A couple of summers ago, my wife and I decided to treat our young boys to Dairy Queen. As you can imagine, anything involving young children and ice cream promises to be a rather messy affair. So we decided to sit outside. Before we could get situated on the bench in order to carefully hand them their cones, I heard my wife say in an exasperated tone of voice, “Michael, don’t lick the trash can!!!” He had seen some melted ice cream on the edge of the outdoor trash receptacle and decided to try it out. My wife says that being a mother of young boys is kind of like civilizing barbarians.
It is mind boggling how a child will refuse to eat perfectly safe food at the dinner table yet will pick up a foreign object off the floor and stick it directly into his mouth. This behavior was particularly upsetting for us because, being an asthmatic, every time Michael caught even the slightest cold, this would mean breathing treatments every four hours and long, worrisome nights amidst struggled breathing, and sometimes a trip to the emergency room. Putting his mouth on the grocery cart or the church pew during flu season often caused a strong reaction and scolding, sometimes resulting in tears. He didn’t know that we were nervous because of the possibility of his becoming sick.
As adults we are not all that different when we choose things that are bad for our spiritual health. We know the good that we are supposed to do but somehow find a way to blow it. St. Paul says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” (Rom 7:18) Although we are “wired for God,” so to speak, innately created for all that is true, good, and beautiful, time and again we find ourselves attracted to counterfeits. In a class that I teach on the spiritual life, I ask the question, “How do you feel after sinning?” The consistent and unanimous response is inevitably, “BAD!” One explanation for this response can be found in God’s word to us in this Sunday’s first reading from Deuteronomy. I set before you…a blessing and a curse…a blessing for obeying the commandments of the LORD, your God…a curse if you do not obey…
Some have defined sin as looking for God in the wrong places. Due to our fallen nature we have this inner ache. When we seek to deaden this inner ache with things less than God, through sin, emptiness is the inevitable result. The commandments are not some kind of divine check list of “do’s and don’ts” given by a heavenly Father who is looking to punish. Rather, God’s laws are there for our happiness. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10)
Talking to teens about premarital sex and chastity several years ago, my wife came up with a wonderful analogy. Asking the teens if they had cell phones, almost all raised their hands. She explained that even though the cell phone came with an instruction manual from the manufacturer, they were free to treat the phone however they wished. They could drop it in water, play frisbee with it, use it as a hammer, etc. But chances are the phone would break and stop working correctly.
In the same way, having created us, God holds the divine instruction manual for our lives. He knows what is best for us, what will fill us or leave us empty. Jesus says: Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock…everyone who…does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. In his great love he allows us to choose.
When the storms of life press in on us, God desires that we look to him to be our stronghold. Lord, be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety. We can build our lives on the sands of doing things however we wish. Or, we can build our lives on the rock of God’s principles.
God desires that we all join him at the heavenly banquet. Let us not choose the trash can.
Keith Jiron is Director of the Office for Vocations in the Diocese of Kansas City – St.