- Matthew Kowalski, '11
Today's gospel is a Scriptural response to those who say that the Church conforms individuals to immoral standards, using thousands of individuals to promote an outside agenda. Some think by joining the church, they forfeit their freedom, but Jesus tells the Jews in this reading that one actually gains freedom in the church:
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The Jews responded to this comment the same way I initially responded, with confusion. Jesus speaks to us as if we are not free, as if others enslave us. And that is because we are enslaved, perhaps not by other people, but by sin. One can easily see how destructive, sinful addictions, such as alcoholism, control the individual, but Jesus expands this notion, saying that “everyone who commits a sin is a slave of sin.” Only God offers true freedom, and only through God, one can gain true fulfillment.
For the rest of the Gospel, though, the Jews argue with Jesus over the syntax of his statements, saying things like “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” Through this extreme scrutiny, they miss the true meaning of Jesus’ preaching. Instead of recognizing that God is so near to them, they search for truth in other places. Jesus’ word had no room among them because they could not recognize God in their lives.
This reminds me of one of the first things I heard watching videos of Fr. De Mello SJ while on the Senior Silent Retreat last week. He effectively describes his point in the form of a story:
The Little Fish“Excuse me,” said the little fish,“can you tell me how to find thisthing called the ocean?”“The ocean,” said the older fish, “isthe thing you are in now.”“Oh, this? But this is water,” saidthe disappointed fish as he swam tosearch elsewhere.
We often act like the little fish, searching for God without realizing that God is everywhere. He is present in the air, in the oceans, in the mountains, in the valleys, in our homes, in the churches, in the brothels, in the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, in our friends, in our enemies, in our fun experiences, in our suffering, in the devout, and in the sinners. God lives in every nook and cranny of the universe, filling the food we eat, the books we read, the technology we use, and the clothes we wear. God is so mind-numbingly expansive that as humans, we cannot fully understand his greatness. Yet just like the Jews, we often fail to appreciate the God that lives in our existence.
Although it is very easy for me to find God in the happy moments of my life, the jokes and the friendship, in pristine nature and in success, I find it very difficult to find God in death and suffering, in corruption and failure. But another thing I learned on the Silent Retreat is that while happy moments may be enjoyable, they cannot bring the growth that suffering does. Suffering transforms an individual, bringing them closer to God.
God is everywhere and everything. So, stop looking for God, all you have to do is look.