Corpus Christi, The Antidote to Relativism and Despair

Jesus was so in tune with the Father’s will, that he knew of his coming passion, and knew that he would suffer for a reason; for the salvation of the world.

Recently, I was watching a presentation that referenced Dr. Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. The presenter was talking about how Dr. Frankl noticed that everyone in the concentration camp was subjected to the same dire situation, yet people responded to it differently. Some people despaired and committed suicide. Others found hope and endured.

Later, he defined despair as suffering without meaning. While we can mitigate some suffering, the truth is, we can never be completely rid of suffering in this life. So, the key to avoiding despair is to try to find meaning in our suffering. That’s why our parents use to tell us to offer our suffering up. It didn’t matter how big or small the suffering was, they told us to offer it up.

Learning to find meaning in our smaller everyday suffering makes it easier when we are faced with larger, more difficult suffering.

My wife, Jen, was talking about her own recent experience with this. She got roped into running a half marathon, by our oldest daughter. She’s not a natural distance runner, so when she got to the longer training runs, the monotony of the pain got to her. Finally, she got the idea to offer her suffering up, to join in solidarity with a friend who was going through a difficult time, and suddenly, she found she could endure it. It was still difficult, but it was possible.

It’s important that we try to find meaning in our suffering, as difficult as that may be at times. It’s also important to challenge those things that decrease our ability to perceive meaning.

It is important to challenge relativism in the culture and in our homes, wherever we see it taking hold. This idea that nothing we do really matters, that there is no objective truth, no right or wrong. We have to challenge this thinking. You might be thinking, “Deacon Mike sure seems obsessed with relativism, he’s always preaching about it.”

Let me remove any doubt, I am. Because I’ve seen the consequences of relativism play out. Relativism decreases our ability to perceive meaning in our suffering, which leads to despair. And despair is what underlies the epidemic of suicide we are facing.

We all know there are two kinds of voices in this world, those who tell us what we need to hear, and those who tell us what we want to hear. Often, it’s only when we are in big trouble that we finally listen to what we need to hear.

Our children are so tempted by the voices that tell them what they want to hear.

It seems so liberating at first to hear that what I do doesn’t matter, because it allows me to do whatever I want without having to pay heed to my conscience. It’s exciting.

Like a kid in the candy store, we go from one desire to the next. But quickly, we become like an addict who discovers that  the fulfillment of his biggest earthly desires, doesn’t last. So, the next experience has to be bigger. But all the while, he misses the fact that he is changing.

Archbishop Sheen used to say, “Behave as you believe, or you will end up believing as you have behaved.” No truer prophecy was ever made about the American Church than this one.

We have behaved as if what we do when no one is looking doesn’t really matter, and eventually we began to believe that what we do doesn’t really matter. That was an exciting belief to have while we were chasing our desires. It is a hellish belief to have when we are inevitably confronted by the cross.

Once we believe that what we do doesn’t matter, life itself begins to be a little less meaningful. And as hard as we try to escape our suffering, suffering in this life is unavoidable. And whether you are in a concentration camp or middle America, suffering without meaning leads to despair, and despair leads to self-annihilation.

I know that there are lots of other things that we also need to work on to combat the epidemic of suicide. But the poison of relativism can no longer be ignored.

I am obsessed. Because I’ve seen the results. I’ve experienced it in my own family.  And as a firefighter, I ran on a lot of suicides. I remember some calls, where I’d be standing in the victim’s house, and I’d see pictures on the walls of their family members and friends, captured memories of happier days, and I’d realize that the people in those pictures didn’t yet know what I knew; that their whole life was about to change.

The past we trust to the Lord, who revealed that there is nothing the Good Shepherd will not do to rescue the lost sheep. We entrust the loved one’s we have lost to suicide to the Good Shepherd, who leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one.

What I emphasize today, I emphasize for us moving forward, so that we can combat this terrible epidemic.

I know some Catholics who are hesitant to speak so directly about the negative effects of immorality. They don’t wish to offend young people. I understand that to an extent. Because, I have also known some Catholics who seem to rather enjoy being offensive. And that’s not good either.

But, I think there is something far worse than being offended. I think it’s worse to know that someone withheld the truth, when it could have prevented us from falling into harm. That’s worse than being offended.

I am obsessed, because I think our young people deserve to know that what they do matters. Telling them that today feels like trying to stop an avalanche with your hands. There are so many more voices out their telling them what they want to hear, and so few telling them what they need to hear.

It’s not that we need to take up a rigid moralism. Our young people need to hear us tell them that they’re going to make mistakes; probably lots of them. And that’s ok. God loves you so much. And there is nothing that you could ever do that would decrease God’s love for you. You need to remember that. Yet, you also need to know that what you do matters. Everything you do impacts the world, for better or worse. Everything you do, changes you, to be more like the person God destined you to be, or less.

Our young people need to hear us tell them that. They also need us to be good models for them. When we sin, we need to own it. No excuses. We need to stop rationalizing, and pretending like they aren’t sins. Own them, learn from them, confess them, and then move on. And if it’s a particularly nasty sin that seems to have its hooks in us, then we will need to be persistent. We will need to persevere. No matters how many times you fall down, you need to get back up. Don’t ever give up. God loves you too much for you to surrender.

We need to start behaving as we believe. Everything we do, whether anyone is watching or not, matters.

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christie where we commemorate the fact that Jesus gave us his body during the Feast of the Passover. Remember, the Passover was that time when the Jews drew a line of demarcation between them and the pagan Egyptians, by marking their doorposts with the blood of the lamb. And it was this demarcation that caused the angel of the Lord to pass over them.

Similarly, whatever sins I hold onto whether they stem from pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath or sloth, that sin, and the punishment it merits, will remain. On the other hand, the sins I give to Jesus and whatever merits those sins deserve will be crucified with him, bathed in the blood of the lamb.

We can’t overcome sin. Only Jesus can do that. But he will never take away our free will. He won’t destroy the sins we don’t give to him. So let’s not call our sins by any other name. Let’s stop rationalizing them. Let’s stop making excuses for them. Certainly, we don’t want to affirm each other in our sins. Let’s draw a line of demarcation between the pagan ways of the society we live in and our Christian way of life.

When we do that, when we return to the Truth, we will begin to see once again, that every second of our lives has meaning. That will help us endure our suffering. But even more than that, in Christ, it will begin to transform the culture. Hope will be restored once we remember that even the very smallest of acts, done with love, can change the whole world.