There is a universal experience in life of feeling that something is missing. Even in the absence of crises (health, financial, etc.) people tend to have a vague feeling that things are not quite right, not quite complete. A Harris Pole (Harris Poll Happiness index, 2017) found that over two-thirds of Americans are dissatisfied with their lives. We could reasonably presume that the “happy” one-third are pragmatists, “This is as good as it gets.” This sense of human unease sparked a philosophical fad in the mid-twentieth century, Existentialism. An important Existentialist thinker, Jean-Paul Sartre argued that human beings live in constant anguish, not solely because life is miserable, but because we live in a world with zero absolutes (existential despair) (wikipedia.org).
Often as we deal with the uncertainties and problems of life we look around us and see happy well-adjusted people. We fail to realize that, as human beings, they too feel uncertainty and worry. We respond to this sense of unease, or anguish, in different ways. Most of us just try to do the best we can and be as optimistic and cheerful as possible. An extreme reaction is to try to project an image of supreme confidence and success. We all know people who, whenever you encounter them, they explain their enormous success and competence. It’s almost funny. The irony is that it is almost impossible to hide our uncertainty and vulnerability from the people around us. Is it possible to hide our shortcomings from God?
This Sunday Christ gives us a parable (Luke 18:9 – 14) with the contrast between the Pharisee who prayerfully explains to God how wonderful he is and a tax collector who knows his life is a mess. What is the Pharisee doing? He wants to convince the people around him, himself, and here even God that he is exactly where he needs to be. Christ takes the Pharisee to extremes to make a point. Few of us are so self-absorbed that we are out of touch with where we are and what our shortcomings are. But we are called to ask ourselves, “Do I make the same mistake as the Pharisee. Are there times when I know that I am outside the law of God and tell myself that God is OK with that?” Are there times when we tell ourselves that if I want something God MUST want me to have it. For all of us, isn’t it sometimes easier to pretend everything is OK, rather than look at our shortcomings and, like the tax collector, as for forgiveness, healing, and guidance?
Our parable has an underlying question. What is the source of our shortcomings, our feeling of being incomplete? We all chase after things to try to find meaning in life and we all find “things” unable to bring satisfaction. The message of the Gospel, the message of Jesus Christ, the message the tax collector found is that our meaning in life is a relationship of trust in, and fidelity to, God. Relationship is what matters most in life, first with God, and then with the people around us. The secret of fulfillment in life is living our relationships authentically. Jesus Christ came into the world to show us what authentic love is, love as self-giving. We need to work hard to avoid building a papier-mâché Christ who will let us do what ever we want. We do that by building a relationship with Christ the way we do with any person we care about. Spend time with Him. We go to Mass because at the consecration, bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Mass is a privileged encounter with God. How often do you go, how much do you care about your relationship with God? We build an authentic relationship with people we love by hearing what they have to say. God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture and the Teaching of the Church. That is God’s word of direction and comfort to rise above the uncertainty, the pain, the anguish of life.