We have heard it often enough, “I don’t need to go to church. I don’t need organized religion. I can just worship God in my own time, in my own way.”
If I would have chosen that path–which is often tempting on Sunday morning–to just roll over and pull the covers over my head and ignore the chaos and confusion of getting breakfast on the table and everyone dressed, presentable and to church on time, I would have been the one who would have suffered for it, for I would have been the one who would have missed out on friendships that have nudged me–if not catapulted me–in the right direction, the direction of holiness.
I would have been the one who would have missed knowing “x.” No matter how difficult life is she is cheerful, not in a bubbly pop-the-cork champagne way, but in a smiling calmly Mona Lisa way. Her serene demeanor is one that invites the other to unburden the cares and worries of the heart to an empathetic ear.
Her compassionate concern for others brings to life those saint stories of long ago, making them real and not just fairy tales. At the same time, knowing someone who strives to be good and kind offers refreshing hope in a world that seems to have gone bonkers.
She is one person of so many others who has touched my life for the better, stretching me outside of my box of self-complacency, fear, and withdrawal. I can dwell on those who are unkind, self-centered and mean-spirited or I can remember those who are kind and loving–often expressing their thoughtfulness with nothing more than a simple gesture, an opening of a door, a welcoming invitation or a grateful thank you.
I can act like those who have impacted my life in a positive or negative way. I can emulate her who has little by the world’s standards but has given much to others by God’s standards, or I can follow the example of those who are consumed with having more and more, especially power and prestige.
Life is full of choices. I can follow my self-centered will and repartee unkindness with unkindness or strive to be the better person, trying to control my volcanic temper when it is churning into an all out eruption–an eruption that never benefits anyone. Witnessing someone else who exhibits self-control in the midst of adversity, awakens admiration and inspires like-mindedness.
A priest once told me that he knew of more than one young man who entered the priesthood because of Blessed Mother Teresa’s smile, nothing extraordinary, just her smile. But in many ways her smile was extraordinary. It was a reflection of her soul beaming through her joy-filled eyes. Those joy-filled eyes are like the eyes of my friend who takes the time out of her busy schedule to say hello, how are you? I have time for you! When we are engaged in a conversation, she could be self-absorbed and monopolize the conversation talking heedlessly about herself, but she does not. Those little acts of kindness, which appear to go unnoticed, can mean the most, especially in times of stress.
At the same time, going to church is not just about the friendships that encourage, but also about the grace that sustains us in the midst of sorrow and weakness. There are plenty of churches that offer a lively Christ-filled community. But there is only one Church that offers an intimate union with Christ, a union that offers the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. There is only one Church that offers the grace to overcome all obstacles to holiness. There is only one Church, rich in God’s love and mercy, which offers us the opportunity to cleanse us of our sins to begin anew.