Resulting success

No one wants to fail. No one sets out with the intention of failing. We may lack confidence in our ability to succeed, but we all want to succeed in every aspect of life. Yet God does not ask us to be successful, rather He wants us to be faithful. 

As the Bible in a Year podcast transitioned into the successors of Kings David and Solomon, Father Mike Schmitz pointed out that all the wealth gained under David and Solomon was lost within the first generation that followed. But it wasn’t just gold that was lost, but also the unity. David gathered all of Israel under his kingship, yet Solomon’s sons divided it up so that 10 tribes became the kingdom of Israel, and 2 tribes were known as the kingdom of Judah. It is through the kingship line of Judah that Jesus comes. If you recall, Judah means “to praise.” It was the name of one of Jacob’s sons.  

The kingdom of Judah contained the city of Jerusalem where the temple was located.  Under David and Solomon, it  was recognized as the only location where the sacrifice to God could be offered. These sacrifices, described in the book of Leviticus, formed a calendar of worship to God. Without access to the temple, the 10 tribes that broke away lost the ability to adhere to the practices of the faith. This faithlessness resulted in a lack of success for the kingdom of Israel; they were the first to succumb to foreign invaders and soon lost their territory. Even with the ability to worship God as written by Moses, the kingdom of Judah struggled to remain faithful, but they were successful in keeping a remnant of the kingdom even through to the time of Jesus.

King David was not perfect. He failed to be faithful on a number of occasions as documented in the Scriptures. Yet when faced with his sins, he acknowledged his failings and sought reconciliation with God. God blessed David’s efforts to remain faithful to the Lord; it is through His blessings that David found success in spite of his weaknesses.  His son Solomon started out strongly in his kingship, seeking the guidance of God and asking for wisdom to govern the people rightly. God blessed Solomon’s initial humility and eventually his wealth surpassed that of his father David.  Solomon, however, became a victim of the pride that came with that success.  He had many wives and built temples to their gods, diverging from the right praise that David upheld.

There will always be trials and hardships, yet if we remain faithful to God, if we place ourselves into His hands, He will see us through. When we emerge from these trying times, we need to thank God for blessing us with success, rather than taking credit for it. God blesses us with talents and opportunities, so any success of ours is really from Him. When we reap the benefits He sows for us, we should seek to share them with others. When we fall, we can remember the example of David and ask God’s forgiveness. 

We can be only as successful as our faithfulness to God and His will for us. Our faithfulness is not just restricted to our worship of God, but permeates throughout our lives: into our families, relationships, professions, and communities. If we first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (i.e. being faithful to His will), He will shower us with blessings and success beyond measure. We need to be mindful not to get caught up in the blessings and successes, but keep aligned on God’s will for us. 

Word choice

According to a Google search, there are approximately 600,000 words in the English language. These words are the tools we use to communicate to one another, not only in the moment, but also into the future through written and digital form. How well do we use these tools?

The language at my new company is, indeed, different. Yes, I do expect differences in the normal business functions context.  I also expect all the acronyms companies love to generate or repurpose for their own use. Yet I noticed during orientation, one team member talking would thank another team member who was assisting in communicating links to various company websites being mentioned. The specific wording used was: “I appreciate you.” I was fascinated by this saying, especially since I heard it several times during orientation, as well as a few times by my own team members to one another. Reflecting on my own speech, I would normally say, “I appreciate that,” meaning the action that a person did for me. By saying “I appreciate you,” the acknowledgement is on the person, not the action. Wow! How powerful is that?

Another unique phrase I’ve come across in my new company is “cordially required.” The word cordial has its root in Latin word for heart. Originally the word conveyed heartfelt or deep sincerity. The word is used now to convey warmth and welcome. Usually, one is cordially invited to an event. While these company invitations are not to be declined, its use does, however, still convey warmth and welcome. I don’t look at something I’m “cordially required” to attend with the same outlook as I would consider a “mandatory” meeting at my old company. Using the word cordially to explain the meeting type gives me the opportunity to review other meetings that may be scheduled at that time and make this one my priority. A mandatory meeting makes me feel I need to clear my calendar and indicates I will be instructed in that meeting and perhaps penalized if I don’t attend. I don’t even want to refer to something “cordially required” as a meeting, but rather as an event, one in which I am a participant. 

If these two instances of word usage have made an impact on me in the few weeks I’ve been at the company, how much more can we do as Christians and as Catholics to convey to others that we see Christ in them? And it’s not only in speaking, but our writing, which includes our texting and posting to social media? Do we ever pause and think about the potential damage our words can do to others, or the effect our words can have on their perception of Christians if they know our religion? Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh and His words brought healing to many. Our words may not bring the healing that Jesus’ did, however, they can bring comfort, companionship, and counsel to those we encounter. 

Words are what we also use to communicate with God. We order our thoughts and petitions through the words we use. While it can be comforting to use memorized prayers like the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, they do not provide us a pass to let our minds wander while reciting the words. Memorized prayers are meant to focus our concentration more deeply on God, allowing us to explore the mystery of God in ways we haven’t thought of previously. Praying is meant to open our spiritual ear to hear God speaking to us. We need to listen to what we say when we pray and mean what we say. If we pray for the right words to use in difficult situations, we then need to listen to hear what words we need to use. If we pray for the knowledge of how our words are perceived, let us also pray for the wisdom and grace to change how we speak so that we can be more Christ-like. 

We have over a half million words to choose from, let us choose wisely so that our words reflect the positive love of Christ to all who hear and read them.

Being remembered

How many generations can you go back in your family? Do you know their names off the top of your head or do you need to look them up? “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” begins the book of Ecclesiastes. The use of vanity, according to the footnote in New American Bible translation, represents the Hebrew superlative expressing the supreme degree of futility and emptiness. For many, the fleetingness of life is being forgotten within our own family.

Listening to the Bible in a Year podcast as the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes were being read, I was hoping that as the book progressed, I would be able to understand what the author was saying. All I could glean from it was how depressing life is: it is worth nothing and no one is remembered. Yet Fr. Mike Schmitz’s comments that followed unpacked these chapters illustrating it is only in and through God that life makes sense. If life is only reduced to what we experience here and now and has no bearing after we complete our time on earth, then yes, life is nothing but vapor, fleeting and useless. However, if we live our life with the belief and guidance of God, then life does have a purpose and every choice has a meaning. Our ultimate end is whether we want to enjoy the after-life-on-earth within God’s presence or if we choose to turn our backs on Him. 

I really enjoy hearing so much of the Bible read by Fr. Mike. There have been so many names that I would usually glaze over because I did not know how to pronounce them. But hearing those names made me realize just how many people have come before me. I wonder how long they lived; what their favorite food was; what was their favorite story around the fire at night? I think of how the names mentioned carried significance, like Joshua, son of Nun. Who was Nun and why was it so important to identify Joshua as being his son? Were there numerous men named Joshua that they identified the father to tell them apart? Some may say it was the beginning of having a family name, but if that were the case, why aren’t all the names mentioned in conjunction with the paternal relation? While in some areas of scripture, a family line may be traced, Joshua is mentioned specifically as the son of Nun in Deuteronomy (1:38 and 34:9), as well as at the beginning and end of the book of Joshua (1:1 and 24:29). Perhaps Nun was an ordinary man, who lived a life of faith in God that was so strong, he imparted it on his son who was then able to lead the Israelites into the promised land. Nun may not have had the great actions of Moses or even his son, but his ordinary faithfulness was rewarded by God since he is never forgotten as long as the Bible is read. 

There is great power in naming things after people. I remember when I first moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia and kept hearing DeKalb mentioned. There were several renditions of DeKalb used in naming the area roads. It wasn’t until I visited a portrait gallery in the Independence Hall area of Philadelphia that I realized why that name was so important: he was an officer in the Continental Army of the American Revolutionary War. Just like Nun, we may not remember what DeKalb did in the fight for independence, but his name has lived on and used on a daily basis each time mail is delivered to a house on one of many streets that bear his name. 

I see the finger of God at hand through the ages that aligns the reading of Ecclesiastes with the celebration of the Memorial Day weekend in the United States. From the Revolutionary War to the present day conflicts in the Middle East and to all places where our troops are deployed, we take a moment to not only lift up to God those we know who give their life for their country, but also those whose names are known only in heaven. Life may be fleeting and we may be forgotten within a generation or two, yet if we live a God-centered life, we look forward to seeing God after we breathe our last. Perhaps we will spend all eternity meeting those who have preceded us — those within the family of God, and even those who come after us! 

Rules shape the community

We may live in the land of liberty, but that does not mean we are free to do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it. There are rules we refer to as laws that govern how we are to live within our geographical area. There are laws at the national level, but also at the state, county, and city levels. These rules were drafted to maintain order and fairness within our society. However, these are not the only mandates that shape interactions in our daily lives.

My previous company had required its employees to review the policies through a computer-based learning course each year. During the training, several scenarios were presented as a what-would-you-do-in-this-situation, allowing employees to think about words and actions that might be used. The training also underlined that since every offensive scenario cannot be presented, it was important to live in the “spirit” of the policy. I remember as I took the course thinking that most of the training moments would be covered under the 10 Commandments. By living my faith, I would also be living within the guidelines of the company’s policies. It struck me as odd that a company would need to teach these basic rules. However, as many people don’t participate in an organized religion that would teach these basics, it’s up to other communal organizations to identify what they value most to unite the people under a general structure of mutual respect.

During the first week at my new company, I took their training courses. Here again, I’ve found that if I live my faith, my words and actions will comply with the identified framework. The net result of both companies’ policies may be the same (don’t steal, report illegal activity, treat people well, etc.), but the actual wording of each policy conveys a vastly different approach that might shape those who are ruled by it. The previous company took a legal approach in their policies and in their training. It was pointed out that even if something wasn’t specifically mentioned as being wrong, the company could evaluate a given situation to determine that the rules had been broken. In my new company, the guidelines are more casual in their wording and convey a sense of guidance rather than discipline for errant behavior. As a result, the rules are often quoted and used as reasonings for a particular decision. Each month the company leadership highlights a particular rule, diving deeper into what it means to live that rule and examples of the rule in use that provided for a greater good. 

I would guess that many Catholics use the 10 Commandments, expressed as they are in  more of a legal don’t do list, in preparation for confession. I’m not sure they think much more of them. However, the very first Psalm exhorts us to delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). While we can certainly do this with the 10 Commandments, I think the beatitudes that Jesus taught would align more with the attitude my new company has for its rules. We can’t go wrong choosing to be merciful towards others or bringing peace to an uncomfortable situation, as Jesus says those who live this way will be blessed. 

Rules do, indeed, shape our community — from where we live, to how we work, and every aspect of our lives. The words used to craft the framework also illustrate how they will be utilized: either as a hammer to punish when one strays, or as a guiding beacon to go beyond the minimum required, by reason and choice, to live the guidance the rules provide.

Birthday gifts

Usually when we talk about a birthday in regards to the Catholic faith, everyone immediately thinks of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. However, there is another birthday we celebrate at Pentecost: the birthday of our Church.

There was no cake or ice cream at the first Pentecost, and no need for candles for the flames of  fire of the Spirit that we read about. However, there was no shortage of gifts bestowed on the Apostles by the Holy Spirit. After the strong, driving wind and the tongues of fire appeared above the heads of those present in the upper room, evidence of what was received was on full display. Peter spoke to the crowd with fortitude, knowledge, and counsel, which encouraged those listening to be baptized. Strengthened by the gifts, the Apostles began to preach, traveling to places further than they had ever been before; places unknown and unfamiliar to them.

In this age, Pentecost seems like just another Sunday. All the treats and decorations from Easter 50 days ago are all consumed and put away, like the season is over. But from a liturgical standpoint, the last hurrah culminates with this amazing feast. If it had not happened, Christianity may have become a minor religion or a temporary Jewish cult. While we don’t seem to celebrate adequately God’s continued generosity, that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit has stopped pouring out His gifts on us. Bishop Robert Barron, Father Casey Cole, Dr. Scott Hahn, and Matthew Kelly are just a few of the popular evangelists of our time. Yet the Church didn’t spread to only those evangelized by the apostles personally  Rather all the early Christians through word and deed participated in spreading the faith. 

What do you do with a birthday gift? Politely say ‘thank you’ to the giver and bury it in a closet, or seek to return it for something else you prefer? It can seem like some Catholics try to do that  with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, the best presents are those that we use and use often. The Spirit’s gifts are of no benefit if only hidden away. He gives us charisms to be used: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and counsel are not static gifts, but rather dynamic actions that must be cultivated and practiced. If we want knowledge, we need to seek it out. We cannot give good counsel until we gain understanding by practicing our beliefs in a concrete manner, not just intellectually.  And we don’t know fortitude unless we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and put into challenging situations, especially ones where we have to defend our faith. It may be uncomfortable, yet the apostles literally went out of their comfort zone to spread the Gospel, not by themselves, but with the grace and strength provided to them by the Holy Spirit. In all that we seek, say, and act, if we fully embrace the gifts of the Spirit, it is not our doing, but Jesus working within us.

We are the Church and it is our birthday that we celebrate — one that links us from the very beginning, through all the previous ages and into the future. Wear something red in honor of  Church this weekend as a reminder of the fire of that first Pentecost and your own Confirmation. Have some cake to celebrate and use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you! Unlike a regular birthday gift, you can never exhaust or wear out the gifts from the Spirit; He is the giver that keeps on giving! 

Caught in distraction

The verdict is guilty. The charge is distraction during prayer.

Last week during the monthly holy hour at my church, Father gave a brief homily after reading from scripture. He talked about being present in body, but having a mind that is elsewhere. It’s not uncommon, not only in prayer but at other times as well, and it’s something that we’re all guilty of doing. Ironically, in the private prayer session before his reading and reflection, I found myself thinking about all the things I had to complete for my current job before starting my new one, and then wondering about what my new job would entail. Father’s words felt like they had hit the target dead center. It was almost like he was reading my mind!

I did feel a bit guilty about my mind wandering while I was at adoration. Here’s Jesus present in the Eucharist and visible in a beautiful monstrance and I was caught up in myself.  I can’t even remember how my mind started to wander; it may have been in thanking God for the new job. When I realized where my train of thought was, I did apologize and place all that was consuming me in the Lord’s hands. I want to do my best and wrap things up at my current job to lessen the sting of my leaving. I also want to start out well in the new chapter of my career, one that I believe God had a hand in orchestrating. These are weighty subjects and one can explain away why I was so easily consumed in thinking about them. Just because there are reasons for the distractions however, it does not mean that I should indulge them when they come.

I recall hearing that distractions will occur at prayer, and we should acknowledge them and let them pass, and allow our mind to return to our prayer. Condemning ourselves when we find our minds wandering will not stop it from happening in the future, and may be a cause of stress, worry, and more distraction. Perhaps some of our mind wanderings during prayer could help reveal what we need to bring to God in prayer. Conversing with God is what prayer is all about. If we bring our entire selves to prayer — body, soul, mind, and emotion, it seems only natural that deeper recesses of ourselves will clammer for God’s attention. 

God knows us even better than we know ourselves. While He is merciful to us in our distractions, and knows this is part of human nature, I think He blesses us even more when we realize our focus has slipped in prayer and return to seeking Him. He loves us so much He sent His Son so that we can be in communion with Him. If within our busy lives we take the time to still ourselves and be present to Him, our efforts to seek a relationship with Him will have more lasting blessings than any punishment we might give ourselves for being distracted. 

Encouragement for the journey

How would you expect God to reach out to you? Through passages in the Bible? Through Mass or reconciliation? Perhaps even through a family member or a friend? All those seem like logical sources for God’s wisdom. Perhaps He tried to get through to me using one of these methods and I missed the message. But of all things, I certainly didn’t expect God to speak to me through a cozy murder mystery story.

I have been following Fr. Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year podcast and I have learned so much in the four months I’ve been listening. However, recently I wanted to pick up a book to read purely for entertainment, something that didn’t require too much thinking to read. With a love for Scotland, knitting, and mysteries, I loaded my e-reader with Murder in a Scottish Shire by Traci Hall. The heroine of the story is a single mom who owns a yarn stop and she’s dealing with many changes in her life. She may even need to relocate her shop. As she struggles to come to terms with the changes, she’s often reminded of positive things about change that her grandmother shared. These sayings certainly seemed to apply to what was going on in my life as well.

I officially gave notice to my company and am preparing to begin a new job, however, I’ve been plagued by doubts about this huge change. While the platform I’ll be working on is the same, it is a newer version. Add that to almost 20 years at the same company, and it’s not surprising that I’m feeling all sorts of fear and anxiety. 

“‘Change is opportunity, and only a fool fears it!’ Gran’s voice shouted in her head.” That line stopped me in my tracks. It was then that I realized all the negative thoughts I’ve been having about switching jobs were fear of the unknown. The new job is an excellent opportunity and I really am thrilled to embark on this new path in my career. This line from the book was like the voice of God reassuring me that I made the right decision. As I paused and reflected on this line, I felt nothing but comfort and peace. And then I started chuckling, realizing God certainly has a sense of humor and only He could speak so eloquently through another’s writing. 

I should not have been surprised. As the author of life, God can speak to us through all of what’s around us: people, animals, plants, music, or any other vehicle He chooses. I don’t believe in coincidences. I was not actively looking for a job, yet one was practically wrapped up with a bow and presented to me. I hadn’t been reading fiction for months and to pick out the one novel that I not only found enjoyable, but that conveyed the very encouragement I needed  cannot be chalked up as a fluke. It is the very hand of God waving hello to me, letting me know He’s here on the journey with me. He knows best how to communicate with me. What an awesome God He is!

Need versus want

Do you need God? Or do you want God? Does it matter? Yes! We tend to use these words interchangeably, but I think wanting God is subtly better to needing Him. 

A recruiter recently reached out to me and over the course of several rounds of interviews they indicated they wanted me. It was a rather intoxicating feeling to be wanted. Not just that my skill set matched what they were looking for, as the job I initially interviewed for  was not the best fit for me. Because of my eclectic career path, I could fit in several different groups at the company, and they wanted to find where I would fit best before extending me an offer. We discussed several potential positions before an offer was made. Being wanted has fueled my desire to join the company and motivates me to stretch myself to do more than my very best.  

I know I need God and He knows that I need Him. While I do seek out a relationship with Him, needing God in my life does not require much effort. If I engage in a relationship with God only when I need Him, I may spend more time ignoring Him than seeking Him out. Having a relationship solely based on need may also make me resentful when I have to reach out to Him for help. While a need-based relationship may be more robust than that; however it can also promote stagnation, limiting us to just what is comfortable.

To have a relationship with God built on want, we must pray for that: God, I want to want you. I want the desire to want to do God’s will. I want to see what God wants in the circumstances of my daily life.” To want God in a relationship is to actively look for Him in every situation we experience. Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [our daily needs] shall be yours as well.” (Matt 6:33) Wanting God is to seek Him above any of our other desires. By filling up with God, we can better serve Him in our daily decisions and tasks as well as in the monumental life choices like accepting a new job or moving to a different state. Wanting God allows us to look for His blessings the way He wants to provide them, rather than having a narrow vision that reflects our own expectations.  

Wanting God is a choice each of us has to make for ourselves. It’s a lot easier to stay in a relationship of need with God, but if we seek out a relationship built on our want of God, His generosity will far surpass our needs.

Hungry for the Lord

Vera has not met a string she has not found tasty. This includes my scapular. During a recent cuddle time, as she tried for the countless time to yank the thread around my neck into her mouth, I told her that she couldn’t eat Jesus! She gives a whole new meaning to, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:9)

It’s one thing for her to spy the scapular during the summer, when the cut of shirts are more open. In the winter, I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. However, now that she knows it’s there, she looks for it, trying to move my shirt out of the way if she doesn’t see it. While it can get tiresome trying to pet her and at the same time discourage her from eating it, I have to give her credit for her persistence. In this simple, repetitive action, I can complain about what she is doing or I can dive deeper. She may think the string around my neck is tasty, but do I think the same of God? Am I as persistent in searching for Him as Vera is for my scapular? While even the Psalm instructs us to taste the Lord, is that meant to be the Eucharist host, or something more? 

Hunger is a basic response of the body, yet it is used to describe our yearning for more than just food. We can be hungry for love, power, fame, accomplishment, or almost anything. To describe the need for God as being a hunger is very appropriate, as it expresses our core desire for Him. Tasting what we are hungry for is our interaction with what we desire. Tasting is also indicative of having a small amount. We don’t need much to realize how good God is to us. Yet that little experience can change our whole lives. 

I think in order to taste the goodness of the Lord is to allow Him into our life without constraints. We need to let Him be our God: to listen to Him, to let Him lead us, and to trust Him with our whole lives. This is difficult because we have become accustomed to “junk food,” and we crave that over what God provides. But God is always walking with us, waiting for us to take a bite of what He offers, to turn our midnight cravings into conversations with Him, and to balance our diet with a healthy serving of a relationship that only He can satisfy. 

Got peace?

Peace be with you. What does peace mean to you: a silent place, a sense of inner tranquility, or perhaps a state devoid of conflict? All of the above? 

In this era of instant everything, noise seems to be all around us, as if we are burying ourselves in it. At the grocery store, one of the customers seemed to be dancing as he was picking out his produce. I realized a few minutes later that he was listening to music from his phone via earbuds, so he really was swaying with the music! From music and audio books, podcasts and conversations, to notifications and reminders, our mobile phones have become one of our main sources of noise in our lives. Not that any of the functions of the phone are a bad thing in and of themselves. However, we often let a noise maker, like technology, dictate our lives; we live in response to it. The question is, would we want to spend any time without our noisy distractions? 

Our brains work overtime trying to filter the noise we take in from the world around us. Our emotions can be a roller coaster ride as we react to not only what we hear, but also to the thoughts and feelings that can be triggered as a result. Each of us has our own unique triggers that cause disturbances within us. In some sense, that’s all part of the human experience. Similar to the noise level around us, if we live in constant reaction to fear, anxieties, and judgements, our lives become one of avoidance and isolation. 

While we say we want to live in harmony, our first instinct is to assess the world around us. We pass judgement with every interaction and observation. This is mine and that is yours: we divide the world up and take ownership. While we may talk about treating everyone  equally, do we really want to have more than others, get treated better or have more power and influence than others?  

In His Last Supper discourse, Jesus tells the Apostles that he leaves them His peace, one which is different from the world. (John 14:27). He uses a greeting of peace when He appears to them after the resurrection. This is a reminder for them, that they can put their trust in Him and all of His teachings. It’s also a reminder for us during the Mass, at the beginning as well as at the sign of peace after we pray the Our Father together. God’s peace is available to us; however, we need to trust in Him. Like the early Christians, we need to live, not for ourselves and our benefit, but rather for the benefit of others. What can we share, how can we help — these spiritual and physical (corporal) works of mercy are actions that bring the peace of Christ into this world. 

Peace is not something we obtain and keep for ourselves. It is the loving response to others; actions performed not for our benefit, but wholly for the betterment of the world in which we live. It is the faith-filled trust that God will be with us always, no matter what may happen. “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid,” Jesus told His Apostles. Yet it was only after the resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit that they were sufficiently emboldened to share and teach the peace they received from Jesus. Let us confidently ask Jesus during this Easter season to show us how to bring His peace into our lives so that we can share it in our little corner of the world.