Last night my church had a presentation on the Internet and social media. I attended because I thought my job (and the many hours it requires me to be online) might give me some insights into the subject that may benefit others. The Sacrament of Reconciliation was offered afterward, which got me thinking about a time in my life when I embarrassingly yelled at God — and the lesson that followed shortly afterward.
Roughly six years ago, my life was filled with many personal and professional transitions. There were stresses involved, and on one bad day I pulled the car over to the side of the road and screamed, “What the f***! I’m just trying to be a good person! What the F***! Why are you doing this to me?!”
Without going into details, something I would deem miraculous happened following that outburst, which would lead me to believe the following: We weren’t mean to “just” be “a good person” because we were meant to be saints. We obviously cannot all die as saints, but that is what we must strive to be.
We live in a world where the Internet is omnipresent and the rule of thumb is that it gives us what we want faster … and faster … and faster. Anything you crave, the Internet can provide in a hurry. If you want to be a saint, you have access to all of their wisdom. If you want to explore all sorts of fiendish behavior, then your desire is just a click away. Whatever you want to put into the infinite caverns of your heart, social media can supply — good, evil; love, hate; peace, violence; temperance, concupiscence, and on and on.
The point is that “just” being “a good person” is never good enough, but especially not in a world where technology allows for hyper-exposure to our worst vices. Perverts become hyper-perverts. Partisans become hyper-partisans. Rage is intensified, and flesh’s already-ravenous desire for flesh is awash in images of bodies … and bodies … and bodies.
It is my prediction that in the years ahead you will see a small cadre of rare spiritual pearls emerge within a black sea of ghouls already torturing and raping people live on social media, beheading people in the Middle East and North Africa, and living only for hate.
That is why “just” being “a good person” is not good enough. From all sides you are being bombarded with spiritual blows to sap and warp your will. Invisible sludge is being thrown in your spiritual eyes and shoved down your throat because in time it blinds a man and clogs the arteries of his soul.
The answer to all of this is to strive — every day — to become more like the saints. The process is painful, but it is a good pain. I promise.
Perhaps the best way to explain the spiritual growth that is needed in this time and this place in history, I should point to the old bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Witness the physical and emotional strain he imposed upon himself while sculpting the perfect body and winning the Mr. Olympia title. Anyone who exercises knows that pushing the body — the finite body — to its limits is painful. Now consider doing that to the spirit, which is infinite.
Virtue is something that is very real and tangible, despite being invisible. It paradoxically has a kind of mass and a weight to it even though it’s not something that can ever be measured. The reason for this is because virtue is part of the realm of the infinite. The human heart contains conduits to the infinite — chambers to the divine, if you will — but your body as a whole is, again, finite. That is why as one grows in spirit it often feels like his body is under enormous strain.
Like the weightlifter who adds more iron to his routine, the man or woman who engages in strenuous spiritual exercise brings themselves to tears. The difference is that instead of muscle breaking down and building up, the soul often feels like it is being torn asunder. In some ways it is, because its worst elements are being ripped off and replaced with that which is good and pure.
If you’re wondering why sin does not produce similar experiences, it is because that behavior produces a kind of spiritual atrophy. Just as a man often does not feel the pain of a slothful lifestyle until diseases like diabetes set in, the soul can shrivel in slow and steady increments.
We are living in a very unique time in history. Every year it seems as though technology improves by leaps and bounds. Each new milestone brings with it enormous potential for spiritual growth or decay. It is my hope that you realize that aiming to be “a good person” is like shooting for the the outer ring of the bullseye in a game of darts — only life is not a game and the consequences of your actions here and now have eternal consequences.
If you push yourself each day to live as a saint, then I have no doubt in my mind that upon your death you will be welcomed home by the one true God who loved you in eternity well before you were cradled, in time and space, in your mother’s arms.