How would you describe what it means to help? Is it someone rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to complete a task? Is it someone riding in and saving the day? Or is it opening your perspective to another’s?
While all three could define the word help, when we seek God’s help it may be the second one that we prefer, but it is the third one that actually occurs. It’s not unusual to pray to God for a specific outcome, even Jesus did that in His agony, so we are in good company. However, He did ask for the Father’s will to be done, whatever that might be. Too often it seems like we place our order for an outcome and then are disappointed when it does not happen as we desired. We may even conclude our prayers were not heard or answered. But perhaps the truth is that we were the ones that were not listening.
Asking for help can be scary. First we need to admit that we cannot do something. Then we need to listen to the one who is in a position to help us. Can you imagine seeking the aid of a piano teacher to learn how to play the instrument and then ignoring everything he or she instructs you to do? Sometimes the remedy for our situation is not to our liking. As in the case of learning the piano, playing scales is not something most enjoy. It can be tedious and boring, but it is building a foundation and creating finger memories of the keys. And from learning the piano to asking for divine help, the resolution may not be instantaneous, it may come only after much time and the hard work of practice.
If we look to God for help, we need to be open, ready to accept anything. It means being humble and trusting in Him. When the occasional news story features a young child that saved a parent or family member by calling 911, it seems to surprise us, but why should it? The child’s actions are exactly the way we are to relate to God. A young child knows they cannot fix the situation, so they turn to whomever they think can, and sometimes that means calling 911. When we are in a situation we know we cannot change through human efforts, we need to turn to God the Father. It’s one thing to make the call, so to speak, but it is the next step that is truly important: trust. A young child trusts that whatever the 911 operator tells them will be the right thing to do. They do not second guess, they just do it to the best of their ability. We may call to God when we need His aid, but do we trust Him and follow what He tells us to do?
A humble and trusting heart does not seek its own will, but rather that of its Creator. May God convert our selfish stone hearts to open ones that not only seek His help, but follow where he leads.
The letters of Saint Paul give us timeless pearls of wisdom. This past Sunday’s reading from his second letter to the Corinthians (12:7-10) illustrates that he, too, was subject to trials and temptations. Yet even in weakness, he chooses to boast of his weakness to praise God.
I know Jesus is with me always, even when it seems like He is not close. Yet there is something about trials and temptations that make one feel completely alone. When you’re in the midst of that moment, it’s hard to feel like praising God. Rather you feel like you want to wave your arms over your head and shout up at the sky, “Hello, I’m down here! Remember me?! Can you help me out?” But what if we did praise God in that moment? What would it look like?
Would we thank God for the opportunity to be tried or tempted? Would we thank Him for not answering our prayers the way we want? Would we rejoice that we are found worthy of the difficulty? In our modern era, suffering and tribulation are seen as experiences to be avoided; rejoicing when in such circumstances sounds absurd. Yet if we ponder on the words of Jesus to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9),” what other reaction could we possibly have? To act miserably would be to refuse the grace God is giving us.
Perhaps my favorite of all Paul’s writings is in Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again. Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4) He does not ask us to just be happy, but to Rejoice!, and he repeats it for emphasis. He then goes on to say, “Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude.” (Phil 4:6) To me, that sounds a lot like being thankful in our times of tribulations.
So the next time we want to look towards heaven to say, “Really? Did You need to give me this?,” we need to check ourselves and say, “Thank you Jesus! You’ve given this to me and I know you will see me through it!” It may be a little challenging at first, and initially the enthusiasm may be a bit lacking, but if we persevere, we may be surprised at the outcome.
To some degree, we are all hypocrites. We profess our faith and morals, but we struggle to live up to them. Yet we are judged, condemned, and dismissed.
According to Merriam-Webster, one of the definitions of hypocrisy is “The false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.” It derives from a Greek word meaning playing a part on the stage, pretending to be something one is not. If we follow Jesus and His example, we need to love all people. To love another is not necessarily a warm, fuzzy feeling, but rather a choice to ‘will the good of the other’ as Bishop Robert Barron often explains. We can say we do; we can have the intention of doing it; but when it comes down to the choices we make, do we always do it? Do we do it when we drive our cars? Do we do it when another annoys us? Or do we complain about others being in the way or gossiping about a negative encounter? If we don’t practice what we believe, doesn’t that make us hypocrites?
While we can realize what we have done, be remorseful and confess our shortcomings to Jesus, the hypocritical actions may have consequences we do not even realize. I’ve heard it said a number of times by those who do not profess any religion, that the reason is because of hypocrites. I’m not sure if they choose not to participate in a religion because they don’t want to associate with people they deem hypocrites or that they don’t want to be judged as one. Yet it’s very easy to look around our own parish family and pass judgement on those from whom we expect more charity. If a person is going through a difficult circumstance, we may be praying for them and choose to give them their space to work through it, or choose not to say anything so they will not be embarrassed. However the lack of action can be seen, and judged, as being lazy, cold or uncaring. Jesus warns us about passing judgement on others, lest we be judged.
Jesus, our just judge, often called the Pharisees hypocrites. He reprimanded their behavior, speaking plainly about it, so that we can learn from their mistakes. The first step, is not to judge another as a hypocrite, or even more, not to judge another’s actions at all, leaving that to Jesus.
In a recent Gospel, Jesus comments about judging others and advises, “…first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) The whole faith journey is about improving and aligning, not just ourselves but all we come in contact with, to God’s will. It does need to start with each one of us, and the eye is not the only place where we will find stumbling blocks.
Passion is what drives many people. Others may refer to it as what we love: our families and friends, our neighborhoods, our careers, and the list continues. To describe it, we would say that it comes from the heart. So, what’s all in your heart? Do you share it with Jesus? All of it? It’s very easy to say that we do and very hard when it comes to the practice of it. When illness, strife, work and activities vie for our time, we say they lay heavy on our hearts. But imagine being small enough to be next to your heart and take inventory of it as you would a closet. How big and bulky are the items that are weighing you down? Can you even get in the closet of your heart? Now imagine wrangling items out of your heart and giving them to Jesus. What do you think He would do with them?
I picture Jesus taking the items from me and placing them in His heart. It’s a powerful image to consider. The things that I care about, so does He! But He will also put things into perspective as well. Just because they are important to me does not mean that I need to drag them around and worry about them. We carry around these stumbling blocks, not realizing that they are taking up precious space that should really belong to Jesus. Just like our physical hearts can get clogged up with cholesterol, our spiritual hearts can do the same with all the things we hold in there. And just like our physical heart, even if it gets cleaned out, we have to be cautious and watchful that it doesn’t get clogged up again.
Our Blessed Mother Mary, who was known to keep the actions and sayings of Jesus in her heart (Luke 2:51), can be a guide for us. She pondered the will of God and joyfully did it. Her thoughts and actions stemmed from a pure love of God; the passion that drove her to say ‘Yes’ to the annunciation as well as following Jesus to the hill of Calvary. Let us ask her to help us to unite our hearts with hers and Jesus’ and to help clear our hearts from the stumbling blocks that have built up in them.
The commencement speech by Admiral McRaven, providing reasons why a person should make his bed in the morning, prompted me to think about my routines and what equates to a successful day. I devised a list of five key activities to make each day successful. Three items are completed prior to other activities and two before bed.
As the Admiral indicated, the first thing to do after getting up out of bed in the morning is to make it. It does give a person a sense of accomplishment; plus, on days that are trying, a made bed is not nearly as inviting to go back to as a unmade bed. The second thing to do is pray. While it may seem a no-brainer on a Catholic faith blog, it is something that needs to be planned for and accommodated. I usually read the Magnificat morning prayers, the Mass readings and the reflection and then follow up with a rosary. All that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how focused (or awake) I am. Morning prayers are essential, as they provide a prospective to God acting both in your life and in the world.
Lastly for the morning routine is to take care of the dishes. It only takes a few moments to place the items in the dishwasher and I find it so encouraging to come home to a clean kitchen. I discovered, however, the days when I run the dishwasher at night as I’m heading off to bed, I usually end up leaving the breakfast dishes in the sink next morning. Unfortunately, those work days seem to be more stressful and I end up leaving the dinner dishes keeping the breakfast ones company in favor of having some “me” time. Realizing the chain of events that kept happening, I saw how important it is to not just take the time, but to make the time to unload/reload the dishwasher. There seems to be more “me” benefit to having an orderly kitchen then the few extra minutes I’d have doing something else.
After learning my lesson with dishes, the first action item to finish out the day on successful note is to clean up the dinner dishes! Even if the day was a complete failure, you have a made bed and a clean kitchen from the morning; why allow failure to continue? After cleaning up dinner, the next activity is evening prayer. The Magnificat evening prayer only takes about 5 minutes to read, although meditation can take longer. Taking the time to connect again with God about the high (blessing) and the low (suffering) points completes the perspective of God acting in your life. Thanking Him for the blessings and the ability to suffer through our trials can put both in perspective. Life’s not meant to be all of blessings or trials, but reflecting on our daily lives can provide a sense of peace and purpose to each.
Pulling back the bedcovers at the end of the day, if the only thing we accomplished are those five actions, we can call that day successful. We started the day with accomplishments and renewed our relationship with God. We completed the day by not letting the day’s failure to continue and brought our focus back to one who is the center of our lives.
As part of the gift I gave my niece on her high school graduation was a magnet that read, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I’m wondering if I really bought it for her, or because I need to be reminded of that.
Jesus’ teaching challenged the comfort zone during His time on earth, but He also continues to challenge us in our time, especially in a secular culture. While it may not seem a big issue today, when Jesus talked to a woman He did not know, He was breaking a big taboo from His culture. Today, it may be easier for us to remain silent rather than speak the truth, but that is what we are called to do. Just like the woman at the well that Jesus spoke to, when He ignited her heart with the truth, she left her water jug and went to announce that truth to those who had previous shunned her. By our actions and our words, we are called to evangelize and bring the good news of Jesus to those around us.
As I search for a new job, some family suggested that I apply to companies closer to where they are located. While I don’t want to waste the time and resources of another company if I’m not ready to consider relocating to a different state, trying to determine if this is God’s will for me is not easy. I love my parish now and am active in many different ways. I have the opportunity for daily Mass and adoration is available 12 or more hours each day. Researching parishes in the new area, they seem to be active in different ways and may not have daily Mass or adoration. If my faith support system is not there, is a move a good option? Or am I so comfortable in my routine now that the thought of not having the same in the new location is serving as a deterrent? Perhaps moving to a location would allow me to try new ministries and grow my faith in different ways. Maybe the real challenge to my comfort zone is: can I allow Jesus to lead me where He wants me to go by providing a job offer in the location where I am to be, either my current location or a new one?
Jesus never promised His followers that life would be easy or that we would be comfortable with everything He asks us to do. He only promises that He will be with us every step of the way and that by doing His will, we will be happy in this life and forever with Him in the next.
We measure it in the smallest of increments. We use it to mark milestone achievements and to remember special occasions. We complain about never having enough, but usually waste more of it than we should. Time is a precious gift from God, when have you thanked Him for it?
Time and space are two aspects that apply to God’s creation, but not to God. He is beyond time and space since He is eternal. He is without beginning or end. Yet He chose to become a part of His creation at a particular moment. Jesus, the second person in the Triune God, experienced the effects of a body changing from a wee babe to an adult man. I wonder if, as a child, was He able to heal Himself immediately after scraping His knees? Or was He patient and let His body heal over time? He celebrated special occasions, like the wedding feast of Cana. And He experienced tears as He wept at Lazarus’ tomb, even though He knew He would bring him back to life. Being united with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit did not lessen the intensity of the pain and suffering of His Passion and Death; He felt each strike and lived each moment of agony. Yet it was all a gift of time for us.
Being in time and space allows us to journey, to prepare ourselves for eternity. We are given the option to choose: with God or without God. In order to be able to make the final choice upon death, we need to know a bit about what we are either choosing or declining. Every day we get the opportunity to meet God through His creation and learn more about Him. We get to practice following the example that Jesus gave us. If we say ‘no’ to Him one day, we can change our minds the next and say ‘yes.’ Saying ‘no’ to God damages the relationship we have with Him, but through the sacrament of reconciliation, we have the opportunity to repair the relationship and repent of our choices. All this is possible with the gift of time and through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
We cannot speed it up and we can’t slow it down. We can only live each moment we are given. Let us live each one through the grace of God, with the peace of God and for the love of God.