Life is full of tough stuff and tough questions. What’s the meaning of life? What am I made for? What is the purpose of life? All these and more routinely puzzle and confound us and sometimes leave us feeling confused, alone, and even depressed. But never fear, Mother Angelica’s here! She gives straightforward answers to many of these questions in her book Answers, Not Promises: Straightforward Solutions to Life’s Puzzling Problems. Let’s take a look
What does God want with me?
This is a question that gets asked a lot because it’s a good one! Discerning God’s will for us can be really tricky and sometimes discouraging. The answer is that God wants us to become saints. But that answer leads to even more questions! How do I become a saint? What does it even me to be a saint?? I can’t possibly be a saint, can I? Mother Angelica points out x areas that lead us on the path to sainthood: doing the ridiculous, obeying God’s laws, repenting over and over again, and loving. She writes, “Every day we get new opportunities to trust in God’s providence and to radiate his love. What makes the spiritual journey different from any other is that when we’re not moving forward, we’re falling back. It’s never a matter of saying, ‘Okay, now I’m going to love God’ and then taking a few days off to coast. Loving God is not an on-again, off-again proposition. It is a continuing journey…To advance on this journey, you have to be committed to a life of holiness. We all grow in holiness in different ways; each one of us has a unique path. But as unique as each path is, I think we all pass by the same signposts. We must respect and obey the laws of God. We must repent for our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness with a sincere heart. We must love as God loves. We must radiate God’s goodness.”
Why won’t God answer my prayers?
Maybe you’ve heard it said that God’s always answers all of our prayers, even if that’s in an unexpected way. But that can lead us to desperately cry: WHY PRAY AT ALL, THEN?? Well, simply, because prayer is a communication with the beloved. “First, we must fully grasp that God does answer every prayer. But we must also know that he often answers, ‘No,’ that he sometimes answers, ‘Wait,’ and only if it is in accordance with his will does he answer, ‘Yes.’ Give these three general kinds of responses, we must also understand that God’s answering is often a process. His yes could take years. His no could also take years and be interpreted as a ‘wait.’ There are lots of possibilities here, but suffice it to say that we can be sure none of God’s answers will be pat. So how do we know what he wants for us? How can we read what his answers are? We can start in the present moment. Discerning God’s will is a matter of looking at our situation in the present moment and trying to see God’s action,” Mother Angelica writes.
How can I free myself from guilt?
Guilt. We hear about this and experience it often. We joke about it all the time. But really, it can consume us. We weren’t made to live in guilt and yet that’s where we find ourselves time and again. We hear that there is freedom from guilt but that seems like a far off land or simply a mirage. There is good guilt; the guilt that we experience after making a mistake or committing a sin leads us to reconcile those actions and to not do them again. That guilt dissipates after the offense has been remedied. This guilt, as Mother Angelica says, “isn’t a punishment, but a voice of sorrowful reason.” But what about that all-consuming guilt that just won’t go away no matter how many times you’ve sought and been given forgiveness and reconciliation? Mother Angelica recalls a memory of visiting the ocean (in her full habit) and calling the waves to her and a wave so big decided to come to her that the sunbathers were yelling at her to run! But she didn’t. The wave crashed at her feet and one single drop landed on her hand. She recounts a conversation she had with God in this moment:
“My odd little peace was broken when I felt the Lord say to me, ‘Angelica?’
I said, ‘Yes, Lord?’
‘That drop is like all of your sins, your weaknesses, your frailties, and your imperfections. And the ocean is like my mercy. If you looked for that drop [in the ocean], could you find it?’
I said, ‘No, Lord.’
And then he said to me ever so quietly, ‘So why do you keep looking?’
That episode at the ocean taught me a profound lesson. I think all of us fall victim to rehashing our sins and failings, reliving our guilt long after we’ve asked forgiveness. We fail to realize that once God has forgiven us, those sins are gone forever. Our sins disappear in the ocean of God’s mercy. We need not worry about them any longer– they are permanently enveloped in God’s everlasting mercy.”
Why is it so hard to be good?
Because of the Fall, it is easier to say no to God than to say yes because of an absence of his grace. It’s so hard to be good because we are so full of pride! “Pride is the excessive self-esteem we accord ourselves from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed…The understanding of pride has eluded man since Adam and Eve. When our first parents sided with the devil, they did so out of pride. With full light– knowing all of the wretched consequences of their decision– they opted for a misleading ‘sense of control’ over their own lives. The Genesis writer tells us that when the serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit, he promised that she and Adam would receive ultimate knowledge of good and evil. They would be like gods, he told them, and they believed him. Adam and Eve’s great sin was in choosing to assert themselves against God. They had opted for the false trinity of ‘me, myself, and I’ at the expense of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Pride is one of the gravest consequences of original sin, for all of us are born with the prideful tendencies that cause us to be self-centered rather than God-centered,” Mother Angelica implores. So to be good, we must fight against the pride raging within us, and that’s hard! But it is good and it leads to goodness and holiness.
Why am I afraid to die?
Simply put, we are afraid to die because of the unknown, the invisibility of the soul, and the fear of separation and loss. These are all natural reasons to fear death and we must confront them to find peace. Mother Angelica goes into detail about each of these (and more) which I’ll summarize:
“I often wonder how it must feel to be an infant in the womb, about to be born, moving toward the world of light and sound, knowing nothing, absolutely nothing, of what is to come. The mother knows that the pains of birth are going to be difficult, but she realizes that they are worthwhile. The same comparison can be made between the nonbeliever and the Christian regarding death. The nonbeliever, like the baby, doesn’t know that what is to come will be worthwhile. He thinks the pains of death lead to nothing. But the Christian, like the mother, knows that the pains of death lead to everything…
Most of us make the mistake of picturing the soul as an organ of some kind, like a heart or a kidney or a gaseous form that hovers around the brain. This is a great misconception. If we conceive of the soul as something physically united to the body, then we can’t even imagine life after death. The important thing to understand is that the body and the soul are two distinct entities, and that the soul doesn’t need the body to exist. The soul is at home in the body, at one with the body, and vivifies the body– but it is not part of the body…
If you are facing the recent or impeding loss of someone very dear to you, the reality of Heaven and of that person’s eternal soul seems remote and unimportant. The fear and grief you are experiencing center not so much on the nature of death itself, but on your separation and your great loss…I know that your existence seems utterly violated and that you feel layers and layers away from the reality that used to be…The fact that you feel grief does not mean that something is wrong with your faith. Jesus wept when his dear friend Lazarus died, even though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knows that horrible weight you feel in your heart; he knows that life has been torn apart for you.”
What will heaven be like?
Deferring completely to Mother Angelica and her beautiful yet straightforward words, she says, “…it is important to realize that Heaven is both a place and a state. If we are with God, and God is in us, then we have Heaven on earth, and the business of Heaven on earth is called holiness…But the Heaven of the next life can’t be set aside, reinterpreted, or dismissed as easily. Here we are talking about another world, a world we cannot see or hear or imagine. This Heaven is the perpetual vision of God…Every moment that we are cavalier about our destiny in the next life is a wasted moment of this life. As Christians, our lives in this world have meaning only because they determine the nature and quality of our eternal life…Heaven is the fruit of a lifetime of struggle. And the pursuit of Heaven begins here on earth with what Christians call holiness.”
Now, of course, this still doesn’t give a physical description of Heaven, as that’s unknowable to us in this life. But what we can know about Heaven we can infer from what we know of God. And that’s why it’s so important and so good to continue to get to know him deeper and deeper throughout our lives. This is what will bring us peace.
For more from Mother Angelica on questions like “How can I overcome lust?” or “Why do we suffer?” pick up a copy of her book Answers, Not Promises: Straightforward Solutions to Life’s Puzzling Problems.