“Have I done everything I possibly can?” This question from the 1993 movie about Notre Dame football and the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, can give us a point of departure to reflect on how we can make the world a better place during this Easter season.
Why would we ask this question of ourselves? One reason is to help us better understand the last words of Christ on the Cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ intention was not only to secure our salvation, but to pass on the mission of building up the Kingdom of God here on earth to us today.
A second motivation for taking time to self-reflect is Easter itself, and more importantly, Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. This season of new life gives us the opportunity to take stock of the sufficiency of our efforts, our beliefs, our actions, our dreams and goals, our faith life, and our search for meaning in our lives.
During adolescence, we almost certainly had big dreams of how we would live our lives and the goals we would pursue. Yet, as we mature through passages of career and life, we surprisingly encounter a great yearning to simply love and be loved.
Time and maturity no doubt bless us with innumerable challenges: sickness, injury, loss of job, separation from family/friends, death, divorce, or simply failure. Did we do everything we possibly could to recover? To move on? To help others with their challenges?
Opportunities abound to build up the kingdom of God on earth with our unique talents. A first task, though, is to take stock of our own talents and efforts, much like Rudy.
At Baptism, we are blessed with godparents. Along with our parents, family members, and teachers, they can help us recognize and develop our talents, as well as, give us ideas about how to put them to work in the service of others. Oh, how magnificent God’s plan of creation is: giving us people with the talents of teachers, peacemakers, cooks, scientists, carpenters, musicians, counselors, poets, mechanics, doctors and more!
Perfecting and refining these talents in faith requires two things: community and conscience.
In the community where God plants us, we learn from the example and companionship of others with similar talents, those who have faced and overcome similar challenges, and those who help set examples of faith. In fact, Christ’s death on the cross was designed to bring us together to a shared life of faith.
Sometimes the examples are not positive. From those we can learn to not engage in bullying, selfishness, egoism, destruction of creation, isolationism, greed, hedonism, lawlessness, constant criticism, and more. Accepting our salvation means we reject the ways of the world and seek to be examples of Christ’s actions in all we do, think, and say.
Development of conscience is a lifelong pursuit! Filled with the grace of community and family, and guided by our spiritual leaders, we pray, study God’s Word, and discern how God wishes us to live.
Studying and practicing Christian social justice principles is an excellent way to mature our conscience. When we honor and protect the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person, we improve the morality of all society.
A basic moral test is how we treat our most vulnerable neighbors. Too often the distance between rich and poor is unjustifiably large because we fail to consider the needs of all people. Moreover, every person, regardless of where they were born or the language they speak, has a fundamental right to life and to the things required for human decency: housing, employment, education, food, and the ability to participate in the political process of the governance of their country. Our actions should constantly improve access to the basic needs of humanity, both within our borders and beyond.
We need a well-organized society in law and policy, in marriage and family, in education and in emergencies, in health and in economic opportunity. The legal system, fire and police departments, schools, disaster response, and community health care all need our support and participation.
As one who has asked many a pastor, “What can I do for you?”, I can attest to the importance of community, especially a faith community. I have lived alone much of my life, moving more than 35 times to different states and even to other countries. Each move required discernment of where and how to serve others, observation of and reflection on needs and challenges, and a push to engage in the activities that would best use my talents.
After a long absence as a young adult from practicing the Christian faith, I confessed my sins of absence and prayed in thanksgiving, “Lord, what can I do for you?” The answer was almost immediate: teaching the faith, providing music ministry for children, and faithfully attending weekly worship. This led to a gradual increase in my participation in both Christian community and missionary works. Committed Christian friends and caring pastors showed me what needed to be done and taught me to evaluate the sufficiency of my actions.
As a result, I grew from simply praying, to leading prayers; from providing worship music for children to leading choirs in missionary churches; from a career of military service to life as a missionary; and from one seeking love to one who walks as a child of God, loved unconditionally, forgiven daily, and, hopefully, leading others to know, love and serve the Lord and their neighbors so we might be happy forever in the kingdom of heaven.
The Gospel message of John 3:16 truly proclaims the great message of the Easter season, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The unconditional love of God heals, inspires, and motivates us to grow in holiness so we may love others the same way God loves us.
In this is our mission of Easter love: in community and with a strong conscience of right and wrong, we seek to do all that is possible to make the world a better place. We have 50 days in this beautiful Easter season to consider how well we are doing everything possible to participate in this quest for love.
Lorena Needham is a parishioner of Saint Marguerite Catholic Church and commissioned lay minister of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.