I Am Who Am

I am who am! These simple yet profound words echoed through a cave thousands of years ago and have kept even the greatest theologians questioning.

Thomas Aquinas himself, one of the most influential doctors of the Church, wrote extensively on this subject and only began to scratch the surface of its meaning. What do these profound words spoken from God to Moses mean? Well, what we do know is that they mean that God is existence itself. He is the uncreated creator, that which makes things be, existence itself. Explaining God in relation to other created things does not do justice to Him, and yet this is the way we know to explain.

The Catholic Church calls this a mystery. Not a mystery in the sense that it is hidden or that we can’t know anything, for God has revealed certain things, but a mystery in the sense that it is not fully knowable to us until heaven.

What is fully knowable to us though is that every breath, every life, every gift, everything, even our very existence is due to God. He holds us into being. This should give us a little perspective during this Lenten season. I think we often approach Lent in a negative sense, in the sense that we should give something up or sacrifice something.

While it truly is a time for these things, it is also a time to realize that because we were made and are held into existence by a complete gift, that the only proper response to that gift is to give. We do not get to heaven in a box. Our beautiful faith teaches us that we gain salvation through the relationship with Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. And this salvific relationship is meant to be shared with the world. It is not enough to receive love and have it turn inward, love must turn outward and multiply.

This Lent, I encourage you to sit down for a few minutes and reflect on the words, I am who am. Reflect on what that means in your life and the gifts you have been given. Now, reflect on how you can turn and give. It might be as simple as telling a friend they are loved, or it might be as difficult as standing up for your faith when it is uncomfortable. Either way, don’t let this just be more words you read on a page. Let’s all think of one concrete way we can be a gift this week. Nothing is scarier to Satan than Christians uniting through relationship with Christ, and then sharing that relationship with the world. From all of us here at Diocesan, God Bless!

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Image Credit: Kira auf der Heide, https://unsplash.com/photos/IPx7J1n_xUc

Tommy Shultz is a Business Development Representative for Diocesan. In this role he is committed to bringing the best software to dioceses and parishes while helping them evangelize on the digital continent. Tommy has worked in various diocese and parish roles since his graduation from Franciscan University with a Theology degree. He hopes to use his skills in evangelization, marketing, and communications, to serve the Church and bring the Good News to all. His favorite quote comes from St. John Paul II, who said, “A person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.”

Spiritual Desert

If I can be completely honest I am facing a great time of spiritual dryness in my life. I have so many blessings and I know God is present in my life, and He always will be, but I feel so distant from Him. How do I draw closer to Him in these times of feeling down and out, of feeling like I don’t know my place or just a lack of inspiration to draw closer to Him?

I know we have all experienced times like these, including the saints. Mother Teresa is one of the saints infamously known for not feeling God’s presence for 50 years. She devoutly served Him and trusted His presence even though she experienced this dryness for decades.  I cannot imagine how much of a struggle this must have been for her, trying to serve individuals with great needs in Calcutta within the spiritual desert she found her soul in. Ultimately she knew God was with her and she had one key source that continued to keep her going – Jesus in the Eucharist.

Mother Teresa made it a priority to ensure that she and her sisters had time before Jesus in the Eucharist every single day.  The source and summit of our faith was the center of her ministry and provided her with the grace she needed to keep going, loving God and loving others with the love of Christ. The graces received from the Eucharist are beyond our human understanding.

At the end of the day, we can all learn from Mother Teresa. We must draw our strength from the Eucharist. Jesus is there waiting for us. Whether we visit Him in person or watch a live stream (I have one in Poland that I love to watch on Youtube) Jesus is with us and we are with Him. During these times of uncertainty, He wants to remain hopeful in Him, no matter where we are at on our spiritual journey. I feel as though I write often on struggle, anxiety, and spiritual dryness but I hope that this honest post will bring you hope. Know that you are not alone in the desert, Christ remains with us always (no matter if we feel distant from Him – He never leaves our side), and go forward with courage on the mission God has for you. Draw close to Him in the Eucharist, whether online or in-person and trust Him to be with you as you find your Calcutta.

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Nathalie Shultz is a joyful convert to the Catholic faith and a competitive swimmer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  She loves to share her passion for Catholicism with others, including her conversion story and how God continues to work miracles in her life through her OCD. She is the Director of Religious Education for the North Allegan Catholic Collaborative of parishes. Nathalie is married to her best friend, Tommy Shultz. Her favorite saints include St. Peter the Apostle, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul II.  She is also a huge fan of C.S. Lewis. If you have any questions for Nathalie, or just want her to pray for you, you can email her at rodzinkaministry@gmail.com

Parish Priests: Saints or Sinners?

Today is the memorial of Saint John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. We frequently discuss our pastors and their associates, especially when it comes to difficult or controversial decisions that they make. Given my role working for a parish with four priests and four deacons, I think that it might be good to discuss parish priests from the inside.

Depending on your background as a faithful Catholic, you might have one of two attitudes towards parish priests. You may see them as wonderful men who can practically do no wrong, entrusted with sacred faculties to act in the person of Christ. The pastor is both leader and servant and is able to manage all things through the strength of the God who has empowered him to exercise ministry. With a little prayer, he can handle any challenge of parish life. At times, it seems that he can do no wrong.

On the other hand, you may see priests as fragile, flawed men whom God has unfathomably graced with power beyond their merits. They can do amazing things, but at the bottom, they are human and broken like the rest of us. They have divine assistance, but they desperately need our help. At times, it seems like they are no better than the average person.

Each of these conceptions has a grain of truth to it, as we can see from the special readings for Saint John Vianney. On the one hand, priests are given “authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness” (Matt 10:1). They are sent as God’s messengers to admonish his people, spread the good news, and proclaim liberty to the captives. Parish priests are given abundant grace to overcome every situation, priming them for holiness.

On the other hand, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few” (Matt 9:37). Priests may have power, but they can be outnumbered. They cannot always bear the weight of their duties. The first reading from Ezekiel speaks of a priest’s immense responsibility for those who turn away from God: “I will hold you responsible for his death if you did not warn him” (Ezek 3:20). Priests have awesome power, but they also have a grave responsibility. Sometimes it is too much for them to handle gracefully.

An accurate perspective on parish priests needs to take account of both of these attitudes. Yes, priests are given immense power, authority, and grace. They have been privileged for holiness. Yes, priests are flawed, fragile human beings with responsibilities too great for man to bear. They are much like the rest of us.

As a liturgist working under an eight-man clergy team, I see both sides of this reality routinely. There have been many times in which a priest is being casual and lighthearted one moment and stoic the next. When discussing logistics or community life, jokes are frequent. When preaching from the ambo or explaining the Sacraments, the tone becomes loftier and more serious. Some of the priests I would consider the most simple and unintelligent have given the most profound homilies. Behind the unassuming personality and need for assistance lies an icon screen in an office, or a frequent habit of Adoration. The priests with whom I work are fragile and human, but they are blessed with grace and authority. In the less serious moments, the fragility is front and center. In the context of priestly duties, the sanctity is showcased.

Priests are men like the rest of us, struggling to maintain a life of prayer and sacrifice. Each of them has his own quirks and imperfections, and each is uniquely challenged by different aspects of parish life. Yet, while parish priests are human, they have been changed by God in their very being. They are priests after the order of Melchizedek, and nothing can take that character away from them. Their souls have been marked.

It is important to remember these things about our parish priests. When a complete picture of the priesthood informs our actions, we begin to treat these men differently. Knowing the authority and power of the priest, we address him as “father” and make every effort to avoid insulting the Lord whom he represents. Knowing the humanity and fragility of the priest, we are unafraid to converse with him as a companion on the road to heaven. We recognize that at times he will need our help and that at all times he needs our prayers.

With these things in mind, let us give thanks for our parish priests: human, yet acting in the person of the divine. Saint John Vianney, pray for our parish priests.

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David is the Associate Director of Liturgy for a group of parishes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he is not spending time with his wife and infant daughter, he is writing on philosophy and theology for various online publications. You can find some of these in Crisis Magazine and the Imaginative Conservative, and you can contact him at ddashiellwork@gmail.com.

Trust in the Power of Christ

This is my all-time favorite passage in scripture. Firstly, we see Jesus go off by himself to pray. As if preparing for the opening night of a play or an amazing feat of strength, Jesus goes off by himself to focus on the miracle he is about to perform, and more importantly, the message he is going to send.

Secondly, you can almost feel the fear in the hearts of the disciples. The boat being tossed by the waves, their minds knowing from their trade how quickly the sea can turn from a friend to a foe. A single second is the difference between life and death. Jesus allows them to stay in the boat until they mistake him for a ghost and he immediately shows to them who he is. The disciples realize how much they need the Lord, and immediately he shows himself to them.

Thirdly, he shows them how they can trust. Trust in the power and might of God. Trust in his promises. Trust in his love. Trust in his mercy. So Jesus prays, helps the disciples see their need for God, and then fulfills this need through his miracle of walking on the water and calming the storm.

The question is how do we respond? The disciples responded in three ways. There were those who remained scared and stayed in the boat. Fear overcame them and they did not trust. There was Peter who walked out on the water towards Jesus. His eyes fully fixed on Christ and his promises. And then finally there is Peter as he sinks, getting distracted by the waves that crashed about around him and losing focus on the Lord.

Which one are we? Are we afraid? Are we walking and trusting? Or are we starting to sink? The answer to wherever we are at right now in our lives is what Jesus taught us. Pray, realize our need for God, and then allow the Lord to perform wondrous miracles in our lives. May we be honest with ourselves about where we are and strive to trust, even when the waves crash. God Bless!

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Tommy Shultz is Director of Evangelization for the North Allegan Catholic Collaborative and the founder of Rodzinka Ministries. In these roles, he is committed to bringing all those he meets into a deeper relationship with Christ. Tommy has a heart and a flair for inspiring people to live their faith every day. He has worked in various youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. He has been a featured speaker at retreats and events across the country. His mission and drive have been especially inspired by St. John Paul II’s teachings. Tommy is blessed to be able to learn from the numerous parishes he visits and pass that experience on in his presentations. With a degree in Theology from Franciscan University, Tommy hopes to use his knowledge to help all people understand the beauty of The Faith.

He Answers All Our Needs

When was the last time you felt like you were on your own? Where it felt as though it was all up to you? Perhaps you felt discouraged or alone facing a certain challenge. I for one have a habit of worrying that makes trusting God a constant choice I have to choose again and again. I have to give up the reins and remember that He answers all my needs.

This is the beauty of the Scripture readings today. We are reminded that Jesus takes care of our every need and we face absolutely nothing alone. In the First Reading, we hear God’s invitation to those who are thirsty to come to the water and drink without cost. He asks us, “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” For He alone satisfies our heart’s desires and offers it to us without cost. We don’t need to do anything to deserve this gift. He freely gives it to us.

The Responsorial Psalm reiterates the truth that “The hand of the Lord feeds us, He answers all our needs.” In the Second Reading, we are asked “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” As we read on, we find that nothing can separate us because “we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us”. We are never alone, He is on our side and always with us. We can do all things through Him. Our Gospel Reading ties all these readings together with Jesus’ miracle of the five loaves and two fish, feeding five thousand people. The disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they could go into town and buy their own meals, but Jesus had other plans. He provided for the needs of those before Him, He didn’t let a single one of them go without eating. “They all ate and were satisfied.”

Let us remember in times we feel alone or struggle to trust, that He invites us to come and drink. That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, He is always on our side. Let us remember that “The hand of the Lord feeds us, He answers all our needs.” When we go to Him and open our hearts to His love, we will be like the crowd that day, satisfied.

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Briana is the Pastoral Minister at St. Mark Church in Cleveland, OH. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Catechetics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH, and is excited to use these skills to serve the Church.

Peer Pressure

In today’s Gospel, we hear about one of the first documented and most intense cases of peer pressure. Because of a fear of the crowd, Herod murders John the Baptist. Now it may seem like this is an extreme example and we might think, nobody would ever do that in our time, or how could it have gone that far?

But let’s take a moment and bring this story into our particular experiences. Sometimes it can help when we read the bible to put ourselves into the situation. Usually, this works best if we put ourselves as one of the people Jesus is loving or teaching, or it’s at least easier that way. But I am going to challenge us to put ourselves in the point of view of Herod.

When was the last time we let our beliefs crumble because of a certain fear or embarrassment? Think about this last time and ask the question, is that something you ever would have done years ago? What I have noticed in my own life is if I start to slowly give in to peer pressure or remain silent when I should speak up, it starts slow and eventually I lose sight of who I was years ago and the things I promised I would never budge on.

Maybe we wouldn’t murder someone out of fear, but what have we done recently because it was just easier to give in than to stand up for the truth? This is an important and difficult question. As we ask it, let’s keep Jesus close. He will help us remember what the truth is and how we can continue to live from it to the best of our ability with his grace and mercy. God Bless and happy thinking and praying.

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Tommy Shultz is Director of Evangelization for the North Allegan Catholic Collaborative and the founder of Rodzinka Ministries. In these roles, he is committed to bringing all those he meets into a deeper relationship with Christ. Tommy has a heart and a flair for inspiring people to live their faith every day. He has worked in various youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. He has been a featured speaker at retreats and events across the country. His mission and drive have been especially inspired by St. John Paul II’s teachings. Tommy is blessed to be able to learn from the numerous parishes he visits and pass that experience on in his presentations. With a degree in Theology from Franciscan University, Tommy hopes to use his knowledge to help all people understand the beauty of The Faith.

The Lot Marked Out For Me Is My Delight

The lot marked out for me is my delight. This was a passage from Psalm 16 that was written on a piece of paper given to me in a meeting around the year 1996.

For the past almost twenty-five years, this simple verse of scripture has kept me wondering about the mystery of life, the wonder of choosing one’s stance toward life’s events that can bring both joy and pain.

How can we find delight in situations that have been “marked out for us”?

How can we find our joy in forsaking our own way in order to delight in what we end up with in the seemingly random events that direct the outcome of who we are and what we have in life?

In other words, how can we be happy being the clay, when our frightened grasping selves would be happier, we presume, if we were ourselves were the potter?

The image of the potter and the potter’s wheel appears through scripture, an apt and beautiful expression of God’s faithful, tender, loving action in our lives.

When Jeremiah went down to the potter’s house, what did he see? The ancient potter would scrape the clay from the earth, and throwing it on the ground would trample on it. He would soften the brittle and resistant clay with water and knead it until it softened into a paste. This kneaded clay would be slapped firmly onto the center of his potter’s wheel, which was a flat disk mounted on a rod. By holding the clay as the wheel turned and manipulating it with his fingers and palms, the potter would transform the lump of clay into a vessel, any vessel of his choosing.

We are the clay, not the pot but the clay. In process. Being formed, shaped, reformed,  transformed.

If we are the clay under the expert work of the divine Potter, we can be sure that he intends to do something with us and in us. We are beautiful to him. We have a purpose. We have a meaning in life that brings him joy. We are a part of his great plan.

Life’s sorrows and burdens are the trampling that brings forth the tears that soften the clay. Even the moments of pain are part of the process of becoming.

The clay has no idea what the Potter is trying to create. It yields itself completely to the expert and loving kneading of the One who envisions for it the fullness of life.

After the clay has been pushed and prodded and pulled and shaped on the potter’s wheel, it was baked in a kiln, a special furnace that might easily reach 2700°F. Different types of pots require different types of heat. The divine Potter, like any good potter, doesn’t arbitrarily submit the clay pot to a degree of heat that is beyond the endurance of the vessel. No vessel receives more heat than it needs. The most beautiful clay pots require the greatest heat. The most beautiful souls are often those who have suffered the most and have become kind, gentle, and courageously loving in the process.

The divine Potter never gives up on the clay. He is endlessly inventive and creative.

When I think of how solicitously the divine Potter has bent over me as he transforms my life into the beautiful life he has had in mind for me from all eternity, I can absolutely cry out, “The lot marked out for me is my delight.”

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Kathryn James Hermes, FSP, is the author of the newly released title: Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments, by Pauline Books and Media. An author and spiritual mentor, she offers spiritual accompaniment for the contemporary Christian’s journey towards spiritual growth and inner healing. She is the director of My Sisters, where people can find spiritual accompaniment from the Daughters of St. Paul on their journey.

Website: www.touchingthesunrise.com

Public Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/srkathrynhermes/

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Being a Mary in a Martha World

Mary is so humble, anointing Jesus’ feet. Mary is so contemplative. “We should all be like Mary,” I say to myself as I skim the Gospel at rapid speed while listening to a podcast and putting my son’s toys away for the 1000x time today.  I catch myself judging Martha. Doesn’t she realize Jesus is just sitting there, waiting to spend time with her?

Oh. wait. Reality check. When was the last time I chose “the better part” like Mary?

To-do lists. Deadlines. Self-inflicted doubts. Unmet expectations. Comparisons. These false priorities consume 99/9% of my waking thoughts.

I have always been a do-er. I am not one of those people who can sit around all morning, sipping tea with a good book and avocado toast. (Much to the dismay of my husband, who can do this all day!) I thrive in a go-go-go environment. Give me a triple shot of espresso over ice and 10 errands to run and I am SET.

I even find it a struggle to quiet my mind and just sit with our Lord in Adoration. I have to fight the tendency to talk at God the whole time. In silence, my mind wanders every which way. So I often resign myself to praying memorized prayers.

So then I find myself defending Martha because I see so much of myself in her! Poor Martha. So misunderstood. As the oldest of 4 girls, I can definitely attest to similarly tattling on a sister who is sitting on the couch while I cook dinner. I’m so preoccupied with serving everyone. Meeting very present needs, but often too frazzled for my own good.

In learning more about myself through prayer and self-reflection, I have come to peace with the fact that resting is just something that will never come easy for me. I have to actively seek opportunities to hone the art of resting. Furthermore, I have to fight the lie that Satan has fed me for years that resting = laziness.

Our society today idolizes busy-ness, to the point that, when asked how we are, “busy” becomes a valid response. We are all so “busy” doing nothing worthwhile, that, as a result, we are unable to be present to anyone. We have lost the art of leisure. I am talking about true leisure, not scrolling through Instagram for 2 hours (although, sometimes, that is necessary).

But, the great paradox here is that we cannot have Mary without Martha. We cannot appreciate leisure without also understanding the value of hard work. The all-too-familiar passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” It is up to us to discern what season we are called to live in, in every moment.

2-day old dishes in the sink? Maybe not the best time to kick my feet up and binge Netflix.

Our Lord in my living room, waiting to converse with me? I better drop that sponge and sprint to His feet.

That is what being a Mary in a Martha world looks like.

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Sarah Rose hails from Long Island and graduated from Franciscan University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Theology & Catechetics. She is happily married to her college sweetheart John Paul. They welcomed their first child, Judah Zion, in 2019. She is passionate about her big V-vocation: motherhood, and her little v-vocation: bringing people to encounter Christ through the true, the good, and the beautiful. She loves fictional novels, true crime podcasts/documentaries, the saints (especially Blessed Chiara Luce Badano), & sharing conversation over a good cup of coffee. She is currently the Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Cecilia Church in Oakley, Cincinnati. You can find out more about her ministry here: https://eastsidefaith.org/young-adult OR at https://www.facebook.com/stceciliayam.

The Miracle of the Scarlet Thread

The Talmud is filled with ancient Jewish teachings that existed as an oral tradition at the time of Christ. It describes the details of an unusual event, a miracle, that was said to occur annually as the High Priest officiated in the Temple on Yom Kippur. Like the readings for today, this miracle encourages us to reconcile ourselves with God while we have the chance. It shows that the battle for our salvation is simultaneously a love affair that revolves around the transformative power of God’s mercy.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, has historically been regarded as the most solemn day of the year for the Jewish people. On this day and on this day alone, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies where God’s Spirit was said to dwell. Having searched his conscience and repented of his sins, he would step behind a veil and offer up the blood of calves and goats for the sins of Israel and her priests.

While the High Priest was officiating, the people would pray outside. The Talmud says, “Originally they used to fasten the thread of scarlet on the door of the [Temple] court on the outside. If it turned white the people used to rejoice, and if it did not turn white they were sad.” In other words, if the thread turned white, the people knew they were forgiven, but if it remained red, they believed that their sins had been too great and had therefore not been expiated by the sacrifice of the priest.

The Talmud also says that “[f]or forty years before the destruction of the Temple the thread of scarlet never turned white but it remained red.” The Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. Approximately forty years prior, the great veil protecting the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died. Both the ripping of the temple veil and the miracle of the scarlet thread symbolize the spiritual reality that the Jewish sacrifices were fulfilled by Jesus’ self-offering on the cross (Heb. 9:1-10:14).

In the new covenant forged in Christ’s blood, the Holy of Holies still exists but it is given a new name: The Bride of Christ. In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John was shown “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” who appeared as “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel” (Rev. 21:9-11). An angel produced a measuring rod to prove that the city’s “length and breadth and height [were] equal” (Rev. 21:16). This rather odd detail is significant because the Holy of Holies had been a perfect cube. By describing the Bride of Christ in such a way, the author was saying that the Bride will attain perfect intimacy with God, something those under the old covenant could scarcely imagine.

Here on earth, however, the Bride of Christ is still “[making] herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). This is the subject for today’s Gospel reading. Jesus likened his kingdom to a field in which wheat and weeds grow up together. He emphasized that this coexistence of good and evil which is so familiar to us will not last. The world will eventually end; in the meantime, our individual worlds will end when we die.

Christ taught us that the only way to survive death was by accepting God’s gift of mercy. In Revelation 7:14, St. John saw the souls in heaven who had “come out of the great tribulation,” and they were exalting in God having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Mercy transforms us just like the miracle of the scarlet thread. As the Lord said in Isaiah 1:18: “[T]hough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” May the Lord give us the grace to believe in and enter into a love that is truly miraculous.

For more information on the miracle of the scarlet thread, please see Roy Schoeman’s book, Salvation is from the Jews, pp. 130-132.

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Nikol M. Jones is in her final year at Franciscan University’s Master’s in Theology and Christian Ministry program where it has been her joy to learn how to integrate the tools of modern biblical scholarship with the principles of biblical interpretation set forth by the Catholic Church in the service of the Word of God. She also has a passion for creating artwork and children’s books that honor the life and teachings of Christ. When she’s not studying or painting, she utilizes her writing and organizational skills as an administrative assistant. You can connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nikol-m-jones-4b9893140/.

Do Not Forget the Lord

Today is one of those days where we can feel chastised by the readings. We first hear of how the Lord will “allow the pride of Judah to rot, the great pride of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 13:9). By the time we finish the Psalm, we have heard “You have forgotten God who gave you birth” four times (Deuteronomy 31:18). Not exactly the most encouraging words for a Monday morning. The passages are clearly about idolatry, but we still hear the words as meant for us.

While we might not be worshiping idols of wood and stone, we still turn to things other than God to fulfill us. For many, sweets, games, or sexual pleasures fill the void. For others, it is the good things that are loved beyond their worth: food, conversation, travel, the list goes on. In both cases, something else, whether good or evil, is put in place of God. We forget the Lord and put created things in His place.

We often forget the Lord when things are looking bleak. Faced with a tragic situation like the death of a loved one, some come close to worship of the deceased, placing them at the center of all thoughts, words, and prayers. Others become angry with God, living as if He did not exist. When in crisis, we can either turn toward God or hide from Him. This is the difference between praying for healing and failing to pray at all during a pandemic. One response acknowledges the power and goodness of God, while the other pretends that He is powerless, or at least uninterested, in time of trial.

On the other hand, we can forget the Lord when things are looking up. In times of prosperity, we can easily forget the struggle and the grace which enabled us to reach such heights. Having received glory, wealth, or power, we begin to rely on it and it alone to remain secure. We forget that without the Lord’s constant care, holding all things in existence, our good fortune would pass away. When we do not think we need help, it is easy to forget that God continues to act.

Though we can feel chastised, today is also one of those days when we feel confident that we are on the right track. After all, we follow the Lord’s commands when we hear them. We are more like the mustard seed or the yeast, humbly yielding to the growth which the Lord intends for us. We remember to rely on the Lord both in time of trial and time of peace. We can lean on God in distress and thank Him in prosperity. Even so, when we hear readings such as these we must be careful not to become too complacent. We must look for the truth in both feelings – shame and confidence –arriving at a view of reality that is balanced and accurate.

Our Gospel can help us to synthesize these reactions. Both the mustard plant and the leaven begin small. If neglected at this stage, they will remain minuscule, shriveling up and rotting like Jeremiah’s loincloth. If we forget God when we feel insignificant and downtrodden, we will only sink to lower depths. With the grace of God, we can move out of this state, just as the seed and yeast begin to grow with a little care. Though we cannot always see the growth happening, the end result is magnificent. The plant becomes a home to the birds of the sky, and the yeast becomes a large batch of dough. On the other side of the struggle, we see the constant providence of God and can rest in His peace.

Still, this time of prosperity is not the end. We can still forget the Lord, bringing us to a worse state than the first. A dead plant is worse than a live seed, and stale bread is worse than active yeast culture. It is not as if the mustard plant can become a seed again, or the loaf of bread can become yeast again. If we do not continue to cultivate our relationship with God in times of prosperity, we can stagnate and grow cold.

The first reading and Gospel remind us of the power and presence of the Lord. He is always there, watching us and providing the growth until the end of the age. Even when we turn away from Him, He cares enough to call us back. Though we can forget these things, we know that God never forgets us.

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David is the Associate Director of Liturgy for a group of parishes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he is not spending time with his wife and infant daughter, he is writing on philosophy and theology for various online publications. You can find some of these in Crisis Magazine and the Imaginative Conservative, and you can contact him at ddashiellwork@gmail.com.

Discipleship Has a Price

What is our mission as Christians? You might respond by quoting Matthew 28:19-20, “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 you would be correct.

In other words, then, our goal, our mission is to make the Kingdom of Heaven present here on earth. But, in order to do that, it is helpful to first understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is.

But there is no possible way for us to understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, what with our tendency toward sin and our limited human minds. So what are we to do?

Listen to Jesus, of course! He would know better than anyone what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. He also knows better than anyone just how best to teach us – his followers – and so he employs the help of parables.

We’ve heard a number of parables over the past few Sundays, which taught us about a number of different things. Today, though, we hear about the Kingdom of Heaven being like buried treasure and also like a pearl of great price. How does that help our understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven and so help us on our mission?

The person who finds the treasure buried in a field and buries it again – he goes and sells all that he has in order to purchase the field with the treasure. Same goes for the merchant. Once he finds the pearl of great price, he sells all that he has in order to buy that particular pearl.

We, as humans, understand money and the value attached to items based on their price. Both the land containing the buried treasure and the pearl must have been very expensive – so much so that both the seekers had to sell everything that they had in order to obtain the treasure and the pearl.

This is a harsh reality, one we also understand. Could you imagine emptying your bank accounts and trading in all your assets to purchase one single, solitary item? It’s unthinkable in today’s world and probably just as crazy in ancient times too.

That’s how precious the Kingdom of Heaven is. It is worth more than anything we could ever own or ever imagine and, yet, it is a possession promised to each and every one of us through our Baptism and Jesus’ death on the cross. It is our reward and our end goal – eternal life with God in Heaven – and we must give up all that we have and all that we are in order to achieve the holiness necessary to get there, which involves following in the footsteps of Jesus, preaching His Gospel and performing works of mercy and love.

God never said it would be easy, just like I’m sure it wasn’t easy to sell everything to purchase the land with the treasure and the pearl of great price. Yet it was still done with joy because the beholder knew the true value of the gift he was seeking. May we strive to build the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth with the same joy!

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Erin is a Cleveland native and graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Following graduation, she began volunteering in youth ministry at her home parish of Holy Family Church. Her first “big girl” job was in collegiate sports information where, after a busy two years in the profession on top of serving the youth, she took a leap of faith and followed the Lord’s call to full-time youth ministry at St. Peter Church. She still hopes to use her communication arts degree as a freelance writer and statistician, though. You can catch her on the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter @erinmadden2016.

What’s the Point?

It is so easy to lose our focus. Like the mother of James and John, it is so-so easy to become infatuated with the world’s definition of success and to completely miss the point.

We are familiar with today’s Gospel reading and we find the story, not only in Matthew’s Gospel but also in Mark’s Gospel. The placement of the story of James and John in Mark is interesting as well. In Mark, the story of the brothers’ ambition to sit in positions of power, comes after the story of the workers in the vineyard, in which all workers are paid according to their value and dignity as persons rather than what they could do for the owner for the vineyard. 

It is easy to get caught up in all that is happening around us. We are given all the tips and keys for “getting ahead” (which implies leaving others behind), for learning how to “win friends and influence people” (which implies that the reason for befriending someone is to be able to influence them), how to “think and grow rich” (which implies that getting rich is the goal to which we all should strive). All this ends up with us being unhappy with what we have and desiring to be in a position to get what we think we need. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the success the world is selling and to forget that Jesus turned all that on its head. 

The world is a mess around you? You feel like everything is out of control and there is nothing you can do? You feel like others are leaving you behind on the ladder of success? Jesus has the answer. 

But Jesus summoned them and said,

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave…”

The world is a mess? St. Paul told us, we will be constricted by not constrained. Jesus has the answer. Serve the person next to you. You feel like it’s all out of control? St. Paul told us we will be perplexed but not driven to despair. The answer? Love the person next to you. You feel like you are being left behind on the ladder of success? St. Paul told us we would be persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. The answer? Serve the neighbor closest to you. 

Find some small act of love, some small gift of charity, some tiny act of humility that you can practice today. When we seek to serve first, we realize that Jesus doesn’t just have the answer, He is the answer. 

“Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Holy Spirit, guide us today in seeking first how we can be a blessing and source of love for others, confident that when we put others first, we are only imitating what you did for us.

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Sheryl delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.