From ancient times, philosophers have summed up the human condition as a quest to answer three fundamental questions: What should I do? What can I know? What can I hope for?
In response to the common-sense comment of doubting Thomas, Jesus Christ gives us the definitive answer to each one of these questions when he tells us that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Actually, Jesus doesn’t just give the answers; he is the answers.
“I am the way” can translate into: “What should you do? Follow me! Do what I have done.”
“I am the truth” means: “What can you know? You can know everything, if only you know me. Knowing me, more and more every day, you know the secret behind the workings of the whole universe and the deepest yearnings of the human heart, because I made them both. I am the eternal Word, the very Wisdom of God.”
“I am the life” means: “What can you hope for? In me, through me, you can hope for the fullness of life that you long for in the very depths of your soul. You can hope for your very own room in my Father’s house, in heaven – I have gone to prepare it for you. In my Father’s house all sorrows turn to joy, all weakness turns to strength, and life grows more alive as eternity unfolds.”
Christ is truly the living water that quenches every thirst. He is truly the light that scatters every type of darkness. The quest of every man and woman to satisfy the heart’s deepest needs is the quest to seek his face. As St. Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” And Jesus Christ is God.
St. Francis Borgia discovered this true, unique greatness of Christ at the same time that he discovered how fragile human greatness really is. St. Francis lived in the 1500s and eventually became the second General of the Jesuit Order. His spectacular leadership laid the groundwork for that Order’s truly remarkable achievements.
But until he was 40-years-old, he wasn’t overly concerned about Christ and the Church. Instead, he lived the brilliant and dashing life of a Spanish nobleman. He was cousin to the Emperor and grew up enjoying the privileges of royalty in Spain’s golden age. He was extremely gifted with intelligence, courage, and all the natural virtues, and was one of the most trusted Imperial courtiers. He was also a close friend and counselor to the beautiful, wise, and well-beloved Empress Isabel, Europe’s greatest lady, in every sense. By nature, education, and circumstances, therefore, Francis Borgia had a fantastic future in store.
Then the Empress died, and Francis was asked to escort the body to the city of Grenada, where she was to be buried. After the long journey, the magistrates of the city opened the coffin to confirm the cadaver’s identity. But her face appeared so hideous and disfigured that nobody could recognize it. And the stench of the decaying body was so foul that everyone fled from the chamber. Francis was in shock: What had become of those sparkling eyes, of her elegance and charm, her wit, the sweetness of her laughter?
For the first time, Francis really understood how fragile and passing this life is. One day she was Queen of Spain and Holy Roman Empress, revered and envied throughout the world, with unlimited wealth and power at her beck and call; the next day, she was a repulsive, putrefying corpse. That’s when St. Francis Borgia began to think seriously about what Christ had really meant when he claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, the conqueror of death and the source of eternal life.
We all believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. If we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t be here right now. Yet, today the Church is asking us to look into our hearts and ask the question: how firmly do we believe it? Is our faith vibrant, strong, and bright, like a sunrise, or is it weak, malnourished, and hanging on in survival mode, like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree? The stronger our faith in Christ, the more our lives will be marked by wisdom, courage, purity, peace of heart, and magnanimity – like all the saints. The weaker our faith, the more we experience discouragement, frustration, boredom, slavery to vice, and anxiety.
We can use three thermometers to take the temperature of our faith. First, do we spend quality time each day in personal prayer? Our friendship with Christ cannot be vibrant if we never spend time with him. Second, do we make frequent use of the sacrament of confession? All the saints have a keen sense of how their selfish tendencies and sinfulness wounds the heart of Christ, even in little infidelities. They use this sacrament regularly to heal those wounds. Third, how deeply do we long to receive Jesus in Holy Communion? If Communion has become just a routine or an empty ritual, it could be a sign that our faith is withering.
Today, Jesus is inviting us to check up on our faith. He wants to help us make whatever adjustments are necessary in order to be better Christians – the kind who experience the joy of the risen Christ and aren’t afraid to spread that joy to others. As we continue with this Mass, let’s accept that invitation.