He dwells among us: What are you afraid of?

Open wide the doors of your heart to Christ as you pray and discern His plans for you

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

In St. Peter’s inspired words of faith in response to the question of Jesus — “Who do you say that I am?” — we discover the source of truth for answering life’s most difficult questions. For to the degree that we can answer Christ’s question of St. Peter is the degree to which we can also answer these questions: “Who am I?” “What must I do?” “What is the meaning of suffering?”

In St. Peter’s profession of faith lies the truth for the meaning of life and our purpose in God’s loving plan. If you wish to truly satisfy the longings and questions of your heart, draw nearer to Christ in prayer and trust. He alone has the answers you seek.

Forty years ago I was a senior at St. Louis University when St. John Paul II was elected pope on Oct. 16, 1978. Particularly at that important time in my life I was struggling with questions of myself and of what I was to do following graduation. And I distinctly remember how struck I was by the words of St. John Paul II at his Mass of inauguration that followed shortly after his election: “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.” Encouraged by these words, I no longer felt alone with my questions that had defied my best efforts for answers. Instead, I asked the questions of Christ — and my life was changed forever.

“Who am I and what must I do?” It amazes me whenever I walk into a large bookstore and see aisles of books under the category of “Self Help.” So many people are in search for something that will give meaning and purpose to their life. And if people seem increasingly frustrated and angry today, perhaps it is because they are in a fruitless search for the infinite among the finite. For, as St. Augustine so long ago noted, “Our hearts are restless Lord until they rest in you.”

Throughout his pontificate, St. John Paul II echoed the beautiful words from the Second Vatican Council that answers not only the question, “Who am I?” but also, “What am I to do?” Paraphrasing, “It is Christ Jesus who fully reveals to us who we are and what we are supposed to do.” Christ is true God and true Man. And as true Man, we discover in Christ our true self.

When we forget God, we become unintelligible to ourselves. When we forget God, we lose our internal compass and invariably become lost.

As a college senior struggling with these questions, I found myself drawn more and more to the Blessed Sacrament to pray before our Lord. And in doing so, I began to discover myself in Christ and found myself praying more and more, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” I felt sure when I first began discerning God’s will that I was called to marriage. But as I began to pray, “Jesus, I trust in you,” and to believe in my heart that God would lead me on the right path, I started to discern a different calling. Little did I know that less than a year later I’d be in the seminary.

When I speak to young people, I like to ask them how many think they might be called to the priesthood or religious life. Sometimes a hand or two goes up. But then I ask everyone if they thought they had such a calling whether they would pray and discern a lot about it. Everyone of course says yes, especially since such a vocation would involve the discipline of celibacy. I then ask everyone how many think they might be called to the married vocation. Usually every hand goes up. And here’s where I hit them with the big question, “Will you pray and discern as much about the married vocation as you would if you thought you were called to the priesthood or religious life?” There should be no difference — we should be praying and discerning equally no matter what our calling in life.

Another question we all struggle with is, “What is the meaning of suffering?” Within this question we often find ourselves asking again, “Who am I and what must I do?” For suffering has a way of making us call into question many of the things we were comfortable with prior to being touched by misfortune. As the Second Vatican Council expresses so succinctly, “Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us.”

Suffering will always remain a great mystery, but it is Christ Jesus who, in his own sufferings, reveals to us the meaning and purpose of our sufferings. When we “offer up” our suffering with Christ’s, particularly in the offertory of every Mass, we become sharers in Christ’s salvific work.

Here I am reminded of the Gospel story of four anonymous men who lowered a paralytic upon his stretcher before Christ through a hole they fashioned in the roof so that he might be healed. (Mk 2:1-12) When we offer up our sufferings, we become Christ’s stretcher bearers who help bring souls before Him so they can hear those beautiful words, “Your sins are forgiven,” and be healed.

In a certain sense, Christ answers all our questions of Him with a question to us — “Who do you say that I am?” May you never be afraid to open wide the door of your heart to Christ.

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