One summer day over thirty years ago, a man named Dave had been spearing catfish with some friends; this fishing technique required them to swim underwater for as long as they could hold their breaths—and in the process of doing this, Dave got separated from the others. They had been swimming near a huge underwater cavern, and when Dave surfaced, he found himself inside the cave. His efforts to find his way out merely resulted in him becoming hopelessly lost. Dave found a small air pocket, and clung to a small stalactite—a stone formation coming down from the ceiling—to help keep his head above water as he became more exhausted. Dave had never been a very religious person, so it took fourteen hours before it occurred to him that, since he was likely to die, it might be a good idea to repent of his sins and pray for God’s help. As he later said, “I asked the Lord to come into my life to save my soul, and He did it, just like that. It felt like an invisible hand went straight in my chest all the way to my toes and pulled out evil—pure evil, three different times, one after the other. After the first time I didn’t think I could feel any better—I felt so clean. After the second time I felt just that much cleaner—and after the third time it’s a wonder that cave didn’t [collapse, for] I was shouting so loud, echoing in that cavern, just praising the Lord for what He just did for me! I felt so clean. I have never felt so clean and so alive, so happy, in my life!”
Here Dave was, practically dying, about to suffocate in the dark coldness by slipping into a watery grave, and he was happier than he could ever remember. At just that moment, he seemed to see a strange, luminous fog directly in front of him; before moving away from him, it caused a sudden roaring sound that sent bubbles up to replenish the air pocket with fresh oxygen—and shortly afterwards, a pair of rescue divers arrived and led Dave to safety (Brown, The God of Miracles, p. 15). As we might imagine, this was not only a life-saving experience for Dave, but also a life-changing one—one that forever altered his perspective, and forever enriched his relationship with God. However, we don’t need to undergo that same type of dangerous and dramatic adventure in order to be saved from our sins and benefit from divine grace. We need only open our hearts to Jesus, for He can give us a new purpose and a new outlook on life.
I think all of us would agree that, aside from ending up in hell for all eternity, the greatest tragedy anyone can experience is to waste his or her life, to spend many years or decades on earth with no purpose, no significant personal growth, and no genuine experience of loving and being loved—and no amount of money, possessions, pleasure, fame, or worldly success can make up for such a waste. Unfortunately, this happens all the time; there are many people who go through life in a fog, having no meaning and finding no reason for hope. Jesus came to rescue us from this terrible fate, and as His followers, we’re supposed to help others find the way to eternal life. As a young teenage boy, Samuel was chosen by God; it took him a while to figure out that the Lord was calling him, but he responded, and went on to become a great prophet. The same thing was true for the first apostles. John the Baptist pointed them toward Jesus, and after spending time with the Lord, Andrew went and found his brother, Simon Peter, and brought him to Jesus. Sharing the good news of Christ’s love helps us find meaning in life. St. Paul (1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20) warns us not to live immorally. He’s speaking not only of sexual immorality, but of any type of worldly living that puts physical pleasures and our personal desires ahead of God’s will. As he says, our calling from God, and our baptism in Christ’s Name, have made us temples of the Holy Spirit. This gives us great dignity, which we must preserve, and a great vocation or calling, which we must answer.
This particular Sunday in January is always a significant one, for three different reasons. First of all, tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday celebrating the birth of the great civil rights leader. He had many personal failings, but there’s no denying that he was a great moral leader, insisting not only on racial equality, but also on working for justice in non-violent ways—a message that’s still timely and important for our society today. Secondly, today, as the Sunday closest to January 22, is Right to Life Sunday, observed by many Christians and other persons of good will. It was on January 22, 1973, that the Supreme Court legalized abortion for virtually any reason, and since then, some 55 million unborn children have been murdered in the womb. As Christians and especially as Catholics, we must do what we can to oppose and reverse this continuing tragedy. The innocent victims of abortion are now in God’s presence, but those who in any way contributed to their martyrdom are, unless they repent, in grave danger of losing their souls. Jesus doesn’t want that, and He entrusts each of us with the mission of praying for their conversion, even as we work to transform our culture of death into a society that cherishes and defends all human life. Thirdly, today marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—a time for every Christian to pray that Our Lord’s desire that all His followers might be one will soon be fulfilled. Only we Catholics can claim to be members of the Church Jesus Himself founded, but the Lord wants us to love and respect people of other religions, gently inviting them to join us in the True Church of Christ by our words, prayers, and example.
No one who truly knows Jesus can ever say, “My life has no meaning, my efforts are useless, and I have nothing valuable to contribute.” Our Savior has a plan and purpose for each and every one of us, a way to make a genuine difference in the world—whether by going out of our way to welcome and respect those who are different from us, by being involved in the Right to Life movement and helping our nation repent of its sins against human life, by working for Christian unity and thus glorifying God, or by serving the Lord in any other manner He may choose. It shouldn’t take a life-threatening event to make us repent of our sins and ask for God’s help. He seeks to give our lives meaning right here and now—and He will gladly do so, if only we give Him the chance.