Like many of you, I’ve known God since I was a child. I’ve prayed for as long as I can remember.
But please don’t take that to mean that I have always walked faithfully as a Christian. Like so many people, I very deliberately put off making the decision to follow Jesus because I was deathly afraid of what would happen to me if I did that. Does that sound familiar?
There was a voice in my head—and I think that same voice is in the heads of many people. It said over and over again, “Do not enter! If you enter and surrender to Jesus, you will lose your identity and all the things you love.” It said, “Do not enter! If you do, you’ll lose control of your life.” It said, “Do not enter! The Christian life is less, not more. If you give yourself to Jesus, you’ll probably never have any fun again.” It said, “Do not enter! If you do, you’ll become some sort of Jesus freak.” It said, “Do not enter! If you do, God’s going to make you do things you don’t want to do—things that you hate. It’s just going to be too hard.”
And then the voice took another approach—a far more devastating one. It said, “Do not enter! You’re not good enough—not with all the things you’ve done in your life.” It said, “Do not enter! The Church is a place for super Catholics, the spiritual elite, the ones who have it all together. Who do you think you are, comparing yourself to them?”
Let’s deal with the last objection first. And we’ll do that by telling a universal truth.
No “Spiritual Elite”
The Church does not exist for a spiritual elite, because there is no spiritual elite. We’re all human, all affected by original sin, and all our lives are disordered in one way or another. No priest has it together, and neither does any member of a religious community.
I’ve been a priest for more than twenty years now, and I’ve heard thousands of confessions. I can assure you that we are all sinners. We’re all works in progress. We’re all struggling with something.
Your parish is not a meeting place for the perfected. It’s a place for anyone who wants to encounter Jesus. It’s for those who are hungry for more. It’s for those who want more than what the world can offer, those looking for real depth in their lives. It’s for those who suspect that Jesus was telling the truth when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
I don’t know about you, but I want more. If there’s abundant life to be had, then I want it! I’ve tried almost everything the world can offer, and it’s not enough. I have a bigger appetite than this world can satisfy. There’s a hole inside me that can’t be filled by anything but God, and that aches when it’s empty.
Let’s look at the life of St. Augustine, who lived hundreds of years ago. He was hungry for truth; he was hungry for goodness; he was hungry for beauty. And that’s not all he was hungry for. Augustine’s physical appetites were substantial, and he lived a very disordered life because of them. He yearned to become a Christian, but one massive obstacle stood in his path: chastity seemed impossible for him.
Then one day Augustine experienced a vision of a host of saints, young and old, male and female. And all of them had made the decision to turn around, reroute their lives, and surrender to God. All of them had embraced the chastity that Augustine thought he could not.
“Can you not do what these men have done, what these women have done?” the voice of a beautiful woman he called “Continence” seemed to be saying to him. It was as if the holy men and women in his vision were cheering him on, praying for him.
Shortly afterward Augustine heard a child’s voice urging him to pick up the Bible and read. He picked it up, and these were the words to which he opened: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14).
At that moment, Augustine surrendered his life to Jesus (Confessions, book 8, chapters 11 and 12). He took his first step on the path that would lead him to become not only one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church but one of the most significant figures in human history.
A Call to Surrender
This last story is far more personal. It happened at my mother’s kitchen table. The two of us were talking, drifting from one topic to another. The conversation eventually turned to my father and my brother, both of whom we had lost in the previous year.
As we spoke, my eyes were drawn to a photograph on the table, one that I had never seen before. There were my dad and my brother, sitting in Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. I never even knew that the two of them had gone to a game together without anyone else from the family. But there they were, in the order in which they had left us. And they were staring out from the picture. It was as if they were looking directly at me. And for a moment, as I held that photo, it felt as if they were speaking to me, saying something like, “Come on, John! You can do this! Take the final steps; surrender yourself to Jesus. Come on, John! Just give it all to Jesus.”
What do I conclude from that? Two things. The first is that God is constantly speaking to us—speaking to us through the most ordinary things of our lives—and that what he says to us is of vital importance.
The second thing is that I have—you have—family and friends in heaven right now. And they aren’t simply watching us. They’re cheering for us, rooting us on as we make our journey through life. They’re praying for us, doing everything they can for us, so that we can run the race, fight the fight. They are loving us with a love that we can barely comprehend, so that one day we will join them in a place that is beyond all description, a place where we finally experience the fulfillment of all desire.
There is nothing more important than giving everything to God, and we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who will help us do that. So don’t be afraid. Don’t pay any attention to those voices that tell you, “Do not enter.” Don’t even glance in their direction. Pay attention instead to the voice—that quiet but incessant voice—that calls to you from every corner of your life.
“My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus tells us. And we will hear his voice if we try to. He speaks to us constantly, and what he is says is “Enter.” He stands on the other side of the door that is our mind and our heart. He is waiting for us to fall into his embrace the moment we throw that door open.
So do what the one who loves you more than anyone else wants you to do. Listen to his voice. Open that door that you’ve kept so tightly closed, and enter. Simply enter.
You can count on Jesus to do the rest.
This is a selection from Rerouting: Finding Our Way Back to God and His Church by Fr. John Riccardo. The Word Among Us Press, 2018. Available at www.wau.org/books