Yesterday, as I often do, I attended the noon Mass at our Law School chapel. The presider on Mondays is the University’s director of campus ministry, Fr. Erich Rutten, whose sermons often give me much to reflect on.
Yesterday, his preaching was stimulated by the combination of the feast day of St. Isaac Jogues and his companions (about which I wrote yesterday) and the Gospel, which provided a stark contrast to the life of Jogues in the rich man who spent his time storing up his treasures.
Fr. Erich began by observing that we tend to treat our lives as our own, as though our lives actually belong to us. We think of it as “my life,” as though our lives are something we have complete dominion over and may do with whatever we please.
The reality, however, is what I call “my life” is pure gift, every single moment of it. Although we behave as though we have certain entitlements (life of a certain length, life of a certain quality, etc.), the reality is that we have no entitlement to anything. No entitlement to a life even one minute longer than the lives we are given because the entirety of our lives is gratuitously given by God. My life is not created by me. It is not earned by me. Every breath I take comes as gift from God.
The appropriate response he then suggested is not, what do I want to do with my life, but rather, how will I give thanks to God for the gift of this life God has given to me. How will I use the gift of life and the gifts and talents I have been given for the greater glory of God? How will I give back for what I have been given.
As I continued to reflect after Mass on Fr. Erich’s words, I thought how much easier it is for me to hear and act on these words than for those in deep suffering of one kind or another. For people who experience great suffering, it is often difficult to see the lives they are living as gift, making it exceedingly difficult to think about how they might give thanks for the gift God has given them.
Surely, no matter how grave the suffering, there is still gift. There is still life. There is still love. There is still the presence of God and the possibility of growth in relationship with God. There is still relationship with others. But it is not always easy for one in suffering to see that, to experience the gift. So perhaps part of the way we give back for what we have been given is to be present to those who are suffering, to help them find gift from God in their lives. To be a reflection through our love for them of the love God has for them.