Back in November I had a very enjoyable Saturday morning at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale. A former student of mine, Jim Krug, who now teaches religion at Kellenberg, had invited me to give two talks in a Saturday morning program that the high school presents a few times during the school year. The topic Jim assigned me was “Faith and Reason.”
I started by sharing with the audience some topics I teach in philosophy classes at St. John’s University. Then in my second talk I tried to relate what I had presented in philosophy with our Catholic faith. The two talks seemed to be well received. With a 30 minute break between the two presentations I think I spoke about two and a half hours. Near the end of my second presentation I thought I noticed some of the audience having a tough time paying attention, so I asked if there were any questions. I am very glad I did.
A lady sitting near the front asked, “How do you grow closer to God?” I confess I had to pause for a few seconds. The question was about as basic as possible and yet I had to think about what I wanted to say. Probably I mentioned prayer, especially the Eucharist, also checking up on ourselves on how we treat members of our family, our friends and others.
I think I said that I thought one way of examining our relationship with God was by examining our relationships with others. Indeed, reflecting on how we treat other people may be a very good indication of our relationship with God. Later in the day I continued to think about the question and my response to it and what occurred to me is probably obvious but it took on a new importance to me. In fact, the next day at Sunday Eucharist and a few days later at a Thanksgiving Day Eucharist, I shared it with those attending the Masses.
When I preach to people that they should be concerned about others I almost always mean they should be unselfish, forgiving, concerned about the well being of others and ready to help others. What occurred to me is that we should be attentive to others also because others may reveal God to us.
I mentioned to both the congregation at the Sunday Eucharist and at the Thanksgiving Day Eucharist that I believed the Risen Christ was living within them, that they were participating in the unfathomable love life of God. This is what we mean when we say that someone is in the state of grace. Perhaps we sometimes think of being in the state of grace only in negative terms, for example being in the state of grace means that we are free of mortal sin. Being in the state of grace does mean we are free of mortal sin but if it is true that we are free of mortal sin then that means we are sharing God’s life. If we are sharing in God’s life then the Risen Christ lives within us. It also means that the Holy Spirit lives within us. We should expect to see signs of God’s presence in others.
Of course the people at either Eucharist would never describe themselves as holy. Indeed, I don’t know anyone who would describe himself or herself as holy, but if people are sharing God’s life of unfathomable love then they are holy. This is what holiness means: to be in union with God.
Think of all the goodness we often experience in others, within our families, among our friends, even in people with whom we may have no relationship. I think of how many parents I know who seem to be willing to make any sacrifice, and I mean any sacrifice, for their children. I think of the number of people I know who seem to be frequently performing random acts of kindness. I think of the many people I have observed who are ready to forgive even when they are deeply hurt.
Back in November a terrible storm hit New York. I have never experienced anything like it. People lost their automobiles, their homes. Some lost loved ones. What I found both amazing and inspiring was the number of people who, though they had experienced serious losses, were trying to reach out and help others. Instead of turning in on themselves and focusing on their own losses they were concerned about others. Could there be a better sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love?
I suspect that all of us can improve and grow closer to God, but let’s not miss the enormous goodness that we experience in other people.