Fr. Franco's Letters

The Flame: January/February 2023

Dear Readers of the Flame,

The marketing motto of Home Depot is How Doers Get More Done. I confess that this logo appeals to me. Like many of us, my schedule is full and if someone can show me how to get more done, I’m for it. However, I have noticed that our culture seems obsessed on the how of life. We want to know how we can improve our gas mileage. We want to know how we can better insulate our homes, how we can make better investments, how we can stay healthy, how we can get the best deal, how we can…You get the idea.

This has impacted our educational system, which is mostly based on helping people to know how do to something: programming computers, diagnosing illnesses, providing food, building structures, et cetera. And in the workday world, it is all about knowing how to make a profit so that we can acquire the things necessary and desirous for a secure and entertaining life.

At its root, this desire to increase our “know how” flows from some of God’s first words to the human race: …fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and all the living things that move on the earth. (Genesis 1:28) We need to learn how to subdue the earth. Of course, as stewards of creation, we are to use the resources of the earth to better our lives, mindful of caring for the earth while improving our lives.

However, beyond this desire to know how to get things done, we have a deeper and more important longing that needs to be fulfilled. We know that life is not simply about acquiring “know how”. In fact, our lives make the most sense when we switch the letters around. Life is not so much about knowing how but knowing who. Learning how to live comfortable and securely on earth does not satisfy the human soul. Coming to know Jesus Christ and entering into genuinely loving human relationships is what life is all about. Simply put: life is first about Who and then about How.

There are two keys to pursuing “who” above “how”: prayer and love. Prayer keeps us in touch with the ultimate Who. When Moses asked about God’s name, God replied, “I am who am”. Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” In John 8, Jesus appropriates this mysterious name to himself:
For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins…When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own…Amen, Amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” (John 8:24, 28 & 58)
As human beings (not human doings) we connect to the Lord, who is ultimate Being, the One who is and who was and who is to come (see Revelation 1:4). We do so with humility, gratitude, praise and adoration.

One of my more memorable experiences in prayer happened when I was a seminarian. I was attending a charismatic Mass at St. Joseph Christian Life Center. For reasons I cannot recall, I was feeling a bit down and frustrated with seminary life. My body was in the CLC chapel but my mind was out in left field. However, during the offertory colletion (not the most solemn part of the Mass), out of the blue God spoke to my heart. He said, Bob, I love you for who you are and not for what you do. My whole being was shaken out of its stupor. And those words have stayed with me. On good days I remember them. Yes, I know that God has things for me to do. I seek them out and do the best I can by His grace and for His glory. However, I also know that I do not earn God’s love. In prayer I seek to be present to the One who is always present to us and who loves us.

The second way of putting who above how is by learning to love those made in God’s image. If the focus of our life is on the how we do things, we run the danger of using people and not loving them. In the eyes of some, people are valuable only to the extent that they can produce something or be of service in some manner. This type of thinking is the basis for the anti-life movements in our world. Euthanasia and abortion both categorize people according to how useful and wanted people are.

Loving people means looking at who they are and not simply what they can do. And, in fact, from the perspective of Jesus, the less people are able to do, the more he identifies with them. From the lips of the Master Himself, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40).

In the eyes of some people, taking time to pray is a waste. Similarly, making time for the least and the lost is inefficient and not worth it. However, we are human beings called to a relationship with the ground of all being: God. We are also commanded to love others for who they are and not for how useful they can be.

As we begin this New Year, let us asked the Holy Spirit to deepen our relationships with God and other people. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:8) This is what the Holy Spirit does - transforms us into lovers. Desirous of fulfilling the Great Commandments of loving God and our neighbor, let us pray to put the Who above the How. This is the path to true joy and to eternal life.

In Christ,
Fr. Bob Franco
Bishop’s Delegate to Catholic Renewal Ministries