Sometimes you forget the things you take for granted as a Christian. It seems hard to remember a time before the life of faith when I would catch myself at a party or watching Saturday Night Live with my friends thinking, “is this all there is?”
For many converts, the nudging towards the eternal, the curiosity towards “something more” beyond what is in front of us, is that wide part of the funnel that narrows as we move towards the Truth. Just as the Lord Christ used Samaritans and other foreigners to bring about the Kingdom of God, and just as St. Paul writes about Gentiles who have the eternal law written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15), my own journey to faith began on the impetus of those outside the walls of Christendom.
In high school I had gotten my hands on some lectures of a Hare Krishna devotee. In one of the recorded tracks, an interviewer is asking about his iconic robe and shikha (a tuft of hair at the back of head specifically kept by Vaishnavas and Brahmanas to signify renunciation of the world). “Do you ever go to a movie? To a football game?” the reporter asks. “No,” the devotee answered. “We experience our pleasure on...a higher realm. The purpose of life is to please God, Krishna.”
“A priest,” the reporter noted, “would not find it sinful to go to a sporting event.”
“It’s not so much that it is sinful,” the devotee noted. “But if, in watching the event--the configuration of colors on a pasture doing this or that, I forget my eternal purpose, it becomes...quite a serious matter of eternal consequence. After all, Jesus Christ said, “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him”” (1 Jn 2:15).
The world and its lures are subtle and pernicious. Horror vacui--”Nature abhors a vacuum,” as the saying in Physics goes. The Lord bestows upon us the gift of work and leisure, but both can become an end in themselves rather than a means to an end; that is, our eternal end. This is why work on the Sabbath is such a serious violation of the Law. The great St. John Vianney saw the people of Ars working on Sundays as if it were any other day and it was one of his first spiritual admonitions he made upon his arrival in the small wayward village. We have six days to work, and on the seventh we are commanded--not given a suggestion--to rest. In doing so, we honor the Sabbath and, by extension, God Himself.
Likewise, leisure can become idolatrous when we place the acquisition of goods and pleasures above that which belongs to God and the poor. There is no sin in enjoying the things of God, but we must remember St. Paul’s warning, in Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised.” The consequence of idolatry--that is, prioritizing things outside of right order, putting created things before God, forgetting our eternal purpose and trusting in made-made creations--is that our thinking becomes foolish and our hearts become darkened (Romans 1:21).
Such descents into idolatry and disruption of the eternal order do not happen overnight. Like unconfessed venial sins, which deposit layers of spiritual soot and silt upon our souls and prevent the light from penetrating, our susceptibility to the temptation to more serious sins increases in proportion to the extent which we forget our eternal purpose, our spiritual raison d’etre. “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt” (Ps 106:21)
When it is written, “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him”” (1 Jn 2:15); and “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Mt 6:24); and “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Lk 14:33), we find a dichotomous inverse relationship--the more you love the world and the things of the world, the more the world claims you for its own. When we forget who it is we serve, who put us here and for what purpose, we start to slip. When we become unbalanced and shelve prayer and due worship in favor of catching up on things we have prioritized instead to get ahead in the world at the expense of what we owe God in justice, we lose our spiritual equilibrium. Our Lord is clear--we cannot serve two masters, for the God of Hosts is a jealous God (Ex 34:14).
And so, we must admit, when we neglect mental prayer and due worship, meditation and recollection of what the Lord has done for us, we have become idolators and blasphemers. We gravitate and expend our energy on what we value; we make time for what matters to us. Like setting off on a spur that takes us farther from our destination the longer we traverse it in a state of forgetfulness, we can wake up and realize we are far from home. We become like fools, lost and without a map or rudder. We realize we have put our faith in perishable things thinking they are of the utmost importance in the moment; things that rot and are temporal. “And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever” (1 Jn 2:17).
But thank God when we do “wake up” from our spiritual slumber, finding ourselves like prodigals far from home, even when we have not committed heinous sins but simply drifted too far from shore. We can find our way home again, for the Father stands waiting like a beacon on a hill, a lighthouse on a shoreline. We tune back in to the right frequency, the divine wavelength, by rededicating ourselves to prayer, in order to hear the way we must go. We find our map in the pages of Scripture. We recommit our time, dropping it in the basket of eternal reward. And we confess our waywardness in the Sacrament of Confession, which is more powerful than an exorcism.
“Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deut 8:12-14). Whereas the Devil does everything he can to make us forget what we have been ransomed from, the Lord urges us to remember--to set memorials on the ascent that we revisit. When we slip into forgetfulness of our eternal purpose and favor the temporal, God reminds us by grace through any means necessary to wake us up. And when the Devil urges us to remember our sins and failings in light of God’s omnipotent perfection, our God forgets them. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).
The next time you forget your eternal purpose, what your ransomed life is for, use it as a barometer for your spiritual state. If you are far from home, call out for help in prayer. If you don’t know the way, go to Scripture and the tradition of the fathers. If you have sinned, confess your faults and ask for forgiveness. Recommit yourself to the works of penance. Take time to be alone, and give the Lord the oblation of a broken spirit (Ps 51:17). In doing so, you will recall your eternal destination, and your status in the world as merely a pilgrim. As St. Catherine of Siena said, “Everything has a purpose and it is vast beyond our ability to comprehend.”