Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nothing to Worry About

Think only of God and you have nothing to worry about.

Do not worry so much about work and making money. Do not stress about moving up in your career or enhancing your status in the world. When you worry about these things, you do so in vain.

Our lives do not consist of our material things, our professional titles, or our economic class. Our lives were meant for the worship of God, and everything we do must be focused on Him. He will take care of us.

Next Sunday’s reading (Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23) says, “For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief is his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.”

Have you ever stayed up late at night thinking about some project at work or some stress on your mind? Have you ever pushed yourself extra hard at work, put in long nights, and forgone family activities or even religious obligations so that you can “get ahead”? Are you constantly thinking about how you can move up the chain to get in the next pay grade, become a director, and make the “big bucks”? America tells you this is the right way to be—to work as hard as you can, no matter the cost, and eventually get paid darn well for it.

Don’t you see; that is all in vain? Only God matters. Don’t let work become who you are. You are God’s child; you were meant for Him. Be at peace and let His Holy Spirit infiltrate your soul. Let Him fill you up like soothing rain waters fill a lake after a long drought.

Do not stress about things that do not really matter in the long run. As Christ says in Mk 6:27, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?”

Mark 6:30-32 “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

The reality is, the more we overwork, the less we have, because we weaken our relationship with God.

Work hard when it’s time to work, play hard when it’s time to play with your family, and pray hard all day long.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Lesson in Mercy

“…he will get up to give him whatever he needs, because of his persistence.”

In next Sunday’s first reading (Gen 18:20-32, found here), we hear about Abraham asking God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if there are but only a few righteous men in them. God, of course, says he will spare the entire city even for the sake of only ten good men. This reading is obviously showing God’s great mercy and justice towards the righteous, but I believe there is something else that is often missed. This reading shows the value of Abraham’s persistence. God, in His infinite mercy, wishes to spare us sinners—we have only to ask for it.

Jesus tells us in our Gospel Reading (Lk 11: 1-13) that “if [a man] does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever his needs, because of his persistence” “ ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” “…how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” The key is to never lose faith and continue to ask God for whatever we need. And what do we need most from God? Mercy.

When Abraham speaks to God, he speaks with great humility: “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!” “Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak…” But Abraham has great faith in asking God for His mercy. Again and again he asks, each time wanting even more than he asked before. He asks on behalf of entire cities and those righteous within. His prayers worked—as we see later on in Chapter 19, verse 29: “He was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval by which God overthrew the cities where Lot had been living.” It was because of the persistent prayers of Abraham that Lot was saved.

Do we continue to ask God to pour out His mercy on us? Each and every day we must ask for forgiveness. (In the very same Gospel, Christ gives us the Lord’s Prayer that we pray every day, remember the “forgive us our sins” part?). There are some Protestants who believe that we can simply ask God once in a single salvific event for forgiveness and then we are “saved” perpetually, having been forgiven for all past and future sins. The reality is, we must continually ask God for forgiveness. How? In the Sacrament of Confession. In Confession we come to God humbly, as Abraham did, and each time we ask him to pour out His mercy.

Confession is not just for “every once in a while”. It’s not just for Advent and Lent. It is a Sacrament we have the privilege to attend often. To be saved, to become holy, to share in eternal life, we must be persistent in asking for God’s help. We must admit that we need God’s mercy. Through constantly turning to Him for help, we understand that we are sinners and show our desire to be born anew. God’s mercy is not just about forgiveness; it is also about God’s gift of grace to transform us to be holier. We receive God’s mercy in Confession—both His forgiveness and sanctifying grace, and that is essential.

The truth is, the closer we get to Christ, the more we are aware of our sins, and our desire for grace becomes stronger. Abraham begins to understand God’s mercy the more he asks for it, and each time, he digs even deeper. The more we go to Confession, the more we desire that essential Sacrament of God’s grace.

Persistence demonstrates our Faith in God. It is an understanding that even though we don’t have what we need right away, even though we continue to fail and struggle with sin, we know that there is nothing God can’t forgive, and there is no one He can’t transform. Saint Monica was persistent for years in asking God to show mercy toward her son, Augustine, and grant his conversion. Look at the fruits of her perseverance—St. Augustine is one of the great Doctor’s of the Church!

It is important to understand that we must ask for God’s mercy, and then trust in Christ that He will grant it. We must desire His mercy in our hearts, and show that mercy to others. Jesus spoke to St. Faustina about this in His message of Divine Mercy. Check it out here:

We must also ask for mercy on others’ behalf, just as Abraham did for Lot. Ask for God’s mercy on behalf of our nation, on behalf of all those who have had or performed abortions, on behalf of those who live in sin. God can save our nation if we are only persistent in our prayers.

I say it again—be persistent. Perpetually pray for mercy. Too often our culture tells us that we are not sinners and we are justified in the things we do. Too often do we forget that we need mercy. But if we do not constantly ask for mercy, then it shows we feel we are doing nothing wrong—we are choosing our lives of sin over lives of holiness.

Let’s choose holiness. Persistence in asking God for His mercy demonstrates a deep desire to be holy, to be purified, to be transformed. We are like precious silver: we tarnish with sin, and God must polish us anew. The more often we go to Confession, the more polished we become, until we shine so perfectly, God can see His reflection in us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"There is need of only one thing,"

Have you ever used worked as an excuse to not spend time with Jesus? I know I have. I think about all these responsibilities I’ve got—cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, my professional work, and now I’ve gone back to school for my Master’s of Architecture. It seems I have to spend every waking second “being productive”. Our American culture tells us if we don’t work all the time, then we won’t get anywhere in life. (It amazes me that people feel the need to answer emails on their phone while driving…)

Often I put all these responsibilities as first priority, thinking, “If I don’t get them done, then no one else will. If I neglect my duties, then I’ve fallen short, and I will be judged for being lazy.”

Is spending time with Jesus being lazy? If we look at next Sunday’s Gospel (Lk. 10:38-42) we hear the story of Martha, the worker, and Mary, the listener:

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
"Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me."
The Lord said to her in reply,
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."

Martha has the very same thoughts that we often have about work. Her duties came first, and they were quite difficult. As for Mary, well, Martha certainly judges Mary for not performing her part of the work.

Work without rest takes its toll on us. We begin to fall into self-pity because of all our burdens. We become stressed and tired and think the only way out is to spend more time working. Sometimes we become self-righteous, accusing others of not working hard enough, and thinking, “I am surely building up treasure in Heaven by all this labor!” We are like Martha who seems to say, “Lord, see how hard I work!

But we should never neglect God to keep from “neglecting” our own duties. When Martha goes to Jesus, she is begging Him for help with her work: “Tell her to help me.” She is certainly “burdened with much serving” (verse 40). Jesus, of course, tells Martha she is overly anxious. “There is need of only one thing.” (verse 42), and that is God.

Isn’t that what we are after in the first place?—to spend eternity with God in Heaven? What we suffer here on earth is only meant to lead us to Christ. Martha is heavy-laden with burdens and begs for help. Where can we find that help? Matt 11:28: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Yes, in Jesus. Come to Christ, first and foremost, and you will find peace.

This is not to say that we should not work hard. Since the fall of man, work has been essential to our livelihood. (Genesis 3:19: “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat,”) It is part of our daily lives, and should not be neglected. Many missionaries spend their days working to save the poor, feed the hungry, care for the sick, teach others about Christ. Fathers work to feed their families; mothers nurture their children. Jesus, the carpenter, certainly knew the value of hard work. And, of course, He says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) We all have our daily crosses that we must diligently carry. But time spent with Christ is essential (even the Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity—some of the hardest workers in the world—attend Eucharistic Adoration every day!— If we ignore Him, we risk losing all the fruits of our labors. (Remember the “come after me” part?)

Martha thought she was doing the right thing—her heart was certainly in the right place. But when she finally came to Jesus to tell Him of her burden, He gave her an answer she wasn’t expecting, but certainly the one she needed to hear: “There is need of only one thing” and that is Christ.

Come to Jesus with your work, daily. Choose Christ, the better part, “and it will not be taken from [you].”

So… as I write this, I am thinking I have been neglecting daily Mass because I have felt the need to study for school… Perhaps there is something I should do about that…

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Very Near to You

Is God’s Word written on your heart? Is it constantly in your mind and on your lips? Listen to the first reading next Sunday, Dt. 30:10-14. In a simple lyrical way, Moses explains the nearness of God’s commands to our hearts. “It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky and get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

It seems to me that Moses uses a love language here, speaking of God’s Word as something so precious and dear to us that it is written on our hearts; it is something we can fall in love with. How often have we heard stories told of a love between two people so strong that no matter how physically far apart they are, they carry each other in their hearts? We see in the Responsorial Psalm (2nd option): “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” “They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.” Psalm 19:8-11

God’s Word is precious. It is near to us. This passage beautifully, poetically demonstrates this truth. Yet, at the same time, the frankness of it is quite scary. If God’s word is written on our hearts, then how many of us turn away from what we already know is Truth? In this passage, Moses is telling the people that they do not need someone to go and get the Word for them and tell it to them in order for them to follow it. No, instead it is something so close to them that they know it without being told. All they must do is follow.

Yet how many men and women today continue to ignore what is written on their hearts as sons and daughters of God? How many people have abortions, enter into homo-sexual relations, co-habitate, look at pornography, commit acts of hate, turn away from the Church? How many of us who go to Church every Sunday and listen to the Word of God, spoken right in front of us, go back Monday morning to focusing on worldly things, more worried about money, material wealth, and selfish desires than God?

We see our culture falling apart around us. Yet we sit idly by watching others fall into this numbness to sin. We think things like, “That is their business. I don’t judge them. They don’t know better. I don’t really know what is going on in their life.” But they do know better! We know better! It is written on our hearts! The truth is, if we don’t hold each other accountable, God will hold us all accountable. If we don’t speak the truth that is so near to us, then we will fall into the same trap. We will begin to become immune to our conscience. We will start to cut off that place in our hearts where God’s Word resides. We will shut off that essential artery so that the blood of the Spirit won’t mix with our fleshly desires. We will cut a hole in our heart where the Truth lives so that we can say it never was there. And, without that essential blood flow, our spirit will begin to die.

We can’t afford to let that happen. We can’t allow our society to go on telling us that God is just an addition to our lives, that our Faith is something we do when we feel like it, that His Word is only meant for those who care to listen. We can’t go on pretending that we are ignorant to His Truth. We are not ignorant; his commands are in our mouths and in our hearts. He is a just God, and He will judge us accordingly.

God has given us His treasured Word, “more precious than gold”, “refreshing the soul” and “rejoicing the heart” (Ps. 19:8). He brings it very near to us, writing it on our very being. Fall in love with His word; keep it ever in your heart and on your lips. Speak it loudly and boldly, knowing that this Truth you speak to others, they already know; they just need someone to remind them. We know the Truth; live it!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Jesus is My Food, My Priest is My Server

Okay, so it appears I took the month of June off...

This was not intended, but I got lazy.  I apologize.

A few Sundays ago, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, we read Luke 9:11b-17, the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  Something interesting struck me in these verses.  In response to the apostles worried requests to dismiss the crowds to find food, Jesus says to them in verse 13, "Give them some food yourselves."  At first glance, this sounds a little biting, almost like he was annoyed by their worry and willingness to get rid of the crowd.  But I think there is something significant here.  Jesus did not want the people to be sent off; he wanted them to find their food in Him.  Not only that, but He was commanding His apostles to feed His people.  He was asking them to be priests, ministers of the food that only Christ could give.

Later in the passage, Jesus is the one who says the blessing and breaks the bread and fish, but He gives them to the apostles to bring to the people.  Jesus is the one who performs the miracle, but His apostles distribute it to the people.  The apostles play a key role in the people's ability to access the food.

I think many of us remember the passage from John 21 when Jesus reconciles with Peter by asking him three times "Do you love me?"  Each time, of course, Peter responds. "You know that I love you."  And Jesus answers back "Feed my lambs."  "Tend my sheep."  "Feed my sheep"  (John 21:15-19)  "Feed my lambs."  Christ was commissioning Peter to feed His people.  He was commissioning this great Apostle, this first pope, to feed us, both with God's Word and Jesus's Body in the Eucharist.

This idea of "feeding" can seem an odd one, but it is really quite beautiful.  We need food to live; it is one of our most basic necessities.  Yet God, of course, is the only necessity, and He promises to give us exactly what we need in life (Matt 6:25-36).  He wants to feed us; He wants to be our food.  We should not leave Him and try to find food elsewhere; we can only be truly full in Him.

But, as this passage suggests, we need priests to administer the sacraments, to bring the food of Christ to us.  Christ commands His apostles to organize the crowds and distribute the food.  He does not bring the food to the crowd Himself but He "gave [the bread and fish] to the disciples to set before the crowd" (v. 16) Without them, it would have been difficult to feed such a great number of people.  The apostles act as ministers of Christs miracle, just as priests are ministers of the Sacraments today.  Christ performs the miracle and brings it to us through our priests.

I want to be fed by Christ.  My true food is in Him.  Thank God that we have priests to bring it to me.

Jesus, I consume You in the Eucharist so that You may consume me.