In a recent video by Fr. Mike Schmitz, The Price of Forgiveness, he calls a distinction between saying “Sorry” and asking for forgiveness. When reflecting on this, the oddest thought popped into my head: the game of whack-a-mole, only instead of moles, it was our sins.

Originally created in Japan in the 1970’s, the whack-a-mole game typically features a number of holes from where moles randomly pop up and the player uses a mallet to strike the mole back into the hole. The timing of the moles popping up increases with play until the time limit is reached, usually well beyond a person’s ability to correctly see and strike the mole when it pops up. 

In trying to live a life of faith and avoid sin, we can end up in a pattern similar to the game. When we seriously approach the sacrament of reconciliation, we commit to avoiding sinning in the same way again. While thankfully God does not limit how many times we can be forgiven for the same sin, we are still obliged to try avoiding it. Sometimes we pick one sin to focus on, investigating the whys and hows in order to determine what we need to do to elude the sin again. Then when we feel confident, we pick another sin to focus on, only to realize we’ve relapsed into the sin we thought we conquered. It can be incredibly frustrating, just like a game of whack-a-mole, where our sins keep popping up despite all of our efforts. 

Perhaps the whack-a-mole effect is when we say “Sorry” to God, even being contrite, but feeling that the habitual sin is too strong to avoid. If we take the weight of that sin into our spiritual hands and own it, as Fr. Mike describes, could we dig deeper into that sin and allow God’s grace to penetrate and slowly heal us? Can we imagine our lives without committing that sin? Or, is it like a nicely worn pair of slippers that we insist on wearing, simply because they are comfortable? Perhaps we are convinced that we are solely responsible for changing ourselves and we are trying to prove to God that we can change. Or just maybe, we see the sin as a challenge and enjoy playing the game, flirting with the sin despite its tendency to frustrate us. 

The objection could be raised as St. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians that “a thorn was given me in the flesh, as messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” Even after begging God to remove it, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12: 7-9) God can certainly use our sin patterns to teach us compassion for others, compassion for ourselves, and to bring us closer to Him. However, most of us are not like Paul, nor do we enjoy the same type of relationship with God  he did. I think the most important take-away from Paul’s statement, is that he, too, was a sinner even after he converted to follow Jesus Christ. We should use this as a tool to deflect discouragement when we find ourselves repeating the same sin, but not use it as an excuse to continue sinning and taking God’s mercy for granted.  

I don’t want to play games with God’s mercy. The price Jesus willingly paid for my sins and the relationship I strive to have with Him requires me to seek His forgiveness, His mercy, and His help. Eternal life with Him is too precious to risk in an endeavor that has no winner. 

Laughter in the Bible

I didn’t expect to see the word laugh that often in the Bible. After over 245 episodes of the Bible in a Year podcast, it was the last chapter of Daniel that caught me by surprise. Daniel laughed at the king for his belief in Bel, the god of the Babylonians.

I was familiar with a few of the stories in Daniel, but this one was new to me. The king, who is friends with Daniel, inquires as to why Daniel does not believe Bel to be a living god, based on the amount of food the god consumes. “Daniel began to laugh. ‘Do not be deceived, O king,’ he said; ‘it is only clay inside and bronze outside; it has never taken any food or drink.’” (Dan 14:7) The king is enraged and suggests that the priest prove that Daniel is blaspheming, with the result being either the death of the priests or the death of Daniel. The priests agree and have the king set the food out in the temple and secure the door with his signet. Prior to the sealing of the door, Daniel has ashes distributed on the floor. The next day the seal is unbroken when the king and Daniel return. At first the king is delighted to see the food consumed. “But Daniel laughed and kept the king from entering. ‘Look at the floor,’ he said; ‘whose footprints are these?’ ‘I see the footprints of men, women, and children!’ said the king.” (Dan 14:19-20) The priests then show the hidden entrance by which they and their families come and consume the food, which results in their death.

Not just once, but twice does Daniel laugh in reaction to the king. At first it seems an odd reaction, yet there could be multiple reasons for this. The beginning of the chapter does indicate that Daniel is friends with the sovereign. Perhaps the friendship is so deep, that Daniel’s reaction is one that we would all share if someone we were close to had an incorrect assumption. I don’t think Daniel is laughing at the king, as if the king was inferior to Daniel’s wisdom. I think it shows the true bond of friendship that Daniel had with the king, including laughing at each other’s moments of silliness. 

Another possibility is Daniel’s age. He has been in the courts of several of the Babylonian kings. Perhaps his laughter was more from a wise person who sees the passionate, and stubborn, beliefs of youth. I’m not as fond of this possibility because it does lend itself to Daniel thinking himself superior to the king. Even if Daniel’s age gave  him a higher level of wisdom than the king, the rest of the book of Daniel doesn’t show him as the type to have a superiority complex. 

Lastly, Daniel may have laughed because of his firm belief in the Lord God of his ancestors. Previous stories of Daniel also illustrate wise methods for addressing those who are lying. Perhaps his wisdom is divinely inspired due to his complete and total worship of the one, true God. Daniel relies on God for everything, and even though his life was threatened because of his worship, he was unwavering in his beliefs. Throughout the various rulers, Daniel held fast to his belief in God, and was rewarded with positions of power and relationship with kings. This is the kind of faith in God that I want, one that will have me laughing despite having my earthly life at risk. 

Whether it was one reason or a combination of all three, it was nice to see laughter in the Bible. Perhaps it’s also a bit of a challenge to us to cultivate strong friendships with others, so that we can explore others’ feelings and beliefs and share the good news of our beliefs with them in return.

Practicing patience

I think I’m a remedial student when it comes to the virtue of patience. As much as I think I am relaxed in most circumstances, I am surprised when I find myself anxious and frustrated.

As I got in line at the grocery store the other day, I could see the large, dark clouds gathering above. While the drive home was a short three minutes away, I did feel a bit annoyed as the woman in front of me allowed her child to reach into the cart and put things on the conveyor belt. In looking back, the small child was rather cute, and had to step up on the rail of the cart above the wheels in order to be tall enough to reach a hand over the side of the cart to pull whatever was high enough to grasp. One item at a time was all the child could handle. Thankfully the woman was putting most of the items on the conveyor, but the slow pace of the child, as well as the woman keeping an eye out, seemed to make her progress slow. I made it home just as large drops of rain started coming down from the sky, but at least it was before the heavens really opened up for it to pour. It was a little exercise, a practice in patience, and I felt like I failed it. Who cares if I get a little wet bringing in the groceries? It’s not like anything I have will melt in the rain. I didn’t have a long journey home, and while I don’t like thunderstorms, being in a car is probably the safest place I can be. Even though my irritation was minor, it’s that much less peace I have for whenever the next practice of patience comes my way.

Patience is a key virtue for letting go and letting God handle your life. I pray for it every morning, “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” Yet even when I know there is nothing I can do, instead of relaxing and looking at the change of routine as an opportunity for a different perspective, I am anxious and feel troubled and frustrated. Waiting for a repair person is something that should not bring stress and worry, and yet it does. Even when a window of time is given, it makes every minute waiting both an eternity and lightning fast. Every time I check out the window for the company’s van, I feel like I’m checking a pot on the stove to see if it’s boiling yet. The repair person will not come any quicker if I continue to look out the window. My home is not that big that I cannot hear the doorbell from every room in the house. As the minutes tick by, it’s hard not to think about the possibility of what’s wrong and how much it will be to fix it. All of it is out of my hands. I cannot affect any of it. So why is my peace so disturbed? Why can’t I relax and let God handle everything? And then I remember: this is practice, perhaps even a little exam in patience. 

I can’t control or affect the weather. I need to be mindful of it, but I cannot fear it or let worry about it run my life. And like the weather, there is a plethora of things that are outside of my control. The only thing I can control is my response to them. God, in His eternal wisdom, will continue to try and teach me to rely on Him. I am thankful He chooses these types of challenges for me, and thankful that He is merciful when my response is less than what it should be. 

Not feeling it

The other day started out rather frustrating. Nothing big or terrible, but just little things that put me in a cranky mood. I told God I didn’t want to be cranky, yet as the day progressed the little things kept getting more and more aggravating. Why was this happening?

We all have bad days and while I tried to chalk it up to being one of those days, it was still hard to plow through. I was glad it was a weekend so that I wasn’t grumpy with work colleagues, but even that thought didn’t lighten my spirit. I used my favorite mug,  but my smile seemed bittersweet. I had some chocolate as a treat after lunch, but it was rather unsatisfying. I worked on my spinning wheel and even making the progress I did, I felt no better then when I first started out the day. It almost seemed like the more I tried, the more miserable I felt, which then made me feel even more miserable because I was feeling miserable.

As I began to reflect on my feelings, I realized that just because my favorite mug didn’t make me happy, doesn’t mean I’ll never use it again. The same goes for eating chocolate, as I know in the future it will taste lovely and bring a smile to my face. I have way too much wool that is practically calling my name, so when I get a spare hour or so, I know I will enjoy the creative process of making yarn and knitting or weaving it. My feelings may enhance or challenge the things I use, consume, and do, but they are not the only indicator. The same is true for religion. While feelings of joy and peace serve to enhance our relationship with God, they do not define it.

I did tell God that I didn’t want to be cranky, yet He allowed it. He allowed me to eat, drink, and work with a sad spirit. No, that was not cruel of Him, as it illustrated to me that I shouldn’t base decisions on feelings. I have a relationship with Him and I put my trust in Him, not how I feel. It also seemed to underscore Peter’s response into this past Sunday’s Gospel, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

At the end of the day, I did feel a sense of peace because of being thankful. I appreciate the opportunity to trust in God when I am cranky. Thankful I did not blame Him for my bad mood, or that it stayed the whole day when I asked Him to make it go away. Thankful for the chance to practice being poor in spirit, that is not being addicted to happy feelings. And, perhaps most of all, that tomorrow is another day and I’ll have another chance of making it a bright one.

Deposit of faith

The end of Matthew’s Gospel could be used as the statement to sum up the Catholic Church: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The words recorded by Matthew were received by the Apostles. After being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the emboldened disciples not only preached, but also most gave their lives for the faith. The direction is not just to the Jewish people, but all people. The call for baptism is a visible sign of the person’s change towards a life in relationship with Jesus. The baptized now become part of the community with the Divine. The teachings are more than the Mosaic Law followed by the Jews, but a law taken to a higher level, a law of being: the Beatitudes. Jesus promises His presence will remain, not just in the memory of the Apostles, but alive in the community — through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit leading the Church. 

I’ve heard it on more than one occasion the suggestion that the Catholic Church is an old fuddy-duddy institution and needs to get with the times. The wheels of change seem to move too slowly in the Catholic Church. Yet the whole point of the Church is to preserve what Jesus taught and to continue teaching in each generation. Upon the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II says, “Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church, and which she fulfills in every age.” The revised Catechism is rich and deep, and is a product of the inspiration wrought from the Second Vatican Council. I love the words Pope John Paul II uses in describing it. “The principal task entrusted to the Council by Pope John XXIII was to guard and present better the precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all people of good will. For this reason the Council was not first of all to condemn the errors of the time, but above all to strive calmly to show the strength and beauty of the doctrine of the faith.” (emphasis added)

While some may think reading the Catechism is a great way to fall asleep, that can be said of any textbook someone tries to read for entertainment. The Catechism is not a story, rather it contains an in-depth plunge into each line of the creed, each of the sacraments, the necessities of living a moral life, the ten Commandments, as well as an entire section dedicated to prayer. This amazing tool can inspire the faithful and help guide and clarify when questions arise. It illustrates why we can’t ask the Church to change based on what our secular culture wants. 

In each generation the practices of the Church look a bit different, especially when compared to the societal ways of each time. I think it can be hard in our modern standards to realize just how rebellious Jesus was. No man would even talk to a woman who was not in his family, yet Jesus spoke to many, healing them too. While charity does have its roots in the Jewish faith, the Christian tradition took it to new levels. Today, it is so commonplace, it has become ordinary —  part of the fabric of what it means to be human. It is upon us Catholics to continue, as members of the Church, making disciples of all nations, by our being. As we observe the commandments of Jesus, we continue weaving the fabric of the Divine into our world.  

The faith is a true treasure, and the Church not only guards it against the cultural weaknesses in each era, but celebrates and brings to life all those who seek its wealth. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Holy Spirit will inspire next!

Faces and veils

I finished reading C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, the feature book of the Word on Fire Institute Book Club. This was my first time participating in the book club and it was the author that drew me in. I’ve read a number of Lewis’ works, and while I’d like to say this time was the first time I read the book, it’s actually the first time I actually finished the book. 

The novel is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and while I was not familiar with the original, I believe the story does stand on its own. As I began reading the story, it did seem rather familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out how. I started the novel on my tablet and then began to wonder if I had the physical book. I found that, indeed I did, complete with a bookmark not far into the story. It is written from the point of view of Orual, a princess of Glome who is documenting how the gods have wronged her, especially the local goddess Ungit. One thing is made clear: from a young age Orual has been judged by all as ugly.

As the oldest daughter of a King who only has daughters, Orual has little value in her world. A Greek slave who is brought in to help with correspondence becomes her tutor, not just in reading and writing, but also in philosophy and religion, discouraging belief in the local goddess. When the King’s second wife dies in childbirth with yet another daughter, Orual becomes a doting mother figure to the girl she refers to as Psyche. Together with the grandfatherly figure of the Greek slave, Orual pours out all her love onto Psyche. But the love that is given is with a price. Orual expects Psyche to listen and obey her since she took it upon herself to raise the girl. What seems like an idyllic life, is really ownership and manipulation masquerading as love. 

When Orual’s expectations cause a rift and banishment from Psyche, she takes to wearing a veil constantly. She succeeds her father to become Queen of Glome. While it seems her reign was a benefit to her subjects, her lifetime was spent harboring resentment to the goddess and to Psyche. “Weakness, and work, are two comforts the gods have not taken from us,” she says. While I can understand that work can be a comfort, I’m still trying to see how weakness can be comforting. Perhaps in wearing the veil to hide her ugliness, which she perceives as her weakness, she finds comfort that she can see others while they cannot see her. 

What struck me most about this tale is that even though it takes place in a pre-Christian era, it could be a modern day story. With so many self-help programs and a culture that seeks its own interests, Orual is the figure of what life is like for so many who are just seeking to fulfill the “I.” The veil, to me, is a barrier so that she is not judged on her looks, yet extends beyond that to prevent her from truly seeing the others around her. The judgement passed on her for her looks is doubled back to everyone she encounters in the expectation of what-have-you-done-for-me. Prior to her death, she is given the opportunity to present her case, not just to the gods and goddesses, but to all who have passed before her as well, including her father and the Greek slave. It is at that time that her veil is removed and she begins to see the error of what she considered love. Love is willing the good of the other as other, not in a manipulation of what we want of them. It’s only when we truly see another person, without any veil or barrier of expectation, that we can love them with a pure heart.

One of my favorite parts of the story is in Orual’s later years, as she attends to Ungit’s feast. A peasant woman comes, rather dirty and disheveled, to plead her cause before the goddess. At first Orual is annoyed by the woman’s appearance; it is a sacred time, doesn’t the woman know she should clean herself up to present herself before the goddess? Yet after laying prostrate and crying before the statue, the woman arises with a serenity that intrigues Orual. The woman responds to her questions by saying, “Ungit has given me great comfort. There’s no goddess like Ungit.” 

Usually in reading books, you want to cheer for the narrator or the main character. However, from a vantage point of faith, it was hard to do this with one who is so anti-religion. Yet her attitude does give the opportunity for one to pause in reflection as to what one believes and why they believe it. While it is not a Christian story, there are Christian themes within the book. It was also beneficial to be able to discuss with others in the book club as we were reading the story to get their insight. I believe this is one of those stories that I can read again and again, finding different meanings and perspectives each time. 

Routine interruption

My routine is about to be interrupted. In some ways it already has. While routine is good, perhaps a little shake up now and then is good for getting a different perspective. 

I’m in the midst of a bathroom renovation. While there has been some preparation work completed in the main bathroom, most of the actual work is waiting to be added to the schedule. My half bath has been halfway completed, as I’ll need to use that while the main bath is being done. As much as I’m looking forward to a brand new bathroom, I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect of roughing it for a week or two. As I was packing up all the non-essentials to get ready for the work, I did need to take out only what I absolutely needed. While I don’t use bandages every day, do I really want to pack them away? What if I need them? The same goes for the pain reliever in the event I have a headache, which thankfully doesn’t happen often. If my chances for these happenings were the same as me winning the lottery, I could pack them with every bit of confidence. Yet I agonized over the decisions. 

What has been completed so far in the project is making me very excited for the final finished product. I’m looking to enjoy many years and decades from this investment; but it made me wonder…do we look at our spiritual lives in the same sense? Are we investing in our relationship with God so that we can be excited about heaven and look forward to spending eternity with Him? Perhaps we need a little interruption to our spiritual routine, one that is an investment that we seek out, rather than the shake up caused by a pandemic. Do we take inventory of our daily practices to determine if they are merely routine habits or vital lifelines in our relationship with God? One of the blessings of the Catholic Church is the wellspring of ways to connect with God. From the Rosary to the Divine Mercy Chaplet to the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, I don’t think 24 hours is enough time to practice all the prayers and novenas in existence. Yet choosing one over another can make one feel a bit guilty for making that choice.

Outside of Mass and regular confession, a Catholic’s prayer practice is entirely up to each individual. One method does not serve all. Question what you like or don’t like about a practice and why. Perhaps the prayer is uncomfortable because you need to grow, so caution is required when deciding what to include. It’s not all about how the prayer makes you feel, although when you do experience deep peace, that may be a sign to keep practicing, especially if it seems tough. The best practices will lead you to examine yourself and your actions in comparison to Jesus and His teachings. We’re here not to be stagnant in who we are today, but to continue to grow to become the best versions of ourselves. The best will take our whole lifetime and include mountains, valleys, and plains in the growth process. We are on His timetable, not ours. It is His will for us, not ours. And if we don’t know, ask Him!

Routine can be a comfort to us, or a crutch. Interrupting our routine allows us to reflect on our practices, recommitting ourselves to those that lead us to a closer relationship to God. It’s not what we do, but how and why we do it: full of faith to become intimate with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. 

Gentleness of God

During Adoration last week, I was once again struck at how simple, how small the consecrated host is, and yet it contains the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. I then started to think about each sacrament and how gentle God is with us.

Depending on the parish, baptism can either be full immersion into water, or it can be a little trickle over the forehead. Oil is used in baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick; a little dab is applied in the shape of a cross. Matrimony includes the exchange of rings. The Eucharist is both bread and wine consecrated and a little of each is typically shared with the congregation at the Mass. Each of these sacraments conveys through a tactile method our encounter with God. These same items are used commonly in our everyday life. They don’t overwhelm us and they don’t threaten us by being strange to our way of life. 

God is awesome in His creation. Volcanoes spew boulders and molten rocks high into the atmosphere. Earthquakes tear large gaps into the crust of the earth. Tsunamis drive large amounts of the ocean far inland. Tornadoes destroy or hurl anything in their path miles away. Snow falling in feet can almost bury a town. A deluge of rain in inches causes streams and rivers to burst forth from their banks. We experience the massive impact that nature has on our world, and yet God does not ask us for extremes. God wants to be in a loving relationship with us. His touch is soft and gentle, using commonplace materials as signs of His grace. 

I think we are often like Naaman the leper from Samaria. (2 Kings 5) Naaman traveled to Israel and asked the prophet Elisha to cure him. Elisha told Naaman to plunge seven times into the Jordan river. While it doesn’t say it in the Bible, you can almost hear Naaman’s angry response of “That’s it? I traveled all this way just to jump in some water a few times?!” As his servants pointed out, if Elisha had given him an extraordinary action, Naaman would have no issue carrying out the prescription to cure him. How often do we want or expect God to interact with us in some monumental way? Would we really want His presence announced by molten lava or the ground splitting in two, rather than receiving His Body veiled in a piece of bread?  

A shadow of God’s glory is always on display in the creation and nature around us. If we saw God in His full glory, we would have no choice but to obey Him. But God wants us to freely choose Him. He veils Himself so that we can choose to seek Him out and pursue a relationship with Him. And if this isn’t enough, He sent Jesus to become one of us, live among us, and die for all the sins we have and will commit. Through the sacraments we are reminded of our journey with and to Him. 

I am humbled by the gentleness of God. 

Knowing Jesus now

If a recent Gospel reading from Matthew (12:1-8) is any indication, the Pharisees were fascinated by Jesus. So much was their interest, they watched and commented as Jesus and his disciples walked through a grain field on the Sabbath. 

I’m curious to know where that field was located. I’ve seen fields like it usually out in rural places. Why were the Pharisees in the vicinity so that they could see the disciples picking the heads of grain and eating it? It seems the Pharisees were very attentive to Jesus — following Him to remote places, yet their perception of Him remained unchanged. They, who have studied the Scriptures that heralded Jesus’ coming, didn’t even recognize Jesus in their midst. Perhaps their interest in Him was actually a sort of acknowledgement of His divinity from deep within their hearts, but their intellects would not let their minds be open to accept Him. Yet how many of us would be able to recognize Jesus in our presence today? 

When I see how much the Pharisees went against Jesus, I understand how valuable it is to cultivate a relationship with Him by accepting his life and his divinity now. How can I enjoy heaven if I have no idea who God is? Heaven is not about doing all of our favorite things, but rather spending time with and in Love, personified by God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We need to start seeking Jesus now. We need to be open in mind and heart to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. 

One way to do so is to practice looking for Jesus in others. That means we treat each person as if they represent Jesus. Not only will others receive better interactions from us, but we, in turn, show them Jesus by our actions imitating Him. If we continue to seek Jesus in every person we meet, we will be able to see and know Him, not just in this life, but also when we pass from it. This is how death loses its sting, since we won’t be going into the unknown; our friend Jesus will be waiting for us. We will be able to see Him as He truly is, not just in the bits and pieces from the encounters we have with others, but wholly and completely. When we leave this world, we should be excited to see Jesus and for Him to welcome us home.  

Knowing Jesus now, is not a matter of intellect, but of action. Yes, we do need to read Scripture, but it does not end there. Jesus came to call us into His family, into a relationship with Him and each other. If you count up all the billions of people on this planet today, each made in the image and likeness of God, and add all the people who have come before us as well as those who will come after us, that’s a mind-boggling amount of facets that reflect a little piece of Jesus. And He is more than the sum of each person, infinity may not be long enough to really know Him. However, it’s never too early or too late to start a relationship with Jesus. 

“Behold, now is a very acceptable time.“

2 Cor 6:2

A different way

If the word ‘history’ is mentioned, many will roll their eyes and immediately think whatever comes next will be a boring commentation with a bunch of dates thrown in which confuse the listeners. Yet in  researching Church history for an RCIA presentation, I found myself wishing there was a way I could better understand and communicate the rich, diverse, volatile, and holy activities woven throughout the last two thousand years. 

Some may compare the Church to an old, lumbering lady — slow to change and only when it is absolutely necessary. But the Church is not about what each individual thinks and feels, rather it is concerned about bringing about the love and mercy of Christ to each person so they can have an intimate relationship with God. From its infancy, the Church has had to address challenges and misconceptions; just peruse the Acts of the Apostles and the various letters within the New Testament. Each Sunday, and particularly in the Easter season, within the liturgy as portions of these Scriptures are read, we realize that some of the same struggles in the early Church continue today. While the circumstances may be different, as well as the subject matter, the scenarios can be way too familiar to our day. It’s one of the reasons why these letters are so important: we can see ourselves in history (which has already occurred) and learn from it instead of being destined to repeat it.

Jesus’ message was radical and His actions were scandalous to the Jews of His time. He talked to a Samaritan woman (a double no-no). He touched lepers (ritually unclean) to heal them. He charged His followers to eat His flesh and drink His blood (the Eucharist) in order to have eternal life, and He willingly gave up His life by dying on a cross and being buried only to rise on the third day from the dead. Any one of these could send a potential disciple running in the opposite direction.

With persecutions, a common practice in the first 300 years of the Church, it’s quite amazing how it continued to grow. Start sprinkling in various heresies that weakened beliefs along with political aspirations that infiltrated the hierarchy at times and miraculous is the only way to describe the  Church’s survival over those years. But the core mission of the Church influenced many men and women throughout the ages to help wrangle it back to its foundation and purpose. These saints helped shape the way the Church proclaimed the Good News.

St. Francis of Assisi may be remembered as the saint who talked to animals and is credited for bringing the crèche to the Christmas decor, yet his response to Jesus was a radical devotion  of himself to God. This saint of the 12th and 13th centuries gave up all wealth to minister to the poor and live among them. Thousands of men followed his example, even down to this very day. In our modern times: Saint Teresa of Kolkata, fondly remembered as Mother Teresa, served the poorest of the poor in India, ministering to them personally. The Missionaries of Charities, founded by Mother Teresa, includes branches of active and contemplative sisters and brothers as well as priests in countries all over the globe. 

Under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit, the Church has taken the time to reflect and refocus the lens of perception on its mission and purpose throughout the changing times and societies. It has seen the rise and fall of empires, political powers, and revolutions. It’s call is the same across the ages: The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.