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The Nicest Shoelaces

by Fr. Victor Szczurek, O.Praem.

 

Between the epistle and gospel we get a quick yet thorough summary of the entire spiritual life, from its very beginning to its end. First we hear about the Ethiopian, a man who we know was a believer in the Old Law and rather fervent, since he was even reading Scripture while traveling to Jerusalem. The apostle Philip is miraculously transported, evangelizes the Ethiopian, and the Ethiopian very anxiously requests to be baptized.

Now, the miraculous flight of Philip might have been the thing in this story that grabbed our attention, but the truth is that a miracle is almost nothing compared to a sacrament—especially the sacrament of Baptism, where the stain of original sin is blotted out, a man begins to share in the very inner life of the Blessed Trinity, and a gateway now is opened for the rest of the sacraments.

Then, in the gospel our Lord presents for us the end, the consummation of the spiritual life: perfect union with Him, first here below through the Holy Eucharist, which is a foretaste and pledge of future glory, the beginning of our perfect union with Him in heaven. Our Lord once told Bl. Angela of Foligno, “At the moment of Holy Communion I am closer to your soul than your soul is to itself.” And St. Thomas called grace the “commencement of eternal beatitude.” Even more simply, to borrow the words of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, “It is heaven on earth.”

There you go: the complete reason for our being in a nutshell, the CliffNotes, so to speak, to the story of man’s existence, the first question of the catechism displayed for us in living color: Why did God make you? So you can be united to Him in heaven forever.

It is common to see students very anxious over what colleges they have or have not been accepted to, what their grade point average is, whether or not they will be a room leader; when it comes to confreres, some worry over what apostolic assignment they will be given by their superior; and perhaps for those out in the world, how much their tax return will be. Now, all of these are reasonable concerns, and sometimes it is even our duty to have such concerns. But in the end, how do any of these goals and concerns compare with the final goal of our existence—a goal which we have already obtained to some degree at the moment of our Baptism—union with the Holy Trinity.

To give an almost silly analogy, imagine this: You are the first place winner in (let’s say) the Boston Marathon. And let’s pretend with the first-place prize comes $100 million, your face on Wheaties boxes across America, and tons of other perks—you’re set for life. Now let’s pretend that there was also a prize given out for something quite ridiculous, like the runner with the nicest pair of shoelaces, the reward for which is a simple t-shirt (which will probably fade and tear after one washing). Would you not be a complete fool if, having won the first place prize, you sat around and whined, whimpered, and wailed because you did not win the free t-shirt for the nicest pair of shoelaces? But we are even more foolish when, already having been given the goal, the first-place prize of our entire life—the possession of the Blessed Trinity in our souls, a union with God which begins at Baptism and grows ever more intimate with every good Holy Communion—we are even more foolish when, having been given heaven on a silver platter, as it were, we worry ourselves to death over some worldly concern! St. Paul said he consider all things as skubala (dung) compared to knowing Christ.

No wonder why that Ethiopian had such a holy impatience to be baptized! He understood that it was the beginning of heaven on earth, the ultimate goal for which he had been created. May we imitate his zeal and treasure the treasure that we already possess, the Blessed Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to Whom be all glory and honor. Amen.

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