Arnold had hit rock bottom. For years he had abused drugs and alcohol and it had ruined his life. Over the years he lost many friends who could no longer stand to be around him. He lost his job after showing up drunk to work. Though his wife had stood by him trying to get him help, she finally could take no more and left him. The final straw, however, was when he was caught by the police with possession of drugs. Knowing he would be facing jail time, he pulled over to the side of the road to commit suicide. However, as he stopped his car and opened the bottle of pills he planned to overdose on, he looked up at a telephone pole and saw a poster that read, “Jesus Saves.” Choking back his tears, he prayed, “O Jesus, can you save me?”
That simple prayer changed his life. He threw away the pills and decided to stop running away from his problems. The next day he went to confession for the first time in many years. As he recounted all the bad choices he made and all the people he had hurt, he could feel God’s forgiveness and mercy surround him. For the first time he felt loved by God and trusted that He would see him through. When he was released prison, he went back to school to learn about the addiction that had done some much damage to him. Now he works as a drug counselor helping others recover from addiction. With time he was able to win his wife’s trust back. They were eventually married in the church and had more children.
It all started with a simple prayer. It is a prayer that Arnold repeats first thing every morning on his knees, “Jesus, can you save me?” He begins every day remembering what drugs and alcohol did to him. He realizes that he had to hit rock bottom to build a new life on his Savior, Jesus Christ.
The essence of the Christian life can be found in the words of Jesus which we heard proclaimed in today’s gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” This is Jesus’ response to Andrew and Philip when they tell him that some Greeks want to meet him. It is his response to anyone who wishes to follow him. “If anyone wishes to be my disciple he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.” Jesus does not tell us this because he likes to see us suffer or because He wants to take all the pleasure out of life. Instead He wants us to experience all the joy and peace that comes from living according to His word. He wants us to know the power of His Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Before we do that, however, we have to leave behind all the sins, the addictions and the selfish attitudes that weigh us down.
In Arnold’s case, he had to hit rock bottom, he had to lose everything that he loved, to realize that he could not get the love and peace he longed for from drugs and alcohol but only from Jesus. He had to be at a point of utter desperation before he could realize that only Jesus could save him. And he has to remind himself everyday that he cannot overcome his addictions without Jesus by getting on his knees and begging for his help.
We may not have made as many bad choices as Arnold did. We may not be as desperate as he was or may not have hit rock bottom yet. But we have the same need for God as he did. We have the same desire for love and joy that only our Heavenly Father can give us. And we have no other way of finding it than in Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
It can begin for us with short, sincere prayers such as, “Jesus, save me.” or, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Another beautiful prayer from Scripture is, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” These types of prayers give our Lord great joy because they come from the heart. They are the prayers we say when we come to realize that only Jesus can help us. Because of the sincerity of these prayers, we can rest assure that He will answer them and show us His power to save.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah teaches us that the days are coming when God will write His law in our hearts. This prophecy has been fulfilled by us in Jesus. Through His death and resurrection, we have received the Holy Spirit who now lives in our hearts through faith. So we do not have to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or climb a mountain to find God. He is living within each of us. He is always with us at the secret core of our being. So we no longer have to rely only on our strength. We can draw on His strength to face whatever it is that is making us afraid, whatever it is that is holding us back from following Him with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. He wants us to enjoy all the abundant blessings of the life He has given us, and He will help us clear away whatever is holding us back if we will only trust in Him.
To receive those blessings, however, we may have to part with some things that are dear to us. Each of us when we are honest with ourselves and with God, know what those things are. It is never easy but what we must always keep in mind is that our Heavenly Father never asks us to give something up without replacing it with something better. If He asks us to give up our silver it is so that He can give us gold. We see such a wonderful exchange as this symbolized in the Eucharist we are about to receive. We give Him bread and wine, and He gives us His Body and Blood. As the gifts are brought up, let us offer up to Him all the fears, addictions and selfish attitudes that are holding us back from following Him with all our strength. Let us do it with total trust knowing that only in Him can we find the joy and peace our hearts truly desire.