When Are You Most Alive?

09-08-2019From the Pastor's DeskMsgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

Recently I was reading a book “Simple Happiness” by Jim Ryan, the man who will give our parish retreat this coming October 28th to 30th. Each chapter is brief and offers a lot of food for thought. The chapter that gave me a lot of time to think and be grateful was entitled, “Follow Your Bliss.” Ryan defines bliss as “that which makes you feel most alive.” Playing golf, going shopping, a new car, going to a concert or show are all things that make us happy. But bliss is far more than that. When are we most alive? Simply put, when we are with those we love and those who love us. A few weeks ago I was on vacation for a week with my two sisters and their husbands. We spent time going to a pool, fishing, playing cards, cooking and eating together. Since one sister lives in Maryland and the other in Illinois, it was a special time just to enjoy one another’s company. I felt very happy and grateful for that time with them. To me that is an example of bliss. I had the same experience last week when I went out to Greenport to see my brother and his family. He is seventeen years younger than me and works hard. We just hang out with one another and experience that bond that only family can bring. What is most simple is most profound and blissful - the joy of one another’s presence.

Today’s Gospel at first hand seems to say look beyond your family and friends for true bliss. Jesus says, “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Doesn’t this contradict the Third Commandment: Honor your Father and Your Mother? What Jesus is saying is that as much as we find bliss in our family, our bliss will be magnified when we see how much He loves us. The more we can see the love of Jesus in our personal lives, the more humble and grateful we are. And humility and gratitude are the foundation of love.

There is no love more humble than the love of Jesus: “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Jesus left the bliss of heaven, the joy of divine love with the Father and Holy Spirit, the joy of the angels and saints, and came into our world to bring us into His life fully and completely, to know and experience His bliss. What made Jesus fully alive was His love for the Father and His love for us. Even on the cross, the greatest travesty of justice and act of ignorant stupidity, He never stopped loving. He never stopped hoping we would see this love and know His bliss. Jesus came into our world grateful for the opportunity to reveal God’s love and life and invite us to share in the bliss of God’s love and life. Nothing deterred Him from this quest, not even rejection, ignorance, misunderstanding, or injustice. That is the God, the person we spend time with every time we pray and come to the celebration of Mass and the other sacraments. The sacraments make Jesus fully alive in His loving presence to us. Our presence and attentiveness to Him not only enables us to experience divine bliss, it also magnifies divine bliss. The Blessed Virgin Mary exemplifies this perfectly as she proclaims in song of praise (the Magnificat): “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke2:45-49) She knew she was fully alive in God’s love for her and His faith in her. She experienced God’s bliss and magnified it in her faith, hope, and love.

Where do we experience God’s bliss? The opportunities are there, but do we take advantage of them. Just as my sisters and I took time to be with one another, so God is always ready to receive our presence and words of prayer. The key is simple: set time aside experience God’s bliss through our words of prayer and our awareness of God’s presence to us. So often we intend to pray but get to the end of the day and find ourselves out of time and energy. Leave the biggest interrupter and temptation to distraction off in another room. God does not text, e-mail, send messages, or chat on line. He joyfully welcomes us into His presence and is happy we are with Him. We know we always have time and energy to be with those who make us fully alive. Before I start with all the people I pray for and all who asked me to pray for them, I begin by thanking God for the gift of life. I am alive! I have so many people who love me and who I want to love! I live in 21st century America! That blessing inspires gratitude and also presents many challenges as to how and what God is calling me to be each day.

I invite you to take some distraction-free, quiet time and reflect on Mary’s joy. She experienced and magnified the bliss of God. The same invitation is open to us: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever. (Luke 1:46-55) Think about where God has blessed you, where He has lifted you up, how He has filled you with good things and good people, where He has been with you in the good times and the difficult times, how He has blessed you over and over again. Then we too will begin to know, experience, and magnify God’s bliss!