Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the second two days out of Father Larry Richards’ four-day mission at St. Gregory the Great parish in Hamilton Square, NJ.
This year, he returned to New Jersey for the mission at the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine in Freehold, NJ. I was still unable to attend Tuesday’s talk since I teach CCD, but this time I was able to go on Monday.
These are the things that resonated with me from Monday’s talk:
“Be a saint. Or go to hell.”
Those words sound really tough, but those are really the only two options that we have. I remember how I never used to want to be a saint. I had heard stories of many of the saints of the Church; I knew how much they suffered. It isn’t until more recently that I realized that anyone who has made it to heaven is considered a saint.
I guess I had thought that a saint was a special person in Heaven since the canonized saints have to go through the very specific canonization process and need to have verified miracles. I thought that I would be happy just getting to heaven, but without being a saint. If our deceased loved ones are in heaven, they are saints just as much as St. Therese or St. Teresa of Calcutta; they are simply not recognized specifically as a saint by the church.
Anyway, I now realize that I obviously want to be a saint because it is that or hell. Plain and simple. Do we love God above all else and want to be with Him forever? Or do we want to deny Him and be separated from Him for all of eternity?
Father Larry had us do an activity during which we wrote down 5 things on 5 pieces of paper that were stapled together. He told us to write down what we love the most.
Then, we had to rip off one of the pieces of paper. The first paper I removed was running. I love running, but I could give it up if I had to.
Time to rip off another. The beach. I love it, but sure, I could live without it.
And he continued until we were down to two pieces of paper. I’m assuming that most people had their spouses, children, and maybe God on those 2 pieces. What a difficult task.
Once we made our decision, he explained that if the last paper in our hand said anything other than God, we had just chosen hell. My friend and I looked down at our papers and they both said God. We smiled and felt proud of ourselves for choosing God.
Not so fast, said Father Larry. He knew that some of us would be sitting there feeling smug, maybe even judging those around us who hadn’t chosen God as their last piece of paper. He asked us if our choice was really true.
Do we always put God first? Do we give our time to Him? If not, then although we may acknowledge that God should be first, He isn’t actually first in our lives. Ouch. Quick jab to my ego right there.
24,000 children will die today from hunger. Father Larry said that if we are unable to preach the Gospel to the mother who is holding her dying child in her arms, then we don’t truly know the gospel. After all, the death of a child should be a moment for rejoicing since that child will likely join God in heaven. Of course, it’s a sad moment for the family members, but if we really have faith, then we should be overjoyed that that little one is already experiencing the fullness of God’s love.
There is a heresy called pelagianism which asserts that we can earn our way to heaven, but that is simply not the case. We are save by grace. If we reject God and go to hell, it’s not because we didn’t earn heaven; rather, it’s because we refused to accept God’s grace and mercy.
We’re offended by everything, thinking that makes us holy. I can definitely relate to that. I hate being around people who curse, drink too much, do drugs, or act promiscuously. Now, I don’t think Father Larry was saying that we should place us in those types of situations since some of them could lead to the near occasion for sin, but we also must not condemn those around us.
He said how Jesus was never shocked or offended. He spoke to adulterers, tax collectors, you name it. He didn’t judge them or condemn them. Rather, he loved them. He never said that any sin was acceptable and he told the adulteress to sin no more. But he did not judge anyone.
Father Larry said how a man once told him that he thought it would be a good idea to refuse to attend the wedding for a couple who was living unchastely. Father Larry asked what good that would do.
The better option, he said, would be to fast every Friday for their conversion rather than judging them. Wow. I usually fast during two days of the year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I have been hearing a bit more about fasting recently, and how we are actually supposed to fast every Friday (except the Friday after Easter). That doesn’t always need to be a fast from food, but we are supposed to give up something in order to remember that it is a penitential day.
I can’t imagine that man’s reaction. Yes, you should attend the wedding. And, by the way, you should fast once a week for the couple.
Imagine how significantly the world could change if we all fasted on Fridays for a particular cause (and if we had the true faith that it would work). If you have someone who you know is living in sin, you should sacrifice yourself for their conversion rather than condemning them.
Father Larry said that he fasts 23 hours a day. He only eats dinner. I cannot even imagine doing that, though I have heard of saints who fasted in very extreme ways.
He said how Father John Vianney was very harsh and how he would give people very challenging penances. However, we would them make sure that he would do the penance himself for them, offering himself as a sacrifice for their holiness.
He said that our prayer should always focus more on listening than talking. This is definitely a struggle for me. Even at Eucharistic Adoration, it’s tough to just listen. When I was younger, I would struggle to get through an hour of adoration. I find it much easier now that I go every Monday night. It’s easy to pray with rote prayers, the Rosary, and petitions/intercessions. I also usually have the Bible to read, or a book based on something faith-related. But sitting there and doing nothing but listening is incredibly difficult. I find that my mind wanders almost immediately, and I eventually notice that I’m daydreaming and try to get back on the listening train. I guess I’ll have to continue practicing.
Father Larry also spoke about how our love for God should be what leads us to stop sinning, not our fear of hell. It’s a selfish act if the only reason we stop sinning is to avoid hell. Rather, we should choose to give up our sinful ways because of our complete love for God and our desire to strengthen our relationship with Him.
He said how he is a virgin because he chose to give that to God. He’s not a virgin because of his fears of eternal damnation.
If we consider a married couple, we could ask the husband why he chooses not to commit adultery (aside from his love for God). Hopefully the man’s response is that he makes that choice out of love for his wife. He’s not living that way to avoid punishment. If asked, “Why haven’t you cheated on your wife?” “Because I don’t want her to be angry with me” isn’t the most romantic response. Similarly, we choose to avoid sin out of our love for God and to avoid hurting Him through our selfish acts.
Good parents don’t want kids who fear them and only behave to avoid being beaten. That’s not love, but fear. Perfect love casts out fear; it doesn’t exacerbate it.
Anyway, I could go on for quite a while, as he spoke about many more topics than just these, but these were the ones that stuck out to me the most.
I’m thankful that I had another opportunity to hear Father Larry speak and I hope that if he is in the area again in the future, I will get to see him on day 2 since that is the one that I’ve missed.