As a child, I was a typical boy made of frogs and snails and all that. I looked for worms in puddles, climbed trees in the park until my hands were covered in pine sap, and messed around in the creek looking for fish. I didn’t spend a lot of mental energy on concepts like, “being presentable,” “not destroying the house,” or being, “neat and tidy.” So I would come home from a long day of tackle football and toss off my shoes before eating all the food in the house. Instantly, from where ever she was in the house, my mom would sense a disturbance in the force and within thirty seconds she would find those shoes, take them, and place them neatly side-by-side on the stairs. Now that I’m an adult I find myself doing the same sort of things. I totally get it, the satisfaction of a pair of shoes exactly in the right place. It used to drive me crazy, though, because I’d look for my shoes and they weren’t where I left them. Looking at it in retrospect, this is one of those funny little quirks that makes her who she is. It’s a fact I know about her because I love her and lived with her for a long time.
God places all these interesting people in our lives, and I’m going to guess that most of us, just maybe, have a few funny habits that drive the people around us crazy but, as we get to know each, the quirks grow on us and become endearing. Hopefully, I get to stay at Epiphany for a really long time, and we’ll grow old together, and you’ll know all the hidden weird stuff about me, I mean beyond the really, glaringly obvious weird stuff about me. If we were all exactly alike, that would get boring very quickly.
You might be sitting there saying, “Yeah but you don’t know my wife, she never turns off the lights when she leaves a room! I can’t live like this anymore!” They say that 90% of being a dad is walking around the house and turning off lights. What we don’t always appreciate about those people in our lives who have these, let’s say, unique personality traits is that they present us with a great opportunity. And I don’t simply mean that we’re Catholic so offer it up as penance, even though that is a valid response, but the opportunity is more then clenching your teeth and getting through it, as if we’re superheroes for tolerating anyone who is different than us. These people in our lives actually help us achieve our destiny.
We know that we are not placed upon this earth to acquire material things, or become famous, or seek pleasure because none of these things lasts beyond death, and it’s fairly obvious that we are suited for an eternal existence. We naturally seek out eternal qualities like beauty, truth, and goodness. These are virtues that pull us out of everyday, moment-to-moment concerns and focus us on a far greater reality. We feel most alive when we’ve just heard a gorgeous piece of music, or seen a great athletic accomplishment, which is beautiful in its own way. And more than any other time, we feel most alive when sharing the virtue of love. Love is a quality that extends well beyond this universe. It exerts a gravity all its own, bending time and space. If you’ve received an email from you, you may have noticed a Latin phrase in the signature. It’s a quote from St. Augustine, “Pondus meum amor meus/My weight is my love.” Everything finds its true weight. A rock drops to the ground, a fire rises to the sky. A person who falls into sin and selfishness sinks to the depths, but a person who loves is lifted up to heaven.
Love cannot remain abstract. It doesn’t work to slap a bumper sticker on your car that says, “Let’s all love each other,” and consider it a job well done. It doesn’t work to show up at mass, check the box for attendance, and convince ourselves that, because we are Christians who come to church, that we are automatically loving God and neighbor. There has to be follow-through. We learn to love by loving real people, our family, friends, co-workers, waiters, random cashiers. Real people are magnificent and encouraging and fun to have around. They can also be odd, frustrating, and disappointing. We all certainly are imperfect. But this is the opportunity we create for each other, to learn how to love, to overlook flaws and forgive grievances, to be generous and sympathetic, even how to learn to love the things that drive us crazy. Let’s say, theoretically, your kids always leave the dryer door open and that makes the little light inside stay on. And let’s say, theoretically, that you have even gathered them together for a serious instructional session on how to close a dryer door, and yet that dryer door is still open at least once a day and the little light is on. Over the years, when approached with love, even that annoyance mellows into an endearing family story.
Okay, I need to actually reference a Scripture. The prophet Isaiah says, “For the LORD delights in you…and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” In other words, God knows you as an individual, and he loves you as an individual. Our Lord places himself upon the Cross not for the abstract concept of humanity – he dies for you. He wants to share a life with you, just like a husband with a wife.
St. Paul says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit,” meaning that we are concrete, unique people. The Holy Spirit deals with each of us differently. Abstraction is a way of avoiding having to actually be good, to actually practice the virtue of love. What we must keep in mind is that God has placed this person in front of me right now. This is my mission field. This is my opportunity to know this person, to love this person. Each moment is ordered towards divine fulfillment. Each decision we make matters. Each person matters.
Notice what St. Paul says, that through the individual gifts of each person we are drawn into the unity of the same divine reality. We are knit together into a family. The specific calling of Christ involves us in a much larger, universal calling. We proceed from the wedding at Cana to the Wedding feast of Heaven, from Adam to Christ, from individual acts of love into the divine embrace, from the liminal space of this specific historical moment and into the grand vastness of eternity. The small act takes on eternal significance, but we cannot reverse the order of operations.
You are placed exactly where God wants you. Don’t be anxious, don’t wish you were somewhere else. Love the people around you, look deeply and see how very special they are, and make every action a gift of love united with the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.