.
In the above-referenced Psalm, we read that "the hearts of those who seek the Lord will rejoice." In fact, this particular psalm is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When penning this psalm, the psalmist taught us something about seeking God and possessing the joy of the Lord. These two things go hand in hand; you can't have one without the other. In fact, to the extent that you and I are seeking the Lord in our daily lives is to the extent we will possess true inner joy in our hearts.
Many people are empty and suffer from depression because they are not seeking God in their lives. Their lives are not centered on knowing God, loving God, and serving God; rather, their lives are centered on self, the love of this world, and the cares, worries, and distractions of this life.
When God created you, He called you to intimate communion with Him. No other part of God's creation has been given this sacred calling – a calling to converse with God, to seek God, and to open up our hearts to Him completely in prayer. Prayer is the number one way in which man has been called to seek God; it has been man's way to seek his Creator from the very beginning. Yes, we can seek God by reading the Bible, studying the Catechism, and reading other holy books. But there was a time when these things did not exist. There were no books. There was no printing press. How did men seek God then? He sought Him through prayer because, from the very beginning, God created man to commune with Him through prayer.
One of the things that I am seeing a lot of in our churches today is depression. When I observe the faces of many who sit in the pews, I see much sadness of countenance – a sadness that remains year after year after year. We all go through dark and difficult times in our lives, but when a person's countenance remains sad and dark year after year, this is a clear indication that something is amiss in his or her spiritual life. We are called to radiate Christ. If His joy is in us, this will be reflected in our countenance. It will be reflected in our outlook on life and in the way that we speak.
Many who go to Mass on a weekly basis do not spend time seeking the Lord in their daily lives. If they were seeking God on a daily basis, His joy would be in them, their lives would be changing, they would be growing closer to Him, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment would be realized in their lives. The fruit of a transformed life would be growing in their lives as a testimony and witness of the power of God. If that fruit is not visible for all to see, it is not because God has abandoned that person, neglected him, or forsaken him. It is because of neglect somewhere on the part of the individual when it comes to his or her call to seek God.
I know a man who goes to Mass every single day. On Sunday mornings,
he'll go to the church a half hour earlier in order to say a decade of the Rosary. He serves as a Eucharistic Minister a few Sundays out of the
month. This man is one of the unhappiest men I have
ever met. His countenance is always morose. When he opens up his mouth, or sends emails to people, it is only to
whine and complain about his life. Although
he has been a member of his church for many years, his life has remained untransformed. He has grown physically older, but spiritually,
he has never grown. He is still the same man that he
always was. Same old attitude. Same old habits. Same old outlook in life. Same old ways in which he spends his spare time, and same old
priorities. How can this be, especially when the
Scriptures teach that if Christ Jesus is in you, you will become a new creation?
In fact, all throughout the Gospels and the New Testament epistles, the Scriptures teach us over and over again that if we come to God through our faith in His Son, God is going to change us. We will be transformed. We will not remain as we are.
Upon this man's own admission to me, he spends no time whatsoever reading the Sacred Scriptures, studying the Catechism, or even reading any spiritual books of any kind. Apart from saying a decade of the Rosary every now and then, he has no prayer life whatsoever. His prayer life consists of one decade of the Rosary on Sunday morning, and that's it. He spends no time whatsoever with his Heavenly Father in prayer, pouring out his heart and soul to Him on a daily basis. When he is off from work, his spare time is spent reading political articles or political books. His life is centered on politics, not God.
emails, I have tried to graciously hint to this man that if he wants to become a happier, more
fulfilled man, his relationship with God has to consist of more than daily Mass and one decade of
the Rosary on Sunday morning. I've hinted to him
time and time again that he needs to develop an intimate relationship with Christ. He needs to put aside his political books and start
reading books that will profit him spiritually. My words go in one ear and out the other.
This man wants discipleship on his terms, not on the terms set down by God. He has mapped out in his mind just how far his religious experience will go and nothing will move him from it. Daily Mass and one decade of the Rosary. That's it. And then he wonders why he suffers from depression and emptiness. He sees other people's lives being changed in the church, but it never dawns on him that he himself is not being changed. Because he is not drawing closer to God as he should, it hasn't even dawned on him that there are many areas in his life that need to be changed. And so, he remains unchanged.
If you and I are going to fulfill God's purpose for our lives, we must understand that we have our part to do. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that every effort of our intellect must be used when it comes to searching for God and seeking Him in our hearts. God never ceases to call all men to seek Him. Night and day, His Spirit draws men and calls men to seek Him because God, more than anyone else, wants man to experience true life and genuine happiness. Although God draws us, He isn't going to do it all for us. When He draws, we must respond by seeking Him in the manner prescribed by Him, not in the manner we feel like pursuing. The minute we start drawing invisible lines, telling God, "This far and no more," we've taken a different route, and we will not experience true life and happiness.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches that to assist
man in seeking God, it is important that men have available to them the witness of others to teach
them to seek God. Because of this, I believe that
all churches should have a children's ministry, a youth ministry, a men's ministry, and a women's
ministry. Many times, when we go to
Mass, we don't have much of an opportunity to fellowship with each other because this is not what
the Mass is designed to cultivate.
Our fellowship with each other must take place outside of Mass in a different setting. By coming together in a different setting, we get to know each other, and can be used by God to inspire, instruct, encourage, and edify one another in our most holy Faith. Perhaps if my friend (mentioned above) could be around Catholic men who were truly seeking God and putting Him first in their lives, God would use their witness to show him that he needs to make changes in his life. Perhaps if he were to be surrounded by men who love to pray, he would be inspired to cultivate an intimate prayer life with Christ instead of simply reciting a decade of the Rosary on Sunday morning and nothing more. Perhaps if he were surrounded by men who love to read the Scriptures, the Catechism, and other holy books, this would inspire him to do the same instead of spending all of his spare time reading political articles, political books, and secular novels. This is why the Catechism teaches the importance of having available to us the holy witness of others to inspire us to seek God as we ought.
In addition to all of this, I am convinced that it is imperative that we take the time to read about the lives of the Saints, the desert fathers and mothers, and other holy men and women throughout our history who sought God with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength. These individuals inspire us to give to God as they gave and to seek Him as they did. If there was ever a time when we needed the inspiration provided by these powerful witnesses, it is now. They teach us how to seek God and to live as He has called us to live.
Let's suppose that I decide to make pancakes for breakfast one morning. I open up the cookbook and find the recipe. The recipe instructs me to use 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, ¼ teaspoon of salt, 1 beaten egg, 1 cup of milk, and 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. As I study the recipe, however, I decide to follow my own set of instructions, instead of those set before me in the cookbook. I use 1 cup of sugar and only 1 tablespoon of flour instead. I use ¼ teaspoon of baking powder and 2 teaspoons of salt instead. I use 2 cups of cooking oil and 2 tablespoons of milk instead. Do I really think that the final product is going to be what the cookbook says it will be since I decided to follow my own distorted plan instead of the plan called for in the recipe? Of course not. We apply this principle to the following of a recipe in a cookbook, but not when it comes to God's recipe for happiness and fulfillment provided for us in His Holy Word.
If we want God's joy to fill our hearts, we must be willing to seek Him in the manner prescribed by Him. The minute we choose, like the man mentioned above, to follow our own self-prescribed manner, completely ignoring what God has prescribed, we are going to be disappointed in the results. If we want God to fill our lives and to give our lives purpose and meaning, we have to live His way, not our own way. We can't change the divine recipe for happiness. When we do, we end up like the man mentioned throughout this article.
Saint Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God." Christ is calling us to enter into His rest, His peace, and His joy. He wants to change us so that His power will be manifested in our lives to all who see us. He wants to be glorified in and through us. But we have to seek Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and we have to do this in the manner prescribed by Him, not by ourselves. If we are not willing to do this, we are only going to end up with an empty religion and an empty heart.
Whenever Mother Teresa saw an unhappy nun, she immediately discerned in her spirit that the nun was holding back on Jesus in some area of her life and not giving Christ what He desired. When you and I are truly living a Christ-centered, Christ-filled life, and when we are truly seeking God with the intensity and fervor to which all disciples are called, this will be reflected in our countenance, our outlook, and the way in which we think, speak, and live. The result will be a life that has been completely transformed by the power of God.
A life that stays the same and never changes has only encountered an empty, revised religion, but the life that has been truly transformed…
… is the life that has encountered Christ.
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