Grow Up: Become a Child

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

How often does the wisdom of God prove to be radically different from the wisdom of mankind?

A good illustration of this is in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. At first, Jesus’ disciples approach him because they are hungry. And, seeing their hunger, Jesus deliberately intensifies it by speaking of the “the true bread from heaven… which comes down and gives life to world.” This bread is better than the manna that fed their ancestors for years in the desert. This is the only bread one ever needs to eat. Naturally, His disciples are sold and salivating – resolutely declaring, “Lord, give us this bread always!”

And, after rising to a crescendo, with the next few lines Jesus loses more disciples than any other time of his earthly life. He says, “I am the bread of life… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.”

What the disciples expected to get was not what Jesus was prepared to give. He was prepared to give something much greater. Likewise, throughout the whole Bible, what God tells His people to do often baffles them just as much as it baffles us nowadays. What our natural gut-instinct tells us will be effective is often the opposite of the solution the Lord gives. And doesn’t this shock us every time?

Just look at the very life of Jesus. Mother Teresa has great words that are pertinent here:

“You know, [we] don’t understand. Jesus came into the world with the most important message [and task] of all time and he had only thirty-three short years to communicate [and accomplish] it. And he spent thirty years doing nothing!” (I Loved Jesus in The Night, pg. 72)

Combine that thought with the fact that the climax of this “redemption” – this “Good News” – was to come through the brutal death of the protagonist and we throw up our hands in puzzlement. This plan for saving the world from all of its problems and redeeming creation itself is just simply not how we, as human beings, would go about things. We would come in with power, wealth, talent and a huge conglomerate wad of “the best the world has to offer.” God (in this world at least) reveals His glory in more magnificent ways.

Lloyd Greenhaw, a confident, jovial, shoot-from-the-hip, Texas rancher-type who leads international missions for Renewal Ministries all over the world, puts it like this: “We live in an upside-down world.” If you want to save your life, lose it. If you want life, you must die. If you want to be rich, become poor. If you want to be filled, be emptied. The list goes on. Just one look at the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) reveals how God’s idea of blessedness is a 180-degree spin from ours.

So, now the question: what does this mean for us as disciples?

Surely, we want to be great disciples. We want to produce fruit. We have (or we should have) a fountain of magnanimous aspirations boiling over within our hearts. Pope John Paul II recognized this when, in addressing young adults throughout the world, he said,

“It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives… the refusal to allow yourself to be grounded down by mediocrity.” (Prayer Vigil at World Youth Day 2000)

We want to be great and we should want to be great. But, how do we achieve greatness?

Jesus answered this for us. “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). And our hearts are pierced with bewilderment and wonder once again. How can this be possible? Because the ways of God are not the ways of man.

The disciple is not one who has just given some measly intellectual assent to a set of ideas, but one who has received the “spirit of sonship” so that now…

“When we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom. 8:15-17)

Brothers and sisters, we are sons and daughters of God. Through God we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters and, therefore, heirs to everything He has to give us (Gal. 4:6). This means two things.

First, once again, that we are born to be great. We should hunger for greatness, for glory and for producing magnificent fruit. Notice that when the disciples asked Jesus about how to achieve greatness (Matt. 18:1), He didn’t rebuke them – He answered their question. To not long for glory and for greatness is to not recognize the reality of who we are: namely, children of God.

Secondly, if we want to be great (and if we want to be great disciples), we must come, as children with empty hands, to our loving Father, being nourished by Him and Him alone. We must be made humble. We must become small. We must realize that the only way to have a “big impact” is to be totally present to the little and insignificant things we have to do at each moment. That in the very smallest things (like this moment right now), we meet the very greatest (the infinity of God’s presence).

In this way, we live as children – constantly and forever living in the presence of our Father, allowing His will to guide every inch of our lives. It is an eternal paradox of that “upside-down world” that if we want to be great, we must be small. It is in our smallness that we can rest more firmly in the embrace and power of our Father who loves us. How else could a woman that looks like this change so many hearts?

President_Reagan_presents_Mother_Teresa_with_the_Medal_of_Freedom_1985

This is our privilege and our call – that you and I are each a child of God.

Brothers and sisters, let us live in that truth. Let us abandon ourselves totally to Him, allowing Him to purify us, in His Love, into the pure gold we are created to be. Let us trust our Father. Let us hope in Him. Let us love Him by a complete gift of ourselves. There is no other path for the disciple to take.

Scriptural postscript: pray with Sirach 3:17-24; Psalm 50:15-17; Micah 2-4; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

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Wielding the Sword of the Spirit by Dr. Mary Healy

 

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Pope Quote: The Charismatic Movement

“We talked about the statistics regarding Pentecostals with the bishops on Brazil in a meeting yesterday. I’ll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement … at the end of the ’70s and in the ’80s, I wasn’t a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary. They’re a grace of the Spirit, and in general, they do much good for the church. The charismatic renewal movement isn’t just about winning back a few Pentecostals, but it serves the church and its renewal.” – Pope Francis

Good idea or God idea?

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When we first started discussing the idea of doing a young adult ministry, we found ourselves looking at a variety of different approaches and avenues we could take. All sorts of interesting and appealing ideas came to mind and we struggled to make sense of all that we could do. We knew the Lord wanted something to be done for young adults, but we also knew that our ministry would only succeed if He anointed it. We had lots of good ideas, but what we needed was a God idea.

Let me make something clear; God ideas are always good ideas, but good ideas are not always God ideas. For instance, it’s a good idea to tell people about Jesus but if you haven’t been given a gift for preaching it might not be a God idea for you to stand on a street corner and just start talking. Conversely, it might not seem like the right time to tell your friend that Jesus loves them and is inviting them into a deep and lasting relationship with Him, but if the Holy Spirit truly inspires you to pick up the phone and make the call, then you can be peaceful in knowing that you lived out a God idea.

Very often we discover the difference between our good ideas and God’s ideas when we try something and see the fruits of our labor. Jesus tells us to judge the tree by its fruits and St. Paul recommends testing everything and holding fast to what is good. Sometimes the fruit is clearly rotten or obviously delicious, but other times we have to prayerfully consider it over an extended period of time. For example, we hear the Lord and call our friend, but he quickly changes the subject and rejects our attempt to evangelize. Initially, by all accounts the fruit of our phone call is non-existent or maybe even harmful. However, we may find that our attempt planted a seed that needed time to grow and eventually produced fruit like a converted heart or even a follow-up conversation.

It can be extremely difficult at times to discern what the Lord wants from us, but as we grow in our relationship with Him and operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, the still small voice of God becomes clearer. The Lord wants us to be bold but prudent; excited but controlled; Jesus also tells us to “be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Jesus wants us to tell Him our aspirations and goals, but the life of a disciple requires that we ultimately submit our will to the One we follow. Unlike following any normal human being who will ultimately fail and let us down; when we submit to the will of Jesus we can be confident that His plan will lead to the peaceful, joyful, and hope-filled life we all desire.

Clearly there will be sufferings and pain even while following Christ’s plan, but this post isn’t long enough to deal with that and the subsequent grace that accompanies those moments. We will definitely spend more time on this blog discussing suffering and discernment since they are vitally important pieces of our walk with Christ. As intentional disciples, we must listen attentively to the will of our Lord because only the things that He ordains will bear significant fruit in our lives and in the lives of others. So, as you go through your day today and you are faced with a decision, stop and think, “Is this a good idea or a God idea?”

Short Meditation on Holiness – Blessed John Paul II

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The following is an excerpt from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritas Splendor.

The new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived.  In particular, the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the people of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations.
For this reason, the church, as a wise teacher of morality, has always invited believers to seek and to find in the saints, and above all in the virgin mother of God “full of grace” and “all-holy,” the model, the strength and the joy needed to live a life in accordance with God’s commandments and the beatitudes of the gospel.

Learning from Pope Francis

The following appeared in Renewal Ministries’ June newsletter.

By: Sister Ann Shields, SGL

I can only speak from externals; I have not met Pope Francis but several characteristics stand out in the very few weeks since his election. I want to share them with you because I think God speaks to each of us through some of the “surprising choices” of the Holy Spirit—if we have ears to hear and eyes to see!

The first reflection was precipitated by his choice of name. It signaled a regard for personal simplicity and humility; a desire to bring God’s peace to a war torn and chaotic world. The choice of Francis indicated a man who was patterning his life and service on the saint whose love for God was all consuming! It reminded me of St. Francis’ call from God to “Rebuild my Church!” in the 13th century.  After the chaos of the sex abuse crisis in the 21st century, we continue to need great leadership so that the foundation can be secured again in Christ. St. Francis embodied a love for the Lord and for God’s people. Through simplicity he led many back to wholehearted dedication to Christ.

Compassion marks the first few months of the Pope’s pontificate. He seems focused on the poor, the disabled, the weak. Even in a crowd of hundreds of thousands he sees them and moves toward them quickly, regardless of his planned event or scheduled destination. He brings to the poor the assurance that they are not forgotten. In fact, they seem to be the first that Pope Francis tries to engage.

Even his choice of residence, the simplicity of his clothing, and his daily decisions to do things for himself, say much about his priorities—about the concrete simplicity of daily living which should challenge all of us.

Regarding the concerns about the present Curia, which have certainly filled our newspapers, Pope Francis has already begun to move—not with noise, but quietly, beginning the needed changes with the formation of the committee. By the time this newsletter is in your hands, much more about the Pope’s actions and intentions will probably be evident. But these observations about his life can help us contemplate some important questions about our own lives, if we are to be part of the solution, and part of Christ’s flock under the shepherding care of Pope Francis.

1. Do I regard myself as steward and not owner of all the earthly things I “possess”? They may have involved hard work on my part, nevertheless they remain gifts from God to be used for His honor and contribute to goodness of life for all those my life touches.

2. Am I aware of the poor and needy around me—not just at holiday times—but day in and day out especially from those who serve me—grocery store, gas station, dry cleaner, pharmacy, restaurant. Do I look at the people who serve me? Am I courteous, kind, and interested in them—where appropriate? Do I regard another’s dignity whether I am serving or being served? We can all serve others—the parish bazaar, the food kitchen, prolife activities—but do we bring Christ? Do we give of ourselves in such a way that Christ can be seen and known and loved through us? It seems to me that this is what Pope Francis is trying to model for us.

3. Am I a true disciple of Christ in my thoughts, words, and actions? Am I hypocritical; do I live a double life—one person in the streets or the workplace, another at home? I am not saying we have to be perfect—we cannot make ourselves perfect. But I am saying that we need to think of others before ourselves. Sister Ruth Burrows in her book The Essence of Prayer tells us that there is in us a sly, unrecognized cunning—that is, a pride which always thinks of self first, takes care of self before anyone else. She says this is the biggest enemy to growing in genuine faith in God. We need to put Him in the center of our lives more and more, in our thoughts and words and actions. He will do the rest if we cooperate.

4. Finally, do I strive to be a genuine instrument of peace in all the situations I daily find myself? Peace is based on knowing the presence of God; it is based on prayer that I might be God’s instrument in every difficult situation I need to participate. It means I give others, even those with whom I strongly disagree, the respect they deserve (even as I disagree with their ideas or proposals).

It’s really not complicated; it’s just very difficult. But if we ask God for the grace daily, even hourly, He will transform us—yes transform us. When we put Him first in our thoughts, relationships, and plans, we will not only grow in faith but we will be an instrument of peace, able to bring the truth, with a genuine heartfelt love, that sets people free.

I have known many very good Popes in my lifetime. Each was given to us for a particular time; from Pius XII to John XXIII to Paul VI, to Blessed John Paul, to Benedict XVI, who while an outstanding teacher, taught us perhaps his greatest lesson, by acknowledging his inability because of age to shepherd the Church in these perilous times. That kind of humility should speak to us and give us the wisdom we need in our lives to make the right decisions for the good of others—small or great.

These are my reflections; I would like to hear what you think and how some of Pope Francis’ priorities are affecting you. These are many lessons to ponder. This quote reflects the disposition the Lord is calling us to have:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I      cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should      do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.” (Edward Everett Hale)

Let us not miss the grace being given us individually and collectively. St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!