Written By Fr. Brian Alford
As Vocation Director, I have had several occasions to travel to Rome to visit our seminarians who are studying there at the Pontifical North American College. Unlike other seminary visits, which are just an overnight visit, I usually spend a week or so in the Eternal City. During the day, while the men are in class, I will sometimes take the opportunity to visit some of my favorite churches. While I prefer walking the city, there are times when I need to get on a bus to reach my destination. For Romans, the bus system is second nature, but for a tourist, it can be a little intimidating. Knowing which bus to get on, when to get off, figuring out how to pay the fare, avoiding pickpockets – there is a lot to be attentive to when travelling by bus.
As I reflect on that experience, it strikes me how that serves as a good analogy for our lives as Christians. First are foremost, we must always have a clear understanding of our destination. Without knowing where you are going, we will just be tempted to get on the first bus that shows up, hoping that it will take us somewhere. And is not our life like that? We try to maximize our happiness, hoping that this or that next destination (ie. possession, experience, status) will fulfill us, only to discover that when we get there, we are disappointed. So what do we do? Hop on the next bus that comes along. As Christians, though, we begin the journey with a clear awareness that our destination is Heaven. Only there will we find our true happiness, only there will we truly find fulfillment that will not disappoint.
Beginning with that awareness can be easy. “This is the bus that is headed to Heaven, so I will board.” But as we travel, the ride might seem a little boring after a while and we begin to look out of the windows and see the world outside of the bus. Those things outside of the bus are enticing and they beckon to us to get off the bus, to abandon the path that we are on, to pursue something that we think will bring us more immediate pleasure or fulfillment. As I heard a priest say once: “if you notice that the grass is greener on the other side, it’s time to water your lawn.” In other words, when other paths look more exciting than the one we are on, the solution is not to hop off, but to recommit ourselves to the path the Lord has given us, knowing that it will be better than any route we could choose for ourselves, for it is the unique path chosen by God to bring us the greatest amount of joy in this life, and the surest path for us to reach our final destination of Heaven.
Even if we manage to stay on the bus, we always need to be aware of the dangers we encounter on the journey. Just as pickpockets try to secretly steal our possessions, the devil is always trying to find ways to steal our peace. For example, we may fall victim to looking around the bus at our fellow travelers, thinking how much better they are, and how we do not seem to fit in. The devil tries to convince us that we are not worthy of such company. Or, he steals our peace by tempting us to focus on the faults and weaknesses of others, and we fall into criticisms of our fellow passengers. We fail to see them for who they truly are – brothers and sisters in the Lord, companions on the journey who have not yet reached the destination, and who, like ourselves, are undergoing constant conversion so that we will be found ready when we finally arrive at our destination. Instead of practicing patience and charity toward our fellow travelers, division results and we get to the point that we become so disgusted with those on the bus that we either want them kicked off the bus, or we ourselves want to jump off in frustration.
This analogy can certainly be extended, but I hope you get the point. On the day of our Baptism, we were placed on that bus. In our lives, we will be tempted to get off the bus, to follow other paths for one reason or another. That is why we must always keep before us our final destination. We must remind ourselves that no matter how appealing it might be to follow our will, to take an easier path, to pursue something more exciting, the journey that we are on, in the safety of the Church, with the Lord as our guide and His home in Heaven as our destination, is the only journey worth pursuing. Only that journey will bring us true and lasting happiness.
So if you have stepped off the bus, here is an invitation to hop back on board. And for those already on the bus, this is an encouragement to stay on board. The journey that awaits may not make any of the stops you had expected it to make. You may be asked to serve your fellow passengers as a priest, a deacon, or a consecrated religious. You may be asked to spend the rest of your journey with a fellow passenger in marriage, being open to bringing new passengers (children) on the journey with you. Whatever that path might look like, be of good heart, for that is the path the Lord has chosen for you to reach that final destination, and when you arrive, you will “rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven.” (Mt 5:12)