Published April 28, 2005
“IWOSSATOOF!” my goddaughter trumpeted into the phone.
“What, honey?” I asked.
“I LOST A TOOTH!”
This was her very first tooth, and so my husband and I congratulated her warmly and asked for the usual details about the Tooth Fairy.
Later, I reflected that losing teeth for little kids represents one glorious step on the journey toward being a full-fledged grown-up.
In middle age, however, such losses become traumatic.
We lose teeth, and we don’t get a visit from the Tooth Fairy. Many men lose their hair, while women say goodbye to the svelte physique of the 20-year-old.
Physical changes are bad enough, but there are economic setbacks as well. Some have to contend with gigantic turnarounds in the stock market, and they go from Oysters Rockefeller and champagne to soup and crackers almost overnight.
It is so hard to accept things and just get on with life, but fortunately we all have role models to help us.
In my life, it was my mom’s best friend, Madeline, who died at the age of 95, but who still maintained, to the very end, her sense of humor, her interest in life and a youthful sort of gratitude.
Over the years, she had plenty of tragedies. She was widowed twice, and in her later years, her vision dimmed and her hearing became blurry.
Despite her losses, though, her faith in Jesus Christ was a constant, which explains why she could accept the inevitable changes that life brought her.
No matter how bad things got, she would fish out her prayer book and rosary beads from her purse and start praying.
I thought about Madeline as I read about the last days of our beloved Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who had become over the years a beacon of hope for all the elderly, disabled and ill people in the world.
It was little wonder that, as he lay dying, he asked that his friends read him “The Way of the Cross,” chronicling the final hours of Jesus’ life. As always, it was his love of Jesus that sustained him.
Sadly, many people faced with similar ravages of illness and old age may confront a really great tragedy, which is the loss of faith.
But here’s the good news: Christ assures us that even if we turn away from him, he doesn’t give up on us. After all, the Good Shepherd goes after the sheep that strays and brings it back to the flock.
We are not given the details of the encounter in the New Testament story, but I think it is reasonable to conclude that the lost sheep has to stop running long enough to be retrieved.
Which means we have to meet God halfway.
When we feel our faith wavering, and worry we might lose it, we can continue with the things that once nurtured it: praying, doing good works and receiving the Eucharist.
Oddly enough, even people we consider spiritual giants, like Mother Teresa, suffered from feeling abandoned by God. She persevered anyway and continued her spiritual devotions.
The shepherd doesn’t go after only the good or the healthy sheep. Instead, any time someone strays, even if that person is filled with sin and despair, God wants to bring him back.
And sometimes God retrieves lost sheep in startling ways.
Some folks come back to faith only after a family member dies, while others find themselves praying for the first time in years only during major disasters.
Some people say they are looking for God, as if he were the one who was lost. Other people go so far as to create new gods for themselves.
They claim they feel close to God when they are in nature, which is fine, of course, but how odd that people who find God in a tree balk at finding Him in a Communion wafer.
The bottom line is this: We all suffer many losses as we move from childhood to old age. Still, there is only one loss that cannot be made up, and that is the loss of our immortal soul.
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” Jesus asked his disciples.
Which is another way of asking: What does it really matter if we have oodles of money, the fanciest house, the classiest car, and the longest list of accomplishments, if on Judgment Day, we end up in a windowless corner of hell forever?
This is a frightening thought. Could someone who seems like a relatively good and nice person actually end up in hell? Isn’t that going a bit too far?
If you read the Gospels, you find that Jesus did go that far. He told us in no uncertain terms that He is the way, the truth and the life.
He didn’t say, “I am one of the ways.” He didn’t say, “Any way will do.” He clearly believed in truth with a capital T.
Ironically enough, when he encountered Pontius Pilate, it was Pilate who didn’t understand the notion of absolute truth and who scoffed, “What is truth?”
Sadly, many people have followed in Pilate’s footsteps. Today’s moral relativists balk at the notion of absolute truth with a capital T, and as a result, they have a shaky version of right and wrong.
They tend to believe that you have your truths and I have mine, and all truths are equally valid.
But Jesus wasn’t preaching moral relativism. When he saved the woman in danger of being stoned, he told her to go and sin no more, and when a woman washed his feet, he mentioned her many sins.
Obviously, he believed some things were definitely right and some were wrong.
Moral relativism falls flat on its face, as any parent can attest. What parent can confront a 15-year-old who wants to watch pornography over the Internet and not tell the kid this behavior is wrong?
And even if the kid thinks it’s right, the parents will stay their ground because they know there must be absolutes or everything crumbles.
One of the great things about our Catholic faith is that we have absolutes handed down to us from 2,000 years ago. We have teachings that came from Christ to the apostles and then, down through the ages, through our church leaders, eventually to us.
And here is a treasure that can never be lost: The Church’s teachings on faith and morals don’t change according to the way the winds of society are blowing.
Yes, it is true that moral relativists often belittle our Church for being old-fashioned, and they criticized Pope John Paul II in the same way, but the one being accused is the one who speaks through the Church to this day.
And that is Christ himself.
Life in its own way is a losing battle. We may lose our looks, our jobs, our health and many of our dreams.
But God forbid we should ever lose the most precious thing we have, which is our faith.
It really is the pearl of great price. And that is truth with a capital T.
Lorraine Murray’s latest book, “How Shall We Celebrate?” is available at www.catholicbookpublishing.com. You may e-mail her at email@example.com.