Seven years ago a friend of mine from college – Paul – died of cancer. A few days before his funeral Mass his sister called me and asked if I would deliver the homily – to which I agreed, though I was terrified. I decided to go to his funeral via the March for Life in DC, stay at friends and then catch a flight to Tennessee. On the morning of departure, after Mass at my friend’s parish, a gentleman came up to me and handed me a piece of paper. He said: “Father, this is for you, pass it on…” Now, I had never met that man and I had never been to that parish before… But the note was timely. It read:
“Once a man was asked, what did you gain by praying regularly to God? The man replied, nothing… but let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, greed, depression, insecurity, and fear of death. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not in gaining but in losing, which ultimately is the gain.”
Do you notice the parallel in that simple note to St. Paul’s exhortation in the second reading? What are the characteristics found in a person who loves – patience, kindness, humility, self-less, hopeful, truthful … He tells his readers – and us – to “strive eagerly” for these things … the highest of spiritual gifts. The actual translation from the Greek is “be zealous” … Meaning to have “a great enthusiasm in pursuit of an objective or a cause.” What does a person gain by praying regularly to God – if you ask St. Paul … You gain love by surrendering your heart … you gain God by losing yourself. Lets not forget though, “praying regularly” is the zealous part, this is the pursuit … You may find it interesting that the word enthusiasm comes from a Greek term that means to be possessed by God because the Greek term for God is found in it – theos.
Strive eagerly – be zealous … What I am trying to get at it is that in praying regularly isn’t just about praying, its about the pursuit – the action of following after, going for, reaching for … looking, finding, catching – these are all action words. It means that the whole of our lives is a pursuit of God, of following Him and reaching Him, of seeing and hearing Him … so as to be inspired and possessed by Him – to live our faith with zeal and enthusiasm. This is not always an easy path – we often find in the pursuit of God things that need to be changed in our lives … ego, arrogance, lust, greed, anger and so on… It often hurts to pursue love… St. Teresa of Calcutta once said: “I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.” How do reach Him – how we do it depends on whether or not we strive for Him, whether or not we have zeal for Him, whether or not we want Him… Sometimes the loss is the gain … and the gain is always God.