“Is not a man’s life on earth a drudgery?” So asked holy Job, in the deepest throes of his agony and despair. “Is not a man’s life on earth a drudgery?”
Exactly three years ago, when we read the same readings at Sunday Mass, we reflected a bit about what the word “life” means.
Is ‘life’ something that amoebas, cornstalks, jelly fish, chickens, and we human beings all have in common? Is life simply a certain arbitrary confluence of atoms, set in motion randomly by the Big Bang? These particular atoms could have wound up constituting my flabby body, like they do—or they could have wound up somewhere in the Andromeda Galaxy. It’s all just a matter of chance.
That’s one interpretation of the word ‘life.’ Which could make it feel like a drudgery, to be sure.
Then there’s the interpretation of the word ‘life’ which our Lord Jesus came to the earth to give us. As we read from the first chapter of St. Mark’s gospel, Christ lovingly healed the bodies of many sick and suffering people. But His first priority was to preach the truth that heals the soul.
The word ‘life’ can refer to animals and vegetables; it can refer to the chemical processes of nutrition and reproduction and neurons firing-off in this or that part of the brain. But, above all, ‘life’ means the power and the glory of God, the beauty and the intelligence that made all the amoebas, grass snakes, armadillos, and us; that made every atom in the universe—He made it all, out of nothing, according to a plan, which has a goal. And the goal of it all is simple, beautiful, and extremely mysterious to us: The goal of all creation and history is: enduring happiness for us poor human beings.
So: exercise, a good diet, and proper rest all contribute to a healthy life. But the most fundamental aspect of a healthy life, when we consider the word ‘life’ in its full meaning—the most important thing for life is: Faith. Active faith. Habitual faith.
Long ago, by the grace of God, I managed to get in the daily habit of making the following Act of Faith well before dawn every morning:
O God, I believe that You are one God in three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that Your divine Son became man for the sake of our salvation, and that He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. I believe these, and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because You have revealed them, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived. In this faith I intend to live and die.
As we have discussed the past couple weeks, vagueness when it comes to God does not do us any good. Yes, we cannot know everything about God during this pilgrim life. But that doesn’t mean that the little we do know about Him is at all vague. To question, to inquire about divine revelation only strengthens our faith. But vagueness and limp doubt do not make us wise.
The other day, I asked one of the CCD classes to tell me what “I believe” means. I immediately got two truly excellent answers.
The first: “I believe” means “I accept as true.”
I accept as true that God Almighty reigns, and that He took our human nature to Himself, and consecrated it for eternal life by His death and resurrection. I accept as true that our church is His Church, and that humbly living by the Catholic rules means taking the first step in eternal life. None of this is at all in doubt; all of it is more certain than 2 + 2 = 4.
The second good answer I got was: “I believe” means “I trust.”
When I believe, I trust the one and only person Who completely deserves my unconditional acceptance, deserves my total and complete adherence. Namely, the One Who made me.
Trusting means acknowledging to the divine Potter Who molded this particular lump of clay: “You know better than me, Master.” When it comes to God, such a statement is indubitably true. God knows better than me; my Maker knows better than me. I would be a fool not to trust Him. He knows it all; I know only a tiny part of what there is to know. So I trust Him. He knows, and He wills, my good—a good so good I can’t even grasp how good it is. So I trust Him.
Faith: Not an abdication of responsibility. Not a childish retreat into an imaginary fantasy. Not an unhealthy detachment from the immediate realities of life.
No. The most immediate reality of life is, after all, God. The most certain truth is that He knows, and that what He knows is true. And the most mature thing I can do is to acknowledge that I myself know less than God.
The most truly responsible, the most truly self-possessed, the most genuinely sovereign act I can make is: To take myself completely in hand, so to speak, and say to the source of all life: Lord, I belong to You. I entrust myself to You. In Christ, You have revealed Your innermost mystery, and I, with all my heart, believe.