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The Happy Priest on Lent, Happiness and the Call to Selfless Love

By Fr. James Farfaglia
March 25th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The happiest and most remarkable people that I have known throughout my life are those who are totally selfless. Great things: ideas, beliefs, cultures have lived because men and women have decided to die for causes greater then themselves.  The countless martyrs of the Catholic Church give witness to the multitude of selfless people, young and old, who have given themselves to the cause of Christ and his Church.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - A long time ago, there was a man who played piano in a bar. He was a good piano player. People came from all over just to hear him play. But one night, a patron told him he didn't want to hear him just play anymore. He wanted him to sing a song.  The popular piano player said, "I don't sing."

But the customer was persistent. He told the bartender, "I'm tired of listening to the piano. I want that guy to sing!"

The bartender shouted across the room, "Hey buddy! If you want to get paid, sing a song. The patrons are asking you to sing!"

So he did. He sang a song. A piano player who had never sung in public did so for the very first time. And nobody had ever heard the song Mona, Mona Lisa sung the way it was sung that night.  The piano player was Nat King Cole.

"Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life" (John 12: 24-25)

The happiest and most remarkable people that I have known throughout my life are those who are totally selfless. 

Great things: ideas, beliefs, cultures have lived because men and women have decided to die for causes greater then themselves.  The countless martyrs of the Catholic Church give witness to the multitude of selfless people, young and old, who have given themselves to the cause of Christ and his Church.  Where would the Church be today without the blood of the martyrs?  Martyrs are selfless people who believe in a cause greater than themselves.

However, there lies a deeper reality in these heroes of the Church.  They are able to believe in something bigger than themselves precisely because they have first died to themselves.  They have died to their comfort, to their laziness and to their personal ambitions.  Only the selfless, only those who have truly died to themselves, become useful instruments of God. 

When a person is truly empty of self, God can take full possession of that person and do marvelous and powerful things.  Only the authentic disciple of Jesus who has truly died to self can truly possess the fullness of divine grace.  The more we die to self, the more Jesus can take over.

"Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life."

To die to self is not an easy endeavor.  Death is always painful.  Sometimes we will want to hold on to an idea, a place, a particular sin, or a bad relationship.  Inherent in all transformation, change, conversion, is destruction.  The grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die.

As a priest, I have seen many people make radical changes in their lives.  In order to bring about the desired change, something had to end.  Some young people have had to terminate a relationship in order to live a life of chastity.  Others have taken all of their CD's and thrown them in the garbage in order to stay away from satanic rock music.

Once I told a penitent who had a terrible problem with pornography that as a penance he must go home and throw into the garbage all of his magazines.  Would it have been as helpful just to say, "For your penance recite three Hail Mary's?"  To bring about new life, the grain of wheat has to fall to the ground and die.

When disciples of Jesus Christ truly die to self, they become the most happy, most hard working, most dynamic and most productive people of any enterprise.  They are the moms and dads rearing happy families, the priests nurturing spiritually alive parishes, and the religious and lay leaders engaging in fruitful apostolates.

Just imagine what this world would have lost had there not been men and women determined to die to self and forget their personal safety, security and ambition.  Where would we be without the great doctors, nurses, policemen, firefighters, school teachers, wise political leaders, and the heroic men and women of the military?

This Sunday's liturgy reminds me about a story that took place many years ago regarding a woman, who was carrying her baby on her back as both were trapped by a prairie fire.

As the mother looked around, she realized there was no way to escape the fire.  Quickly and without thinking about her own safety, she took the baby off her back and began digging a hole in the earth with her bare hands. She then placed her child into it and covered the child with her body. Later the woman was found dead, but the child was saved. 

The world owes everything to such great people who spend themselves daily for God and for others.  If we were to take things easy and do nothing in life, we might exist longer, but we would never know how to live.  A famous Christian evangelist once said, "It is better to burn out than to rust out."

Moreover, it is true that those people who give themselves to God and to others unconditionally remain young and vibrant.  They go on through life filled with enthusiasm because they are in love with life.  They are imbued with a cause that is greater than themselves.

I am amazed at times when I see people who look much older, but in fact are much younger than I am.  They seem to live purposeless lives, to vegetate, to do nothing with the talents that God has given to them.  I cannot live my life in such a way.  I prefer to drag my tired body through life and be of service to God and to others, rather than live an aimless and dreary existence.

"Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life."

I am reminded of a story about an elderly carpenter who was ready to retire. He told his boss of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could survive.

The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials.  It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you."

What a shock! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in the home he had built so poorly.

Always strive to be more and do more.  With service comes greatness.  If you are married, set your children on this path.  If you are a priest or a religious, save more souls.  Never think of yourself.  "I" and "me" must always be replaced with "we" and "us."  This is what makes us truly happy: to die to self unconditionally so that Jesus may live in us.  The grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die.

How can this essential dimension of Christianity either begin or continue to flourish in your life?  The answer is this: to center your life on the Eucharist.  Bread comes from the crushed wheat that is ground to become flour.  Wine comes from the grapes that are crushed together and the seeds are removed.  The bread and the wine that becomes Jesus for us have gone through death and destruction.  But, it is through death and destruction that we have the presence of eternal life in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church throughout the world.

Acknowledgements: www.inspirationalstories.com and www.sermonillustrations.com

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Father James Farfaglia is the Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, TX.  Click here and listen to Father's Sunday homilies.  Visit Father on the web and check out his book Get Serious - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics, an inspirational and easy to follow guide for living a deeper spiritual life.  Father's new book is an excellent Lenten companion.

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