I am convinced that the person most affect by my preaching so far this year, the person most convicted by what I have to say, is myself. After all, before I can preach the Word to anyone else, I have to let it turn my life upside down first. If I’m honest in my preaching and do so with authenticity and just trying to be myself, it’s going to keep on affecting me well after I walk out of that church. In other words, that is, if I’m doing it right.
Listen, I’m not sharing this to boast or make myself seem great in either my preaching or my ministry. It’s actually quite humbling to admit the way God has turned my failures into something bigger than my own ego and discomforts and social awkwardness. But just the other night, I was heading down to meet up with some of my classmates for our monthly get together, to catch up with each other and let go of our parish work for an evening. I stopped to get gas on the way out of town, and a homeless guy came walking up to my car asking for anything I could give him. My usual response is a quick no, but with an apology at least. And that’s what I did.
But then, I just couldn’t get it out of my head what I’d been preaching at Mass earlier that day. Literally hours before this I had been telling hundreds of people during Mass that if we’re tired of being lonely, tired of hiding our true selves from each other, tired of putting up walls and defenses to protect ourselves from the ones we love the most, we must step out of the walls of the church and start loving those who are least among us. Heaven starts now when we step out of ourselves and love one another, but hell starts now when we keep those walls up out of fear of rejection or having to encounter someone face to face whom we normally ignore. Heaven begins here when we act like Jesus. Heaven begins now when we act like God would.
I had to actually listen to myself.
I didn’t need to do much for this man. Well, there wasn’t a whole I could do. To be clear, I’m just not used to doing this. I’ve never really liked talking to people I’m used to being around, so I needed to challenge myself here, but also to let the Holy Spirit push me forward. So we just chatted for a few minutes. His name is Richard. He’s got a story, and a life, and a name. Things I would have never known or even cared about had I not just dealt with my shyness or fear or whatever you want to call it. It’s so simple. Stop turning people into stats or titles or generalizations and we realize they have stories, lives, names.
I don’t know about you all, but I’ve given up on trying to imagine what heaven is going to look like or smell like or sound like. But I’ve never been more sure of one thing about heaven. I think about all the garbage of our lives, all the ways we hide ourselves from each other and the hurt and loneliness in our families and friendships and at school or at work. I think about how that stuff is caused by our fear and the walls we put up. It’s caused by our fear to let go of our pride when we are hurt and the walls we hide behind to act as if others are always to blame. But getting to heaven, the where and the what that we are made for, is where and when all that garbage is washed away. We will finally see each other and God for who we really are. How can any one deny that or not want that!? How can we not want heaven!?
Hell, I’m afraid, is quite the opposite. It’s when we keep ignoring the homeless at the gas stations, when we keep trying to defend our blamelessness in our families and friendships, when we refuse to put our pride and hurt on the altar at Mass, even when we fall asleep spiritually (or physically) at that same Mass and refuse to be in His presence as He calls to us to tell us, This is my Body, given up for you. Our God has humbled Himself and removed all walls and defenses to hide himself from us. Heaven is when and where we’ll be able to do the same.