Thursday, June 8, 2017

God's Spirit Reveals Our True Beauty

Imagine having everything the world can offer - such as beauty and success - and leaving it all to follow God as a nun.

That is the story of Esmeralda Solis Gonzales.

In 2016, at the age of 19, she had established a career as a nutritionist and then was crowned as the beauty queen of her hometown of Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico. However, it was not enough for her. Though she had achieved more success than most young women her age, she knew that there had to be more to life. And it was clear to her that the world could not offer her the  “something more” she sought. And so, she left it all to join the Poor Clare Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament.

Looking back on the life she once lived she said, “I was very happy with everything I had, but it does not compare with the happiness that God now places in my heart.” And, “[it is true that] the reality and the supposed happiness that the world sells is very attractive [but] it is necessary to fix your eyes on what lasts.”

Sister Esmeralda’s story is similar to that of so many people down through the ages who achieved everything the world had to offer but still found themselves thirsting for more. They had wealth, comfort and pleasures in abundance but none of it turned out to be enough. Eventually they discovered what their hearts were longing for in Jesus Christ. Once they discovered the joy that a relationship with Jesus offered, all the values of this passing world seemed like nothing in comparison. As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).

Saint Paul also talks about this longing we have within us in today’s second reading: “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that...we also groan within ourselves…” This “groaning” is something that all of us are familiar with. It is that gnawing sense within us that despite all our success there is still something lacking. It is that fear that we are frauds because, though we may look as though we have it all together, within us we still feel inadequate and weak. Though it may seem to everyone else that we have finally arrived, we still feel lost and alone.

Sadly, many people try to overcome that groaning within them by drowning it out with more activities. They think that keeping busy will distract them from the desperation they feel. Others try to numb their sadness by turning to drugs and alcohol. Still others think that if they just land that next promotion, or if they just make that next big sale, they will finally feel complete inside. And many others think that if they can just meet the right person, that lonely feeling will finally subside. However, it never turns out that way, does it? No matter what we achieve in life, no matter how many friends we have, no matter how much we try to numb ourselves, we find ourselves exhausted, drained and even more desperate than before.

That is when we hear the words of Jesus in today’s gospel: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.”

The refreshment we seek can only be found in Jesus. Only He is big enough to fill the hole in our hearts. Only He can silence the groaning of our souls.

All of us who are here today know this to be true. We have heard it preached about hundreds of times. Why, then, do we keep turning to the world for the answer to our desperation?

Could it be that we think that Jesus demands too much from us? Are we afraid that we will have to give up too much? However, isn’t it true that the world also demands much from us? Consider how far people go to establish themselves in a career. They study for years, take on debt, work long hours and even undergo humiliation just to earn a few dollars that are quickly spent. In the process, their health declines and their relationships suffer. What Jesus demands of us is easy in comparison. And, rather than deplete us, Jesus will leave us refreshed.

Could it be that we think our sins are so great that we do not deserve the refreshment Jesus offers? Could it be that we fear that Jesus will reject us if we turn to Him? Nothing could be further from the truth. It was to save sinners that our Lord came into the world. As the Bible tells us “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). And also, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. There is nothing we can do that will put us beyond the reach of our Heavenly Father. If we turn to Him with the desire to change our lives, we can be sure that He will bring us the refreshment our hearts are longing for.

Giving our lives over to Jesus will not solve all our problems. It will not make our lives easier. In fact, He commands us to take up our cross every day and follow Him. What we will discover, however, is that in being close to God, we find what our hearts desire. That is because true fulfillment comes not from indulging ourselves but in sacrificing ourselves for others. And we cannot overcome our basic selfishness without the love of God living within us through the Holy Spirit.

And so, on this day when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and Mary, we commit ourselves to allowing Him to work through us. We give Jesus the first place in our hearts, other people second place and the things of this world third place. With the love of God alive within us, we can then reach out to all those around us who are groaning because they lack hope. And we can witness to them what we have discovered - that we have finally found refreshment in Jesus Christ. 

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