I invite you to journey with me on a short spiritual exercise. Why did God make me? Why did the eternal, all-knowing, and all-powerful Creator of Heaven and Earth personally make you? Have you ever seriously pondered this question? The classic Baltimore Catechism provides the following answer: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.” This is certainly a statement of profound truth communicated in a catechetical masterpiece. However, does this clear, concise, and solidly Catholic answer satisfy the deep longing of your heart? Does it bring real joy and peace to your heart? Are you meant to be happy and at peace with God only at death? As Catholics, we certainly pray that the souls of the dead are forever happy, resting in peace with God, but what about the here and now of the present moment? Are you meant to have inner peace at this very moment or do you simply have to wait until death arrives?
The great Catholic spiritual masters have long posited that most people in this world do not have inner peace. In his Treatise on Peace of Soul and Inner Happiness, Dom Lorenzo Scupoli states that the “path which leads to this Heavenly peace is almost unknown to the world.” In fact, it seems that many practicing Catholics do not have a deep sense of peace in their lives. In Searching for and Maintaining Peace, Father Jacques Philippe describes the modern world as “one of agitation and inquietude” and maintains that even serious Catholics who genuinely desire to be saints find themselves “fraught with agitation and anxiety instead of being full of confidence and peace.” Fear, the very opposite of peace, is too often the default position for too many Catholics. Does this resonate with your own situation?
The lack of peace in your heart does not at all match up with what Jesus wants for you. He looks at you right right now, this very moment, and says, “Do not be anxious about your life” (Matthew 6:25). This directive from Jesus is absolutely clear. He attaches no exceptions to it. In fact, Jesus also says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts not be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). The great Saint Paul was utterly convinced by these words of Jesus. He knew that Jesus wants the human heart to be free from fear and filled with His perfect and enduring peace in the present moment. St. Paul was convinced that the peace of Christ is not something that is meant only for later in Heaven. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul encourages you to have “no anxiety about anything” (Philippians 4:6) and instead “let the peace of Christ rule" in your heart (Colossians 3:15).
You have heard these words from Jesus and St. Paul many times over the years, yet presently your heart still feels bombarded by fear and worry. You have sometimes tried to cover up your lack of peace with alternatives. You have strived after power, prestige, possessions, and pleasures to make you feel better. The things that the world considers important provided you with what at first appeared to be a pretty fulfilling life. You really did feel a general sense of peace in your life. However, time and time again you discovered the sad reality that these avenues of happiness, these enticements and attachments of the world, were only temporary distractions that offered you a fleeting kind of peace. This is the fragile and finite human peace that the world gives you. Human peace only momentarily fends off the fear that is present deep within your heart.
You have been continuously nagged by fear caused by past traumas and present struggles of everyday life. Your mind is constantly preoccupied with thoughts of worry. You cannot help but entertain these distressing ideas in your mind. Worrying somehow gives you a sense of control despite the fact that this exercise never proves fruitful. You try on your own to not worry, but just worry more and more. You have allowed regrets about the past and dread about the future to play over and over in your mind to such an extent that they have seemed to overtake your will and formed an actual habit of thought. This habit of fear makes you feel anxious not only in mind, but in body as well. At times of extreme stress, you experience disturbing bodily sensations such as sweaty palms, a tight chest, shortness of breath, a headache, and a rapid heartbeat. These anxious sensations cause you to worry even more and become discouraged with your life. If you are really honest with yourself, you will admit that fear has taken over much of your life.
You have tried to solve your anxiety on your own, but this only made it worse. This very phenomenon is emphasized by St. Francis de Sales in Introduction to the Devout Life. He cautions that “anxiety goes on into excessive distress” whenever an individual tries to cure anxiety “as though all depended more upon himself than upon God.” You have become desperate and so have looked in many directions for help. Medication, books, family and friends, professional counselors, exercise regimens, and healthy eating habits have provided you some much needed relief. Nevertheless, you still remain plagued by a pressing fear in your mind. You want peace to permeate your thoughts and remain there. You want that peace that St. Paul reminds you is within your reach. This is no mere human peace, but rather the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). You desire unwavering and lasting contentment even in the midst of the greatest storms of life. Jesus possessed this type of peace hanging on the cross. This is the peace that has miraculously calmed the hearts of countless saints during their martyrdoms. This peace, which comes from Heaven, is the only peace that begets complete and lasting joy.
You have come to understand that not even the smartest and strongest people in this world can produce or find inner peace on their own. No mere human can give you this peace. Human peace crumbles in the face of real adversity. You have discovered a deep truth. You realize that on your own you are completely powerless when it comes to attaining the peace of Christ. At first, this understanding appears fatal. You can feel the dagger of nihilism pierce your heart to a greater or lesser degree. You conclude from personal experience that perpetual worry and fear, or even despair, are the natural consequences to this reality. The constant searching for an ever elusive prize of peace seems all too cruel and unjust to endure.
However, there is great hope for you! This hope comes from honestly answering the question with which we began this spiritual exercise, but with a much needed shift in perspective. We will daringly examine the same question from God’s perspective. Why did God make me? Why did God make you? Let us together approach this question, perhaps the greatest of all questions in life, with the greatest of reverence and humility. We are clearly walking on holy ground anytime we attempt to discern the perfect motives of Almighty God. An answer from God can be most readily accessed by listening to His Holy Word. Sacred Scripture teaches us that God is a Father of perfect love. He created us so we can be His beloved children who share in His life of love now and forever. St. John the Apostle exhorts, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). As Catholics, we should proclaim confidently and joyfully that “we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16). God proves His love for us in a myriad of ways, but most especially “in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God showed His love for us by sending “his only begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
Why did God make you? Why did the omnipotent and omniscient God of the universe create the human heart that intensely longs for inner peace? Scupoli states that “God created the heart of man for no other end than to love Him and to be loved by Him.” God made you for love. He made you for His love. He is your heavenly Father who is looking at you this very moment and tenderly says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:1). Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, is gazing at you with an everlasting love and says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9). Really embracing and cherishing these divine words of love in your heart will in time bring true peace and its accompanying joy. Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Knowing why you were created and that you are personally loved by God in the present moment should make a momentous difference in your life. This discovery should start to bring you real comfort, for there is “no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). This is why Jesus, the love of God made flesh, assures you that in Him you can have real peace. Treasuring the truth that God made you in order to love you should strengthen your confidence in Him and eventually lead you to abandon more and more of your life to Him. The time is ripe to let go of control and let God take over. Let God take care of you. Let God finally take care of everything!
God loves you beyond measure and desires you to receive His transformative peace. He says, “I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). God made you to love you. This truth must first be accepted before the peace of Christ can begin to reign in the human heart. God does not force; He only invites. He invites you to know and accept His undying love for you. This is the very first step to achieving inner peace. This is the beginning of the spiritual life that seeks true intimacy with God. Let the adventure begin!