What if life really has meaning? What if there is a reason to be joyful in this life? What if, in the end, life has a happy ending? What if you could have peace in this life? What if you could have that peace every day, no matter what happens to you? What would it take for these possibilities to become a reality?
The answer is love. If you know that you are truly, personally, unconditionally loved. Then all of these possibilities can become a reality.
Our message to you is simple. It is that indeed you are loved : truly, personally, unconditionally. In fact, the Catholic, Christian faith holds that the three-fold structure of love is actually the foundation of reality, of all that is.
What is our proof? Our proof is that we know that love is the foundation of reality, because there is a God. And not just some nameless, distant, cold deity, but a God who is in relationship with human beings. Again, it is the Catholic, Christian faith that we know that there is a God. And we know that there is a God because God has revealed himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we call “the Christ” (that is, the “anointed one”).
The holy book of Catholic Christians is called the Bible. The part of the Bible that we hold most dear is called the Gospels—those books that recall of the life of Jesus on Earth. This Gospel—which means “good news”—means many things to us. But many people do not realize that the first purpose of the Gospels is to reveal who Jesus is. And then the second purpose is to prove to those who do not know Jesus, or who doubt the claims that we Catholics make about Jesus, that he really is who he claims to be. Lastly, the purpose of the Gospels is to tell us how we must live in response to this revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Love of Christ
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (I John 3:16)
When have you experienced love in your life? Most of us experienced love from our parents. Unfortunately, far too many people these days did not. But hopefully there was someone along the way in your life who loved you. What did that love look like?
In a word, love is shown in sacrifice. Mom and dad stay up all night, night after night, with a sick child, who will never know, never remember the sacrifice made to nurse her back to health. A young man saves every nickel and dime, working two jobs, just to buy his fiancé the ring of her dreams. And if you think about it, this love, this sacrifice, is what keeps the world from destroying itself. Today, if you pick up the newspaper, you quickly realize we are seeing an eclipse of love. Something is wrong in the world. The world has become a scary place. Love is absent.
In the Catholic tradition, we call the absence of love, the absence of God, sin. But how did things get this way? Where did sin come from?
Most people have heard the story of Adam and Eve. Unfortunately, many people get so caught up in the details of this story, that they miss the point. The Bible is making a profound statement about mankind. The evil one lies to us, trying to convince us that God cannot be trusted. In fact, God is our competitor, our enemy. He says to Eve, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” …”You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1b, 4-5). Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit. That is, they disobey God, and they distrust God. Since then, humankind has fallen into the same trap, over and over.
The Reality of Sin
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned. (Romans 5:12)
God created everything that is in an act of love, because nothing is necessary to God. We didn’t have to be. And so the fact that we exist at all is a gift of God, an act of love! And yet if you continue reading in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, you see how quickly things get worse. Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel, and one grows jealous of the other. Cain kills Abel. Already, we have the first murder—fratricide! Brother kills brother—those who share the same blood, the same parents, the same God! With common ancestors, with one God as Father, all of mankind are brothers and sisters. And so when one man sins, all are affected. If the soul is the “place” in a person where the spirit of God dwells, then when man turns his back on God, in a sense, the soul “dies.” Death of the body cannot be far behind.
God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. (Wisdom 1:13)
Something is wrong. God did not create man to die. And yet now death is inevitable for all people. And so God goes on a rescue mission, to save his lost creation.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
This is one of the most well-known verses of the Bible, and for good reason. In fact, it is an excellent summary of the Christian faith. God loves the world. God loves you! It didn’t have to be this way. God could have given up on us and destroyed us. But that’s not what He did. He decided to save us, but at a cost that is unimaginable. It cost God the Father the life of his only-begotten Son.
Forgiveness of Sins
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Remember, the effect of sin is death. And so God, who cannot sin, became a man in Jesus Christ in order to save us from death. We deserved death because of our sins. Yet even though He never sinned, Jesus Christ died on the Cross, in our place. And because He was the sinless one, death could not have the last word. Jesus rose from the dead three days later, never to die again! He was seen by many witnesses, who were put to death for their witness. They could not possibly have been lying. The only explanation for their faith was that they had come to know that in Jesus Christ, death has been defeated! Love has triumphed over sin! “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55). Now this is good news for Jesus, but what about us?
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
God shows us how much He loves us, by dying in our place on the Cross, in order to share His everlasting life with us! Jesus has taught us that love is not primarily a feeling or an emotion, but rather an act of the will. God shows us how much He loves us by forgiving us for turning away from Him—He who created us and Who sustains us in being. God must love each and every one of us in order to die for us, so that our sins can be forgiven and so we can spend eternity with Him. Now, we no longer need to live lives motivated by the fear of death! Now that is Good News! Can you imagine what this world would be like if we didn’t live lives motivated by the fear of death—lives motivated by the thought that other people are our enemies? That this life is all that is, and so it is really just a bitter joke, and the one who dies “with the most toys” wins? A world were God is God and people are simply His children sounds a lot like “heaven”, doesn’t it?! But how, then, does the forgiveness that God offers in Christ come to us?
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Forgiveness of sins comes to us in a way that is so easy, it almost seems to good to be true. All that is needed is for you to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, repent of your sins—that is, to regret the times that you have deliberately turned away from God, and desire never to turn from Him again—and be baptized into the Church that Jesus founded! Pretty simple, isn’t it! Well yes, and no. Baptism is the easy part. But is it just the beginning.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. (Romans 6:3-5,9)
Have you heard about the Japanese soldier who lived on a remote island, and so never found out that World War II had ended, and that Japan lost the war? In fact, he didn’t find out until 1974, 29 years after the war had ended! Well, in a sense, our lives as Christians is like that. Jesus has won the victory over the devil, sin and death. We know that we have won the war, but there are still battles until Christ comes again. Sin is still present on earth, and even those who are baptized continue to sin. And so we must continue to ask for forgiveness when we sin. We cannot presume that Jesus will forgive our sins after baptism, if we are not sorry for them. Living the Christian life—following the 10 commandments, loving our neighbors, loving God above ourselves—this is not easy! In fact, it requires a sort of death—death to our desires, our egos, our pride. And it means that we must be willing to accept the Cross of Christ—that is, to suffer for doing what is right.
Thankfully, we do not have to go it alone in this world. In baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, who pours out the love of God into our hearts, empowering us to love us with God’s own love!
Christ is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18)
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (I Corinthians 12:12-14)
We do not live as Christians as lone rangers. We are in this together. We are part of the Catholic Church. Catholic means “universal.” The Church is one body in Christ, one throughout time, one throughout the world, one in teaching. And a person joins this body by receiving baptism. All people are called to be part of Christ’s body, the Church.
Fullness of Joy
And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us. (I John 3:23-24)
Baptism is just the beginning of our journey home to God. If we have received such amazing love in Christ, we are called to give that love to others. If you have good news in your life, you always want to share that good news with those you love. And so we are called to tell others about the love of Jesus. We are called to live like Jesus in the world, so that others can know that they too are loved by God. This, then, is the purpose of life. Not to make as much money as you can, or to become as famous as possible, or to get others to like you. No, the purpose of life is to make the love of God known in the world, so that God’s love, like a fire, melts away all of the pain, all of the evil, all of the hate, all of the death that makes life so miserable for so many people.
Strangely, this message of love is often rejected. You may even be hated for following God’s will—God’s commandments for a happy life. But if that happens, know that Jesus was treated the same way!
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:9-11)
And so the answer to our opening question is Yes! Yes, there is a reason to be joyful in this life. In the end, life has a happy ending. You can have peace in this life, every day, no matter what happens to you. Jesus never promised that your life will be easier. But what He has promised is joy, peace, and eternal life. What more could you ask for?