Freedom to Love Christ

I love running.  People frequently ask me about mileage, pace, 5ks or simply just how to start a running routine.  I tell them my experience and offer my advice, but I can’t force them to go out and run.  I can buy them the shoes, the watch and the cute running clothes, but I can’t do the running for them.  If it’s something they really want to do, they’ll do it.  This is how evangelization is as well.  People might know you’re Catholic so they might ask you if Jesus Christ is your true Lord and Savior, why you worship Mary, or why the Pope is the anti-Christ (all things I’ve been asked, unfortunately).  Once you kindly explain your experience and beliefs as a Catholic they might ask a few more questions, but maybe they won’t.  It’s not your job to chase after these people and force Scripture down their throat.  It’s a good opportunity to check in with them and build a friendship, but if they don’t want to talk about their relationship with God don’t force it.

If someone is coerced into a small group, one-on-one, or RCIA class they aren’t going to enjoy it and it won’t be fruitful.  The Gospel must be enter genuinely into each heart.  Some are receptive to the movement of the Spirit and some aren’t and most of the time, it’s not your fault.  Sometimes we can get really excited and be a little too zealous about the Gospel, but other times we can do everything right and they still don’t want to accept the love of Christ.  Take Jesus for example.  In the Gospel of Matthew a rich young ruler talks to Jesus and asks “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Mt 19:16).  Jesus tells him to keep the commandments and the man says he has already done so he says, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” (Mt 19:20). Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor and then he can have eternal life.  After hearing this the young man walked away because he wasn’t willing to give up what Jesus was asking of him.  Jesus presented the Gospel in a gentle yet bold manner, but the man still walked away.  Jesus didn’t run after the young man.  He didn’t tell him he changed his minds and He could bend the rules a little bit for him.  He stood with conviction and preached the truth.

Many people are like the rich young man.  They might like the idea of following Jesus, but when things get serious and they are called to a heart of conversion they may walk away.  I have a very close friend who desires a relationship with the Lord, but can’t give up her destructive relationship with her boyfriend.  He isn’t leading her to holiness and knows what she must do to truly follow God, but she doesn’t want to break up with him.  I can’t force her to do it.  I can’t break up with him for her or make her do something she doesn’t want to do because she wouldn’t be freely choosing God and fully giving her heart to Him.  I have another friend, Mackenzie who was dating a guy, but their relationship wasn’t destructive.  However, she started feeling like she should discern religious life.  She eventually felt more and more called to that vocation that she had to break up with him.  She could have avoided the sound of God’s voice and kept dating that guy.  Instead, Christ proposed to her.  He asked for her entire life to be devoted Him alone and she said yes.  She is not in her first year of postulancy with the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary!

The Lord works in so many ways, but coercion is not one of them.  We get frustrated with people who don’t want to listen to the words of God because we know the happiness He brings us.  Instead of forcing someone into the next step of their faith we must let the Holy Spirit work in their hearts and in the meantime we pray that their hearts will be open and responsive when He calls.

 

 

 

 

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The Story: Saying Yes to God

Let us start from the beginning.  God created everything out of nothing.  He is all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere at the same time.  God is loving, caring, compassionate, and merciful, but He is also a just and jealous God.  God is fully complete in the Holy Trinity.  They are three persons in one God, but all are omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.  The Son is begotten from the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit is the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son.

The Trinity is perfectly complete, yet God out of His goodness created others to be a part of this happiness. God created angelic beings, all of which He loved very much.  However, some wanted to be like God and the first no to God’s perfect plan was made.  Satan and his followers were cast into hell since they were disobedient to God’s will.  Satan is the source of evil and is our enemy.  His mission is to make everyone say no to God’s perfect plan.  He wants to spread evil so each of us will be separated from God not only in this life on Earth, but in our eternal life as well.

After the angelic beings God created day, night, land, water, and animals.  God was content and happy with all He created, but out of His goodness and love God created man in His image and likeness.  In Genesis 2 we read how God created man out of dust and breathed life into him.  God, with His compassion and love for man knew that he would be unhappy alone so he created woman out of the rib of the man.  It was God’s will that the “two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24).  The first man and woman were Adam and Eve.  God loved Adam and Eve very much and gave them the beautiful Garden of Eden.  He invited them to live in this paradise as part of His perfect plan.  They were to do as they pleased in the garden, except eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.  God did this because He knew what was best for them and by not eating from the tree they would be happiest.

However, Adam and Eve were not perfect like God so they were subject to temptation and sin.  The enemy took the form of a snake and tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He persuaded Eve to think that if she ate from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden she would not die as God told her she would.  He convinced her that God was tricking her and if they ate of the tree they would become gain wisdom and become like God.  Eve ate the apple and gave some to Adam and he ate it as well.  They were not forced to do any of this.  It was their own free choice to eat from the tree and thus man’s first no to God was made.  They committed sins of lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride.  Their desire to have power and wisdom like God only revealed their nakedness and showed man’s weakness and vulnerability.

This sin led to more sin as Adam and Eve tried to play the blame game to make it seem like it wasn’t really their fault.  Because of their sin, God was a just God and punished them.  Eve would have more pain during child birth, He banished them from the Garden of Eden, and sin would continue to multiply through the rest of humanity.

Luckily, God is a God of love and promised Adam and Eve that their descendants would undo their sin.  God made covenants with His chosen people to reestablish His relationship with man.  A covenant is an agreement between two people.  Two important covenants in the Old Testament are the Abramic and Mosaic covenants.  The covenants pave the way for the New Covenant of Christ to His Church.  These covenants are between God and humans and are initiated and stipulated by God.  In the Abramic covenant God reveals that He wants Him alone to be worshiped.  God promises to Abraham that through his descendants many nations will be blessed.  The sign of this covenant is circumcision as a baby.  This foreshadows baptism where we are cleansed or we “cut” away our old selves.  The Mosaic covenant is where God gives us the Ten Commandments.  Jesus summarizes these commandments as “you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 30-31).  In this covenant God institutes rituals such as Yam Kippur, a Day of Atonement, and Passover.  These two rituals foreshadow the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist which Jesus instituted.

Covenants are so important in our understanding of Jesus.  Old Testament covenants are ways that God foretells the coming of the Messiah (see Jer 31-32).  Covenants also show that God’s presence is meant for all nations.  They also reveal that God’s laws will lead to eternal life and show God’s goodness, mercy and love.  It’s important to note that God establishes covenants in ceremonies.  Marriage is a beautiful covenant celebrated in a formal ceremony.  The covenant of Christ to His bride, the Church is the fulfillment of all the other covenants where we are able to share in His divine life.

God desires all of us to share in His divine life, but He made promises with certain people at specific points in time to reveal His perfect plan for humanity.  The Lord gradually revealed Himself in His covenants and does the same for us today.  In the words of the prophet Jeramiah, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11).

The purpose of God’s divine revelation, or unveiling of Himself, is to invite us into relationship and intimacy with Him.  He uses people, words, and events in our lives to show us His presence in our lives and communicate His will for us.  Sometimes we want to know all about our futures right now.  Where will I get into grad school? What job will I get? Who will I marry?  Imagine if God told you everything about your life right now.  Would you feel overwhelmed or angry if it didn’t turn out the way you thought it would?  Would you even continue to pursue a relationship with God if you had all the information you wanted?  That’s why God reveals Himself slowly to us.  He knows how much we need to know at that time and how much we can handle.

For man to better know the love of God and to more perfectly share in His divine love, God sent His only Son into the world to become the new Adam and reverse the sins committed in the Garden of Eden.  Our Lady, the mother of God, is the new Eve who brought the Incarnate Son into the world.  Her fiat, which means yes, is the first yes to Jesus Christ.  She is His first disciple.  In the Gospel of Luke we recount the first joyful mystery of the Rosary: The Annunciation.  The angel Gabriel appeared to her when she was betrothed to Joseph saying, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).  He revealed God’s plan for her to have a son named Jesus and He will “be great and will be called Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32).  Let us put ourselves in Mary’s shoes for a moment.  She was a virgin so how could she be with child? Would this child grow up normal? Would she be able to mother him properly?  How would you be feeling at this point? Would you be scared? Would you understand what was happening?  I feel overwhelmed sometimes when God asks me to talk to a new person, let alone if He was asking me to give birth to His Son!  Instead of asking questions or looking to see if this plan would benefit her she quickly responds saying “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Like 1:37).  Let us look carefully at these words.  Handmaid means servant.  Mary humbles herself by fully submitting herself to God’s will.  No matter the cost of this yes, she knew it was God’s will and she willingly accepted this cross.

With Mary’s fiat, God became man in the form of Jesus Christ.  God became man to save us from sin by reuniting us to God.  He wanted us to better know God’s love, to have a human model of holiness, and so that we can share God’s divine nature.  Jesus has two natures in one being.  Jesus is truly, completely, and fully human and divine.  We participate in God’s divine nature through the sacraments.  We become adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism and receive many graces and gifts from the Holy Spirit in all the sacraments we participate in.  We unite ourselves in a special way to Christ’s divinity and humanity by participating in the Mass and receiving the Eucharist.

Jesus said yes to God each day in his ministry.  He grew up with His parents guiding Him and teaching Him just as our parents did for us.  One day Mary, Jesus and His disciples went to a wedding together.  As the guests danced and celebrated Mary noticed the wine was running out and mentioned it to her son.  Jesus said in reply “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2: 4).  Despite this response, Mary still pushed the servers to do what Jesus told them to do.  Per Jesus’ request, the servers filled 6 stone jars with water and when they took it to the headwaiter it had turned into wine (Jn 6-10).  Jesus performed the first sign of His ministry by saying yes to God’s call through the prompting of Our Lady.

            Christ said yes at the most crucial moment in his life.  The agony in the garden was the start of His Passion. At the Mount of Olives Jesus prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22: 42).  Jesus was in such pain that He was sweating drops of blood, but an angel appeared to him and gave him the strength He would need to say yes.  Like Our Lady, Christ said yes to God’s will for the good of the Kingdom of God even though it cost them both very much.

Christ’s Passion is the first step in the Paschal Mystery.  The Paschal mystery is Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension.  This is where Christ accomplished the work of our salvation so the Church holds it very dearly as we unite ourselves to this mystery every time we participate in the Mass.  Christ’s passion can be found by meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary: the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar and the carrying of the cross.  Through His passion he suffered to save us from sin.  Through His death, Christ showed us that there is “no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).  He conquered “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor 15: 26).   Through Christ’s resurrection we are all able to rise to new life in Christ even though our punishment for saying no to God’s plan should be death.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it very well: “dying He destroyed our death, rising He restored our life” (CCC 1067).  Through Christ’s ascension He was prepared a place for us in heaven (Jn 14:2) and show us how He “will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” when it is time for the final judgement.

After Christ ascended into heaven that wasn’t the end of His mission.  He told Peter “upon this rock I will build my Church” and He gave St. Peter the keys to the kingdom.  Peter became our first pope, and the head of the Church that Christ established (Mk 16:18-19).  The Church is how the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ is visible in the world.  The Church is not a business, but the family of God, intentionally created by Christ for us.  Christ is with us always in the Church and is present in our families, the community, but most importantly we encounter Him in the sacraments.  We are able to embrace the incarnation so intimately as we experience “the Word become flesh” in the Holy Eucharist (Jn 1:14).

So today, here we are, in the St. Philip Neri, Newman Catholic Center at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.  We are here as the Church, people who are striving for holiness, people who are striving to be saints.  This story isn’t just for the people of Jesus’ time, but it’s for all of us.  In fact, St. Philip Neri, the patron saint of our Newman Center made an important yes to God as well.  He grew up in a wealthy family chasing success and hoping for a large inheritance from his uncle’s business.  However, he had a conversion experience and said yes to a life proclaiming God’s Word.  He started simply ministering on the streets until he started the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity that was dedicated to ministering to the poor.  He continued his mission of preaching as he made his yes to the priesthood.  He is known for his dedication to ministering to the poor and his desire to transform a very corrupt Rome.  Had St. Philip Neri not said yes to God many people wouldn’t know the love of God and all of us would not receive all of his intercessory prayers for our community.

Now you might be thinking this story still isn’t really about me it’s just for the people a long time ago and the canonized saints.  This absolutely not true.  This isn’t us vs. them.  God didn’t just choose them to be His sons and daughters, he chose all of us.  This is our story too!  He wants your heart just as much as He wants mine or Abraham’s or Jacob or Peter or Paul or St. Philip Neri.  We may not be called to the same mission as them, but that doesn’t make our mission any less important.

We’ve seen throughout this story that all of God’s chosen prophets, His beloved Israelites, they all sinned against God.  Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden.  The Israelites complained in the desert when they felt like God abandoned them.  Moses struck the rock twice when God told him to hit it once and water would spring forth.  Peter, our first pope, denied Christ three times after Christ had been arrested.  Paul arrested and persecuted Christians, but eventually had a conversion experience and became a great leader and writer of many books in the Bible such as Galatians, Romans, and first and second Corinthians.  Please remember though that even these people said no at different points in their life, but God was always faithful and merciful to them when they returned to Him with a resounding yes to His will.

In Second Corinthians St. Paul says “For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory” (2 Cor 1:20).  Amen means yes.  Each time we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord we say amen or yes, I believe.  Let’s not wait any longer to say yes to God’s plan.  Look to Our Lady as a model where she courageously and quickly said yes to God.  Ask Jesus for the strength He had in His agony in the garden to say Father, thy will be done.  College presents so many temptations.  It’s so hard to say no when everyone says getting drunk and sleeping around is normal.  It can be hard in the moment, but saying yes to society is far less satisfying and, speaking from experience, it leaves you feeling empty and guilty.

All of these people came before us so that we might be here now building up the Kingdom of God.  Your yes now will effect so many people.  You might not see it now, but the Lord will pour so many graces into your heart and those you touch by opening your heart up to His plan.  Look how many Mary’s yes affected…everyone!!!  I bet she wasn’t expecting that.  Had Mary not said yes, we would not be free from sin since our Lord would not have become incarnate and saved us from sin and death.

Let me tell you a personal story really quickly.  When I was in high school my friend told me she wanted to get more involved in her faith and asked me if I wanted to as well.  By the grace of God I said yes and I led her to the 24 hour adoration chapel at my home parish.  It was there that she really encountered the Lord and was able to hear His voice more clearly.  By returning to the chapel frequently she discerned her call to religious life and is now in formation to become a sister with the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary down in Miami, Florida.  Had I not said yes to the Holy Spirit’s prompting through Mackenzie she might have missed her vocation to religious life or it may have taken her a lot longer to find where God always wanted her to be.

So you might be thinking all of that sounds great and all, but saying yes requires a lot of work and well you’re really busy and don’t have time right now to read the Bible every day or to join a small group.  You might be thinking, I’ll try that this summer when I have more time or when I’m out of college and don’t have homework, that’ll be a good time to start praying more.  Let me tell you, I’ve tried that and life is always going to be hectic.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect.  Just because I work in the Church doesn’t mean my prayer life is thriving all the time.  We can’t keep pushing our relationship with God off to the side.  As much as many of us don’t like to think about it there will be a time when Jesus comes again and there will be a final judgement.  In the Gospel of Mark Jesus tells us “but of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come: (Mark 13:32-33).  We want to say yes to Jesus each and every day because our actions and the intentions of our heart will be judged.

Let me leave you with this: If we were put on trial would there be enough evidence to be convicted as a Christian?  Let’s not leave anything to chance.  Let’s invite Christ into our hearts and make our yes each day to try our best to follow His plan for us.  Keep in mind that we will fall short, but each day is a new day and we have so many opportunities to say yes.  We must also always remember to use the tools that Christ gave us.  We have the Eucharist to strengthen us and the sacrament of Reconciliation to turn to, to receive God’s mercy and grace.

 

 

 

Biblical Narrative

Biblical Narrative–use this as an alternative form of prayer

1) “This is the covenant between me and you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.  Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. That will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.”

-Genesis 17:10-11

 

2) “In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ.  You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

-Colossians 2:12

 

3) Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea.

-Exodus 14:21-23

 

4) For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.

-1 Corinthians 10:1-4

5) “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”

-Luke 12:50

 

6) Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

-Matthew 3:13-17

 

7) “because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came over Jesus Christ.”

-John 1:17

 

8) “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

-Romans 6:3-4

 

9) “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

-John 3:5

 

10) For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

-Galatians 3:26-27

 

11) Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

-Acts 2:38

 

12) “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

Scripture Speaks

God loves us so much He created us out of His image and likeness. He loves us more than we know, more than our human minds could ever comprehend.  He loves us so much that He wants us to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4).

However, we are stubborn and sinful humans.  We push Him away and choose our desires over the Lord’s.  We say we know what is best for us.  We would rather spend time on the computer than time in prayer.  Sometimes we would rather sleep in than go to Mass on Sunday. We are continually unfaithful, but the Lord is not.

“The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?  Did we not drive out demons in your name?  Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?  Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.  Depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:21-23).

Even though we are unfaithful the Lord has mercy upon us.  He shows us His merciful love so that we may try again to live life according to His perfect plan.  The Lord’s plan is that we live life with Him forever in heaven.

“There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (Lk 10:25-28).

How do we love the Lord above all else?  I go to Mass, religious ed, I’m pretty nice to people and I hardly ever fight with my siblings.  That’s not where it ends.  We need to make a conscious effort every single day to say yes to loving God above all else and treating others with respect and dignity.  When we do these things we are following God’s will, or plan for us.  What’s God’s will? How do we know what it is?

“He has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:9-11).

One part of God’s plan for us involves loving how Jesus loved.

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another, As I have loved you so that you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).

A man once asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29) It’s easy to love your friends, but we are asked to love our enemies too.  In the Gospel of Luke, a Samaritan, who was an enemy of the Israelites, helped and took care of an Israeli man who had been beaten up.  Jesus tells us to, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk 10:37).

Even though we might not always know how to follow God’s will we always have Jesus as an example.

“The one who sent me is with me.  He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29).

We can look to the Gospels to know how Jesus responded in certain situations and as a model for what it means to truly love God and neighbor above all else.

Sometimes we don’t want to follow this example.  We don’t want to stop the gossip.  Sometimes we don’t want to go to Mass.  We’re not the only ones who are hesitant about the things God asks us to do.  Jesus was scared, nervous, and distressed about His passion and death.

“After withdrawing about a stone’s through from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ (Lk 22: 41-43).

It’s essential to realize that although Jesus does not want to undergo this pain, He still says that He will do whatever God asks of Him.  When we read the writings of St. Paul we know that Jesus’ death on the cross truly was the will of the Father.

“grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins that he might rescue us from the present evil age in accord with the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Gal 1:3-5).

Like Jesus, the Lord asks some people to die for Him.  They are martyrs of the faith, but we are not all called to be martyrs.  The Lord asks little things from us every day.  He asks us not to yell at our parents even though we think they are being unfair.  He asks us not to cheat on our homework even though it would make life a little bit easier.  Even though we do not want to, by saying yes to these small things we are following God’s will.

Sometimes even though we know we should say yes it can be really hard to resist temptation.  Sometimes it just sounds easier to say no. It’s hard to resist sexual temptation when everyone around you is talking about porn and sex.

Although all of this is hard St. Paul reminds us, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2).

Needless to say we need a little help to follow God’s will.  For example, After Jesus said He would do the Father’s will an angel came to give Him the strength He would need to accomplish His mission.

“And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him” (Lk 22:43).

We don’t just get an angel, we get Jesus to help us when we feel like we can’t do what God is asking us to do.  Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we are able to encounter Him intimately through the Sacraments and in a very special way in the Eucharist.

“Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you’” (Lk 22:19-20).

When we go to Mass we receive the grace to be obedient to God’s will as Christ was obedient.

“You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised” (Heb 10:36).

Sometimes there will be times when it is really easy to say yes to the Lord.  But because of our inclination towards sin, St. Paul reminds us that we will need endurance to follow God’s plan.  We must continue to return to the Eucharist and the sacraments frequently so that we may have the strength and grace always to say yes to God’s will.

So now we know we have to follow God’s will, but how do we know what His will for us is?  His plan for me is different than it is for Hallie or Ethan.  We must return to Him in the sacraments, but we must also return to Him daily in a personal relationship so we can discern His will that is specific to each of us and ask for the graces to accomplish those specific missions.

“And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 Jn 5:14).

“We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him” (Jn 9:31).

Let us look to St. Paul and Our Lady to have hearts, minds and bodies that will be willing to follow the call of God quickly and boldly.

St. Paul said “‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:7).

Our Lady trusted in God’s plan for her so much that despite the uncertainty she had about the future she boldly said,“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your Word” (Lk 1:38).

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy, Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

 

We Can’t Do It On Our Own…Freedom and Conscience

When I was a freshmen in high school I couldn’t wait to until I was 16 so I could drive.  I wouldn’t have to have my mom drop me off at cross country practice or take me to my friend’s house anymore.  I would be able to go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted, or so I thought, but more on that later.  Once I had my license I couldn’t wait to go to college.  I wouldn’t have to do what mom and dad told me to do.  I wouldn’t have to tell them everywhere I went and when I was going to be home and who I was with.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t someone who snuck around or did illegal activity in high school, but sometimes it’s nice to go to Steak n Shake and not get twenty questions about who’s going to be there and if I like the boy who’s going to be there and if one of the girl’s who’s going to be there is the girl who broke up with that guy…this is getting ridiculous, but you get the point.

 

Soon enough it was time to head off to college and I had felt like I had unlimited freedom.  I could go eat whenever, hang out with whoever, and go to bed as late as I wanted (but who am I kidding I’m an early to bed early to rise kind of girl).  All of this was great, but then I couldn’t wait to live off campus and have my own car so I could really be free.

 

All of this freedom really started to weigh on me too.  My conscience was getting the best of me.  My parents went to bed early so I could lie and tell them I got home 10:30pm when I really got home at 11:30pm.  I could tell them I was with one friend when really many friends were there, so then all of a sudden one lie turned into several lies and then it just got easier to lie.  When I got to college I realized I could skip class and no one would know and with the temptations secular college campuses bring, the thinks I could’ve done without anyone knowing could have been a lot worse.

 

Well now that all of this has come and gone I wish I was still the little girl who lived at home with her parents, because looking back I can see that I had such a distorted view of what freedom is and that distorted my conscience.  Our society tells us that freedom is doing whatever you want whenever you want.   I fell into the false notion that I thought I was free in the absence of authority.  I defined freedom as independence or that I was my own authority and I looked at my parents as a hindrance on my freedom.

 

This is how many people see God.  They don’t want God to have control over them or their decisions and if He does it’s limiting their freedom.  Hence, God and the Church must be enemies of freedom and we must do our own thing on our terms if we really want to be free.  However, true freedom is defined in relation to being created in God’s image and likeness, meaning, we are free to the extent that we are like God.  Freedom is willing the good.  Our freedom is protected in loving obedience to Christ and we must imitate Christ’s obedience even though obedience might seem like a paradox to freedom. Saying YES to God is where freedom will be.  We are freer the more we will the good.  The greater our knowledge of the good is the greater our freedom can be.

 

Now, I need to not only know the good, but to will myself to choose the good, or rather, having the strength to do what I know is good.  This is where our conscience comes in. Conscience is not a decision about what is good, but a judgement for how God’s law can be fulfilled.  Our conscience doesn’t tell us lying to our parents is bad, but it tells us that honoring our parents and treating others the way we want to be treated are two big parts of God’s law.  We want to choose to follow God’s law, not out of obligation, but because it is pleasing to Him.

 

If I’m going to go to the bar and hang out with friends in my free time I need my conscience to help me decide 1) if that’s a good idea and 2) when does this fun pastime become sinful.  For example, it’s not a good idea for me to stay out until 2am intoxicated if I have a test the next day at 8am.  Similarly, if I know having 4 drinks that night is going to make me drunk, then I need my conscience to tell me that making that decision is an abuse of my freedom and going to cause me to sin against God.

 

This is why our conscience needs to be illuminated by faith and well formed.  Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition help us to form our conscience so we can properly use our freedom.  Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition aren’t meant to replace our conscience, but to be used as tools to assist us.  We won’t be lead to true freedom if we blindly follow Church teachings.  We need to draw upon the knowledge and wisdom we receive and use that to form our conscience.  This allows us to lean on our faith when we reason, need more clarity or find ourselves in a difficult situation.

 

So pray, read the Bible and go to Mass and I’ll make the right decision every time?  Unfortunately, no.  Sin corrupts our conscience.  We might have a repetition of sin and we think we can’t overcome it so we just keep doing it and start convincing ourselves it’s not that bad or we might even give up trying to fix it.  For example, I know several guys who have struggled with pornography.  The longer one is addicted to porn the harder it is to stop looking at it.  People might feel bound to this sin and being exposed to it more frequently they might become numb to sexual sin in general.  If I watch people having sex all the time is having sex that bad?  Or maybe they know sex is bad, but everything leading up to it is now fine in this distorted mind.  It’s a perpetual downfall.

 

This is why we need the strength to do what we know to be good!  We need to continue to have clarity about what is truly good by clinging to Christ.  When we grow closer to Him, grow deeper in virtue, and strengthened in grace we are able to deny ourselves, carry our crosses and say and yes to true freedom in Christ.

 

Achieving Holiness

The journey to holiness can be tough and exhausting.  Luckily we have the examples of Christ and the saints to make it so much easier.  This blog will give 7 ways Jesus is our model in holiness and 3 characteristics of Christ that St. Francis of Assisi embodies.

 

Prayer

“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23).  Jesus takes time to be in solitude with God.  If Jesus needs time to pray to the Father we, as sinners, need to follow this example.  Jesus also also incorporates prayer with His disciples in an appropriate manner as He teaches them to pray the Our Father in chapter 6 of the gospel of Matthew.  Are we making prayer a priority in our lives?  Do we make an effort to participate in prayer opportunities or gatherings with our community?  Take advantage of group gatherings at your Newman center or parish and try to go to one event a week besides Sunday Mass.

Sacrificial Love

Christ was willing to die on the cross for our sins.  He saved us from sin and death despite the humiliation and pain He had to undergo.  Sacrificing some time on Facebook or an episode to say a Rosary will be well worth your time.  Giving up your time to help our a friend for the good of the other even though you might have something else you wanted to get done is a great way to embody Christ’s sacrificial love.

Love for the Poor

Jesus always sought company with the poor.  He had a special love to help them know Him and help them to have a conversion of heart.  It’s important to get involved in your community and volunteer.  Getting involved at the St. Vincent de Paul society at your church or volunteering at a soup kitchen are ways you can embody Christ’s love for the poor.

Wisdom

Jesus had knowledge and experience with the Father.  His judgement was always perfect and sought to share the wisdom the Father gave Him.  Spending time in prayer will give us more knowledge and experience with God.  Seek moments to share your wisdom with your less developed brothers and sisters of Christ.

Humility

Christ always points His deeds back to the Father.  He lives a simple life and looks to empty Himself of worldly things and fill Himself up with the Spirit.  Are we always looking for the next best thing?  Do we look for praise when we do something notable?  Always remember that we can only accomplish these tasks because God gave us these gifts.

Obedience to the Father

Christ lived a life He according to the Father’s will.  At the agony in the garden Jesus is praying “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).  He knows He is about to undergo immense suffering and, not surprisingly, is a little reluctant to start this journey, but Jesus loves the Father so much and trusts in His plan that He willingly and lovingly obeys.  How many times are we disobedient to the Father?  When all of our friends are going out to party do we want to partake in the drunken festivities?  It’s hard to sacrifice a social life and acceptance for the glory of God.  None of always succeed, but remembering that our choices effect our eternal life helps me to say yes to God.

Chastity

Christ lived a life of virginity.  Like our priests He chose to live a life of celibacy.  God’s mission for Christ was best fit for a celibate man.  If Jesus could live an entire life of chastity and purity can’t we control our lives for a few years?  Okay He was fully divine and without sin so He’s got a leg up on us.  We must look at the other with respect and love and remember that chastity is for the good of the other and will make us happier in the end because it is according to God’s will.  Easier said than done.  I recommend praying for an increase in the virtue of chastity if you are struggling with this.

St. Francis

Obedience to the Father

St. Francis was very wealthy.  He was a successful businessman and lived a life consumed by vanity and the things of this world.  It was while he was on business that St. Francis had an interaction with a poor beggar and his heart was tugged by the Lord.  He was conflicted by his desire for the wealth of his family and the will of God.  The Lord appeared to him in a dream and revealed His will of poverty for St. Francis.   The wealth of the world was attractive to Francis and the life of poverty was daunting.  Like Christ, he trusted in God’s plan and was obedient to His will for the good of the kingdom.  Francis found that once he submitted to the will of God he found his true wealth in love for the Lord.

Sacrificial Love

St. Francis loved God so much that he freely and lovingly gave up his life of worldly wealth.  Francis was willing to do anything and everything for love of the Lord even though it too cost him humiliation and insult.  In the Writings of St. Francis he states “No matter where they are, the friars must always remember that they have given themselves up completely and handed over their whole selves to our Lord Jesus Christ, and so they should be prepared to expose themselves to every enemy, visible or invisible, for love of him” (p. 44).  St. Francis was also so united with Jesus that he suffered intimately with Him through the stigmata.  Although he was in immense pain it only increased his love for God.  He rejoiced in his suffering and knew it was for the greater glory of the Kingdom.  The stigmata also presented more persecution and negative attention.  Despite all of this Francis always bore his cross boldly, freely, and lovingly.

Love for the Poor

Despite St. Francis wealthy upbringing he had a heart for the poor at a young age.  It was a certain beggar who was the beginning of his conversion.  By the will of God St. Francis desired to live a life like the poor.  Francis entered a monastery that required him to live out the lowliness and poverty of Christ at all times and do so with joy.  St. Francis would purposely go to places where the poor and suffering were located to offer consolation and the love of God.  Like Christ he would spend time with lepers and treat them with such love that he would even kiss them.  Francis was also always very generous to the poor. He had little, but he always gave what he did have.  Many times he was even found giving the clothes off of his back to beggars.

 

 

Summer Loving

This summer I am devoting myself to loving God in a new and deeper way.  I want to become a better version of myself by the time this summer is over.  To start this I am doing a simple activity.  A friend of mine challenged me to choose a word from the Bible and meditate on it this summer and see how I can improve in that area of my life.  I choose obedience.

Obedience: compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority

This is going to be separated into three parts for me.  The first part of my summer goal is just really being open to listening to God and His plan for me.  How can I be obedient to His plan if I can’t even listen to it?  The second part is meditating upon the word obedient frequently and asking God how I can be more obedient in specific aspects of my life.  The last thing for me to do is to take God’s word to heart and actually follow through with what God is telling me.

Challenge: I challenge you to choose a word to help focus your prayer this summer and see how you are changed by the end of the summer.

xoxo

God Bless