By Derick Cranston
It starts off as a small virus, but can soon turn into a full-blown infection. It is not a biological disease, but a spiritual disease.
It starts out blameless enough. Someone accidently cuts you off in traffic or someone inadvertently insults you. A flash of anger penetrates your heart, and then it passes … or does it? If you are not careful, that small seed of anger or bitterness can take root and infect you. It will contaminate your whole attitude towards others and towards life in general. If left untreated it will eventually poison you. So what is the cure?
The cure is opening your heart to God’s love. The key to opening your heart to God’s love is prayer. It is waking up each day and giving God thanks for the gift of a new day. It begins by trying to see a person’s good qualities, and not their imperfections and shortcomings. It is remembering that the goal of life — our ultimate goal — is to live with God forever. We achieve our goal through love of God, love of neighbor and, yes, even love of enemy. Easy to say, much harder to do.
It is all too tempting to throw our hands up in the air at this seemingly impossible request God asks of us. It is difficult, but not impossible. It starts with small steps. Someone does not wake up one day wanting to run a marathon and then go out and run 26.2 miles without training. Likewise, you cannot wake up one day and decide you are going to love your neighbors and enemies and then not let anything they do upset your peace of mind. In both instances you have to gradually work up to it.
This is where prayer and thankfulness come in. Each day has the potential of throwing difficult challenges and set-backs at us. These are spiritual “germs” that can infect and contaminate us. The only way to immunize ourselves, is to call upon the Lord for help. “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me,” is a small prayer that can easily be remembered and recited whenever you feel anxious, upset, bitter or angry. Try not to despise a person because they do not live up to your own limited expectations. Love people for who they are, not for who you want them to be. Take time during the day to take a mental inventory of the blessings in your life. They are many. If you have clean water, food, shelter and electricity you have blessings that over half the world does not enjoy.
This is where it starts. It is the first step in training for the spiritual marathon which leads to divine union with God. If we are persistent, our hearts and souls will open up to God’s love, and God’s love will dwell within us. Once God’s love dwells within us, it will take root and shine through us. It will touch the lives of those around us. By bringing the love and joy of God’s love to those in our lives, we can squash the seeds of hate and destruction which may be taking root in their hearts.
It is the message of Christ we find throughout the Gospels. We love people simply because they are human beings, children of God created in the image of their maker. No matter how much their outside has been spiritually muddied and deformed, they still carry the spark of the divine somewhere inside them. We must look for this spark, no matter how much we have to dig. If we can find the spark of the divine within those around us, we will find God’s love. The more we respond to God’s love, the more God’s love will flow through us without limit. The deeper we respond to Christ’s life, the deeper Christ’s life will abide in us.
(Derick Cranston is youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He is going through diaconate formation and can be reached at email@example.com.)