Finding purpose in life is a dilemma that every person has to face, and with the increase of anxiety, depression and suicide in western society, it seems that an alarming number of people are not finding the answers to that question. Why? It is not because the answer is not available. The answer has been revealed to us through the action of the Trinity, and ‘God has given us the wisdom to understand fully the mystery that he was pleased to decree in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:9). So why is it hard for many to find? Because the answer to the meaning of life is unattractive to a society that is concerned with self. God is calling all of us to sainthood through which we come to know, love, and serve God. However, I fear that with such broad terms, we miss the practical meaning of what a saintly life looks like. While the beauty of the broad terms is that saintly lives can take many different forms, if we do not have many present examples of saints, we need to define the basics of sainthood. So what does knowing God practically mean?
Knowing God: One of the first questions I would ask my Juniors when I got to know them during the first week of school was if they knew God. I would hear a variety of answers. Some would answer emphatically that they did, but the truth was they were trying to convince everyone else (including themselves) that this is true. There were others who told you they did not, and did not care to know Him (again a little too emphatically) to convince everyone (including themselves) that God is not real or worth their time. Other answers include, I’m spiritual but not religious, We are all worshiping the same god, but in different ways, or Oh yeah, God and I are tight. I have found that these answers were not original answers. They were echoing the words of their parents, what they saw in entertainment, and what is spoken in the culture at large.
It was sad to look around at a room of Juniors hungering for a deeper relationship with God, even if they didn’t realize it. Many of them had gone through Catholic school for more than a decade, and still did not have the foundation of a relationship with God. I do not say this judgmentally as I also was/am still on the journey to the heart of God. Yet, in my life, the Holy Spirit has had a profound effect in drawing me deeper into the mystery of God, and I can speak on it. It is something less and less common with the typical Catholic, whether they have gone to Catholic School or not.
Often what Catholic Schools and parents fail to understand is that knowing God is not just a matter of learning about Him. We can take pride in the fact that our children/students can name the seven sacraments or gifts of the Holy Spirit and think evangelization is occurring. Usually, all that is happening is memorization, or even just regurgitation. As a teacher, I have fallen victim to this. If the grades are good (and no cheating is happening) then you think you are doing a good job. However, the fault in this viewpoint is that just because you know about someone, does not mean you know them. Any starstruck celebrity stalker cannot claim to know the person of their obsession no matter how many blog posts they have read. The only way they can claim to know that person is by the star inviting them into their life, and then a relationship is formed.
While having academic knowledge of God is essential for knowing Him, a relationship only forms when we put ourselves in an environment to know God. God reveals himself by pouring love and grace into our hearts, and He does this on His own time in His own way. We must put ourselves in the proper disposition to receive those graces. We do this by avoiding sin and entering a life of prayer.
If we do not pray, we do not know God. We may know of Him and about Him, but only the person who spends time with God, knows Him. Taking the time to put ourselves in His presence each day, reading the scriptures, and encountering Him in the sacraments, allows God to reveal Himself to us. Avoiding sin breaks us free of the slavery and distractions that would prevent us spending time in prayer and loving God and neighbor. In addition to this, everyday life should be centered around heavenly things, not distractions of the world (even the non-sinful distractions). Every part of our day becomes a prayer if we are completely focused on giving it to God. This allows us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16) without spending 12 hours on our knees.
If we want to know God more, we need to do more than to find time for Him in our day. We need to make each day about him, by creating an environment conducive to hearing His will in our lives. God does chase after us when we stray, but He never forces Himself upon us because true love is never forced. Our lives and hearts need to be stripped of all other attachments. And if we do not know how to do this, we simply ask Him for His grace and allow it to operate on His time. When we learn to do this and listen to Him continuously in our lives, then the academic knowledge starts to synthesize with the experiential knowledge. Not only will we have begun the journey to sainthood, but we will begin to bring others with us as well.