Last week, in Newport, we held our biennial Priest Convocation in the Diocese of Providence. About 70 priests, roughly a third of our presbyterate, joined together for a couple days of fraternity, prayer, study, and discussion. This year’s event was among the most successful ever; it was enjoyable, informative and rewarding.
Our presenter was Sherry Weddell, a nationally known expert on religious practice and evangelization. Her theme, with the same title as her best-selling book, was “Forming Intentional Disciples.” Sherry first painted the rather bleak picture of religious practice in our country today, particularly among young Catholics, and explained its causes and characteristics. Did you know, for example, that only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing? How distressing!
She then emphasized the importance of developing a conversion experience that begins with a personal encounter with Christ and moves an individual from “seeker, to disciple, to apostle.” Catholics in the pew, she explained, must make a conscious decision to know and follow Jesus before they can draw others to him. Her five presentations were packed with information, insights and inspiration.
At the very end of her program Sherry posed a question that we could reflect upon ourselves and then pose to others in the course of a conversion dialogue: “If you could ask God one question that you knew God would answer right away, what would it be?”
Intriguing. I’ve thought about that question a lot since the end of our seminar, and, frankly, haven’t been able to select one particular thing I’d ask God.
So, I turn the question over to you: “If you could ask God one question that you knew God would answer right away, what would it be?”
I suspect many of us would focus on a question involving our personal lives. “Dear God, why did you take my husband away from me so suddenly?” Or, “Why have you permitted my child to suffer the pain of cancer?” Perhaps, “What can I do to bring my teenagers back to the Church?” Or, “Have you really forgiven that terrible sin, that awful, stupid thing I did so many years ago?” Or, maybe, “When I die will I go to heaven?”
Good questions, all.
Some might pose to God a broader question about the condition of the world in general: “Why do you allow natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes that cause so much death and destruction . . . Why do you permit children in third world countries to starve to death . . . What causes human beings to become so deranged and violent that they massacre innocent church-goers . . . How long will our common home, planet earth, survive if we fail to care for the environment?”
These are some of the questions that keep people awake at night.
Some might use their audience with God to ask a theological, faith-based question such as: “How is it possible for three distinct divine persons to be perfectly united in the Trinity?” Or, “Did Jesus know that he was God and could he predict everything that was going to happen to him?” Or, “Why did you require your Son to endure the passion to redeem man when you could have chosen another way?” Or, “Did Jesus really intend to limit the Catholic priesthood to males only?”
There are so many questions we could ask God if only given the chance. It’s hard to pick just one, isn’t it?
But, in thinking about our face-to-face dialogue with God, it occurs to me that he might very well turn the tables and have some hard questions to ask us too!
For example, God might ask us: “Why have you waged war against your brothers and sisters so often throughout history, causing such enormous suffering, death and destruction?” Or, “Why have you ignored the Ten Commandments I gave you?” Or, “Why do you marginalize me in your daily life when I’ve tried so hard to be your companion and friend?” Or, “Why have you aborted the lives of so many babies, made in my very own image, when I wanted them to have a full and productive life?” Or, “Have you used the knowledge and the free will I gave you in a positive way or have you abused it for your own pursuit of power and immoral activities?”
Dear reader, as we approach the end of the liturgical year you’ll notice that the Church focuses on the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. And, more to the point, the Church teaches that at the moment of our death each of us will face a particular judgment when we’ll stand before God, one-on-one, face-to-face, to render an account of our lives.
I don’t know – perhaps in that meeting we’ll have the chance to ask God the questions mentioned above. But what I do know is that God will ask us a lot of hard questions – about our lives, about our conduct, about our use of the gifts and talents he has given us. At that moment, will the Lord say “Well done, my good and faithful servant; come share your master’s joy” or “Throw this useless servant into the dark outside where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth?” (Mt 25: 23, 30) And, remember, at that point there will be no second chances, no appeal of the Lord’s sentence.
So, one last question to ponder: Are you prepared for God’s final exam?