Sunday, October 6, 2013
Last Sunday, as I was listening to Fr Joe Corel’s homily, I was reminded of an old saying, “You want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I look at that and both smile and wince. It leads to a conversation I have had many times over while doing vocation work for this diocese. God, the Creator of all things and all people, has a plan for that creation. That plan isn’t for things to simply run their natural course and fade into nothingness. It isn’t for billions of souls to careen off one another in the pursuit of billions of different dreams that have little to no connection to each other. God’s plan is for the eternal union of His creation. To that goal each of us has a part to play. Humanity was not created for condemnation (see Matthew 25:34). This is not say some will not suffer condemnation (see Matthew 25:41). God deposits in us abilities and gifts, desires and deep wants. He deposits them and then asks us to use them in such a way as to build up rather than to tear down (see Matthew 25: 14-30); He holds us accountable for what we chose to do with our gifts and abilities and where we allowed our desires and deep wants to take us. It makes a great difference what we do.
In his homily, Fr. Corel, talked about these things in reference to vocations. He readily points out that these are placed in us with a specific purpose in mind. They are also given with specific instructions. Who we are and what we have is to be used in order to unify by love, nurture by service, and enlighten through faith. It is a struggle, though. We live in a world that tells us to utilize what we have and who are to the best advantage for ourselves. We are told to follow our passions, something that until the present age has been seen has the least noble of all motivations. Careers and educations are built around the jockeying for the best for oneself. We are told that if we follow our passions, we will find joy. However, mountains of empirical data would point to the opposite.
In a recent poll done by Forbes magazine, careers/occupations were ranked by the amount of satisfaction one had with the career. Clergy were ranked as the most satisfied. The tag line for the information caught my eye, “The least worldly are the happiest.” I thought, “Hmmm, Isn’t that what Jesus said all along in the Gospels?” As I looked at the others (Firefighters, special ed teachers, for example) it was a list of occupations that all require high service and usually get lower pay. It was rather counter-intuitive to what society tells us. This poll has been played out time and again. It is our human nature: happiness and joy are not found in self-centeredness, but in service. So why do we resist when the empirical data proves what Jesus said all along?
In a word: trust. To leave oneself open to God’s will requires trust. Whether that will be towards marriage, professed religious life, priesthood, or remaining single, one must trust that God wants what is good for them and will give them the joy they so desire. To trust means that we surrender control. It means that we surrender our plans (as noble as they may be) and ask God what is His plan and what role do we play. There are several common objections. Let’s honestly deal with them.
The first is “I don’t want to.” Plain, simple, and up front lack of desire. You will notice that when God calls, 99% of the time he doesn’t ask…he tells. See Genesis 12: 1-3, Exodus 3:10, Jeremiah 1:4-5, I Samuel 16:12, Ezekiel 2: 1-6, Jonah 1:1-2, Matthew 4:18-22, 9:9, Mark 1:16-22, 2:13-14, Luke 1:31-33, 5:1-11,27, John 1:35-39, Acts 9:5-6. There is no ‘if you want to’ caveat attached. In fact, God doesn’t seemed troubled in the least with upsetting any plans they had for themselves. He had a plan for the salvation of all creation and that plan was more important to the whole than any singular plans they had for themselves. Could each of them have said no? Of Course. We hear of Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel, Jeremiah, Jonah, the Apostles, the Blessed Mother, and Paul because they ended up either immediately or after a bit of rebellion saying yes. There is no such great record of those who ran and said no, but we know they did because of the evil humanity had fallen into. “I don’t want to” is not the answer of a loving son, but the answer of a rebel. God leaves us it up to us to choose. One answer carries his blessing, the other turns away from those blessings. We should never confuse free will with the right to rebel. Those that rebel against God cannot expect to share His blessings. The use of free will bears its consequences.
So is God going to curse me for not following His will? To answer this, I turn to Numbers 13:1- 14:25. God had brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to a land ’flowing with milk and honey’ that was to be theirs. God delivers them, provides for them, and now they are at the precipice of entering the Promised Land. They send men to look at the land before hand. They come back with tales that it is what God promised, but that there were also fortified cities and giants that dwelt there. The people became scared and refused to trust God’s love and would not enter. That was their choice. God’s response was that they would suffer the consequences of their choice. They were banished from the Promised Land and left to wander in the wasteland of the desert for 40 years. It was not what God wanted for them; it is what they chose in rejecting Him.
We do get to use our free will. Free will, though has consequences. God lets us follow those choices, but does not bless that which leads us away from His will. Some will say that God is making their lives miserable if they don’t do what He wants. How fair is that? The misery doesn’t come from God taking it out on them, it comes from the isolation they have chosen. It is unnecessary. The joylessness and restlessness are a byproduct of disobedience. There are so many wandering through deserts of their own creation; restless souls probing for meaning divorced from God’s will. The bigger question is, “Why put yourself through that, when following God’s will brings such joy?” Why go through all the drama, all the grief, and all the isolation? What is gained through rebellion?
Our God is not a god who accepts excuses. He doesn’t accept that one is too young (ask Samuel, David, and Jeremiah), too sinful (ask Peter and Paul), or just doesn’t want to (ask Jonah). He knows who we are, after all, he made us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we can be like without the fear, isolation, anger, and excuses. He knows what we can be through His grace. Perhaps, then, we would do better to trust even when it looks like we will have face fears, stand tall, and sacrifice our own plans for that which is so much greater. God doesn’t care whether someone wants to follow His will. He calls. Our response matters.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
From its very inception, the Church has been, as Pope Francis put it, ’a field hospital’ , a respite for sinners. We have never been a museum of the sinless and ‘living- still-among-us’ saints. We have been and continue to be a beckoning light to our fellow sinners who so desperately need the light of Christ in their own lives. We have been blessed over the ages by a ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’: men and women who gave selflessly of themselves in the name of Jesus so as to preach and teach the message of Christ and to actively engage in the addressing of the needs of the human condition. We belong to the single largest giver of aid and charity in the world. From this great cloud of witnesses came institutions so very common to us now: college and universities, hospitals, and the advancement of the sciences. Catholic institutions continue to be at the very forefront and vanguard of aid and assistance to the poor and needy. We were before our time in the education of the poor, women, and our schools were desegregated long before the public schools in this country were.
To be sure, the Church in her 2000 year existence has not been without her troubles and scandals. Ambition and intrigue are not foreign nor have ever been foreign to her day to day life. We have had true scoundrels in our midst. As the Church is populated by human beings, both in her clergy and laity, all of the faults, failings, and foibles will continue to ensure that the message of conversion and repentance never go unneeded. Yet, for all of our failings, the Church still thrives; more a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of our Triune God than to any merely human efforts. The gentle hand of God guides us along, sometimes despite ourselves.
We belong to a faith not given to following the latest trend or whims of society. She has been around for millenia; she has seen these trends flow in and out with the regularity of the tide. She doesn’t attach herself to such whims and stays steady even when that steadiness is challenged or even reviled from within or outside of the Church. We might tweak how we do things, but we do not change why we do things. Christ built His Church on rock, not on sand. Even if we are the last one standing in defense, we do not cave in to ’modern’ trends. We look beyond the present moment, casting our lot to eternity itself. We are undeterred by the slings, arrows, and persecutions that every age of Christians has suffered. Truth is truth. We are its stewards. Her teachings are steeped in many years of thought, prayer, reflection, and practice. We readily apply age old principles to new challenges and problems. It is not our nature to flee or surrender.
Knowing all this is important, because we are the next line of both offense and defense. We are the caretakers of this message and the latest round of witnesses. We have the task of challenging, being challenged, and inviting all into a relationship with Christ and His people. This is not an easy task. In fact, this task can be overwhelming to the unprepared. It is hard to witness that which we do not know. The most dangerous type of Catholic is the one who lacks knowledge of their faith. There cannot be action without knowledge. The Catholic life has a very specific look and flavor; a life marked by an adherence to humility (truth), mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and charity. It is not a passive identity, but an active identity. It is not a spectator sport! It is a life in which engagement is everything!
When we have a proper pride in who we are (better yet, in who Christ is), it shows in every aspect of our lives. The Gospel becomes something we long to savor, not an impediment to our time and pocketbook. It becomes the prism by which every priority is set and every attitude established. It becomes that which tempers evil and seeks longingly for the good. It sees service as desirable, not as a burden. It helps us to own our Catholic heritage. It helps us to realize that faith must be pursued with a great gusto, born of a realization that it is one of the few things we take with us after our deaths.
This requires two things: first a knowledge of not merely what we believe but why we believe it. Our faith is so much more than a collection of facts, theories, and other intellectually based items for us to mentally store like multiplication tables. Faith spurs us to act out of that knowledge with great joy. Time must be spent in study and prayer. It is why we offer two adult education programs in this parish. It is why we spend the monies, time, and energy we do on the education of our youth. It has never been our intent to send soldiers onto the field of battle unarmed or without an awareness how to use their armaments. It is why we have a parish library. It is why we keep attempting to have a youth program. It is to expand the possibilities of what can be done that we have the new building. As I tell our students, I cannot make anyone learn anything. I simply lack the power to do such things. I can throw out seed, so to speak. But each one of us has to want to know, want to believe, and want to be the witnesses and servants Christ asks us to be. We stand accountable before Him. No one presently in this parish will be able to say there were no opportunities or materials. Thus the second thing needed is an openness to engage others with the gifts of knowledge and wisdom afforded us.
There is so very much work that needs to be done. Many hands might light work. As I said in a previous homily, this parish does not merely exist to give one a convenient time and place to go to Mass. This parish, as are all parishes and Catholic institutions, exists to continue the mission of Jesus Christ in the proclamation of the Good News. We receive grace through the sacraments specifically to give us the strength to engage. No member of the parish can say that they do not have a role to play in this mission: if you are baptized, you somehow share in this mission! We must be a place that provides welcome and rest for the weary and the seeking…all of them! How will you engage in this mission? How will you be made ready to use the appropriate tools? In this parish, there are no shortage of options, I have personally seen to that. There is work to do; those in need of what Christ offers await. It is time for all of us to suit up for the Kingdom of God is at hand!