To the Core

What can you live without?  Take a look around you, whether you’re at home or at work right now, and ask yourself what is it you really need?  If you had to strip away the items in your life, perhaps the material possessions would be first to go.  Then things like your home, career, friends, etc. would be widdled away until your left with your core needs.  This is the proverbial prioritization process, and it’s one that I was reminded of yesterday.

Easter is usually a day you share with family.  My kids’ uncle is in town from Venezuela, so their Easter activities had been planned for some time now.  I did however get to see them in the morning, take them to Mass, and grab donuts with them afterwards.  Lee was in Alabama for the weekend which left the rest of my day was wide open, and no one likes being alone on Easter.  My friend Tracey was in a similar boat.  With her family in New York she, too, had nowhere to go and nothing to do.  So we decided to hang out and be alone on Easter together.

Tracey is the director of the youth ministry program at my parish.  She’s very smart, quick-witted and just fun to be around.  And as much as we try to have normal conversations about life, sports, or whatever, we always come around to talking about God.  With the exception of Lee, Tracey is the only person with whom I feel wholly comfortable expressing my feelings and beliefs about God.

Our conversation was very spiritual and focused on the Bible and how ‘fanatics’ take what is written literally as ‘the law of God’.  This got me thinking about how I reconcile my personal and spiritual beliefs with the teachings and rules of the Catholic Church.  I’ll be the first to admit that I am your typical cradle-Catholic.  I believe because I was told to believe, and even though I challenged a bit here and there, I never considered myself to be anything but Catholic.  And when it comes to decisions from Rome, I prefer the buffet as opposed to the predetermined main course.

The evening ended with Lee getting back from her trip and us nestling in to watch ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ on HBO.  It was appropriate given the theme for the day, and of course Lee thinks Orlando Bloom is hot, so it was a win-win situation.  I won’t bore you with the details of the movie except to say it centers on a man’s quest to find spiritual truth – and forgiveness – in himself.   The movie, set in Jerusalem during the Crusades, produced one of the most amazing lines I’ve ever heard.  “I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What god desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart], and by what you decide to do everyday, will make you a good man… or not.”

If I were to widdle away what I have to get to my core, I know in my heart I would be left with God.  My love for and belief in God supersedes all that I have, including my family.  Yes, including my kids.  I know it’s a bold statement, but I believe my children are a gift from God.  Should God ever choose to retract that gift from me, it is because His will requires it.  I’ve said it before; it is not for us to understand God’s will, but to accept it.  And the highest form of arrogance is found in a person asking God, “Why?”

I try to be a good person.  I try, and struggle at times, to live a holy life.  But I do so not because an old man in Rome tells me to.  I do so not because a book that was written as a result of divine inspiration, then re-written and re-written and re-written over time tells me to.  I do so because I want to be a good person and be worthy of Heaven and God’s grace.  I do so because when it comes time for my beatific vision, I want to kneel with humble confidence in the presence of God.  To quote the movie one more time, “When you stand before God you cannot say ‘but I was told by others to do thus’ or that ‘virtue was not convenient at the time’. This will not suffice.”

Props to William Monahan who wrote the screenplay for “Kingdom of Heaven

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