Doing a Lot with Just a Little

Have you ever Google searched a mustard seed? Or have you ever seen one in person? Those things are pretty dang tiny (and even that might be an understatement).

That’s why I’ve always found today’s Gospel – and others like it – intriguing. The size of a mustard seed doesn’t lend itself to much. You wouldn’t expect much out of it upon sight. That’s where the intrigue lies, for when a mustard seed is planted, it grows into a large plant.

Today’s Gospel draws the comparison of the Kingdom of Heaven to the large bush that grows from a single mustard seed. The bush was large and fully-grown, attracting the birds of the sky to come and rest in its branches.

As I read those verses and try to imagine what Jesus must have meant with this parable, it struck me that our own understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven is much like a single mustard seed – small, to say the least. Yet, when the mustard seed is planted in the ground, something comes forth much larger and more beautiful than expected.

We have no earthly understanding of what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like and yet we are called to make the Kingdom of Heaven present here on earth. How can we make the Kingdom of Heaven known when we can’t even wrap our minds around it ourselves? It is certainly greater than any human words or comparison could ever hold. Instead, we entrust our mustard seed-like understanding to the Lord, plant the seed and work, allowing Him to take care of the rest. Eventually, one day, when we have finished our mission here on earth (and finished it well), we will be rewarded by our own presence in the Kingdom of Heaven.

My take from all of this is that the Lord can do a lot of good with just a little. Just a little what, though? A little faith. A little hope. A little love. A little trust, a little time and a little space in our lives and hearts. That’s all we need to give Him – though, hopefully, we end up giving the Lord more than that!

If you aren’t sure where to start, ask God to show you. That’s giving Him a little bit of room to work in your life while also giving Him a little bit of your faith.

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Erin Madden 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.

The Compassion of Christ

“Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” 

In the first reading we hear Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to be compassionate with one another. He calls them, and in turn calls us, to be imitators of Christ in everything we do. What St. Paul is urging us to do is not easy. Immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, and suggestive talk are all actions that we should rebuke. Rather than participating in deeds that distance us from Christ and His Kingdom, we are called to be thankful and compassionate. We are to live as children of light.

In today’s Gospel, Christ teaches us how to be compassionate. When he sees a woman who was “crippled by the Spirit” he calls out to her and heals her of her infirmity. In doing so, he angers the leader of the synagogue. The leader of the synagogue accuses Christ of not keeping holy the Sabbath because He cured the woman. Christ then rebukes him by calling him a hypocrite. Christ’s reasoning took me a very long time to understand. He asks the leader of the synagogue, “Does not each one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering?” I thought Christ was comparing the work they do with their animals to the work He did in curing the crippled woman. What I now understand is that Christ sees the watering of animals as compassionate. One would not deny an animal sustenance on the Sabbath in order to keep the day holy. Rather, one would be compassionate to the animal and grant the animal its need for water and food. In the same way, Christ did not deny the woman the compassion of healing her from her infirmity. By watering the animals their physical needs are met. In curing the woman, not only are her physical needs met but her spiritual needs are as well because we are told it was Satan who kept her in slavery and caused her infirmity. Curing the woman from her physical infirmity shows us that Christ came to cure us of our spiritual infirmities.

May we be Christ-like in our compassion toward others and may we always look for and find the face of Christ in one another.

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Dakota currently lives in Denver, CO and teaches English Language Development and Spanish to high schoolers. She is married to the love of her life, Ralph. In her spare time, she reads, goes to breweries, and watches baseball. Dakota’s favorite saints are St. John Paul II (how could it not be?) and St. José Luis Sánchez del Río. She is passionate about her faith and considers herself blessed at any opportunity to share that faith with others. Check out more of her writing at https://dakotaleonard16.blogspot.com.

A Blueprint for Charity

As we continue to hear of the difficult questions posed to Jesus, we come to the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). The second, also essential, follows close behind: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). We ought to honor God in the public square, attending Mass, defending core teachings of the Faith, and avoiding the idols of our time. In addition, we ought to care for the poor and needy, offering our time, talent, and treasure to be present to the disadvantaged. Often, we focus more on one or the other of these commandments. After all, worship and charity seem to be quite different. This focus is good to the extent that we truly put the Great Commandment, love of God, first. Even so, it is easy to miss the unifying connection between these two commandments: charity.

The Catechism, in paragraph 1822, refers to charity as the virtue “by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” Both commandments, touching God and neighbor, are encompassed by this virtue. Just as the Great Commandment takes primacy in Jesus’ response, so does love of God take primacy in the virtue of charity. Even love of neighbor, while seemingly centered on our brothers and sisters, is ultimately done for love of God. When we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we love all people for his sake, recognizing that the Lord wants his creation to flourish.

Our readings give us a sort of blueprint for this understanding of charity. Our reading from Exodus gives us a foundation: charity cannot exist in us without justice. Justice, at its core, means giving the other person what is due to him. If we wrong the widow, the orphan, the poor, or our neighbor, we cannot possibly move forward in acting out of love for them. We must treat all people as they deserve, created in God’s image and likeness. This is the minimum, asked of the Hebrews immediately upon being freed from Egyptian slavery. Still drawn to idolatry, they were expected to be just.

Once we learn to be just, as even the pagans were, we turn our thoughts to God. The Psalmist expresses this beautifully, proclaiming God as his strength, rock, fortress, and deliverer. “The LORD lives and blessed be my rock! Extolled be God my savior” (Ps 18:47). We proclaim in reply, “I love you, Lord, my strength.” All charity, as seen in the Catechism, begins with love of God. As Love himself, the Lord is the perfect object of our love. He gives us all that we need and even more, equipping us for a life of joy. Throughout our trials and triumphs, he is present. Beyond what he gives us, God is always worthy to be praised and loved, perfect and wonderful as he is. God is to be loved with all of our strength. This is why love of God is the Great Commandment.

Saint Paul shows us the flowering of charity in our second reading. Having practiced justice and the love of God, we can perfect our love of neighbor. The Thessalonians impress Paul precisely in showing this charity: not only did they hear the words of the Lord and implement them, but they spread them far and wide. They cared so deeply for their brothers and sisters that they could not bear to see them deprived of the grace of God. They strove to bring all to Christ, both to fulfill God’s will and to serve their neighbor. Their evangelization was an act of love for neighbor, but it was done out of love for God. This unity of the commandments is exactly what charity calls for. We practice justice, love God in himself, and love God in our neighbor, all at the same time.

Often, we hear gospel passages such as this one and remain at the surface. It is fairly easy to imagine what Jesus means when he tells us to love God and to love our neighbor. However, when we read in context and look for the depth of God’s Word, we can see the riches of a life of charity, lived in union with God and in communion with our neighbors.

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David Dashiell 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.

Will You Be Found Ready When the Time for Reaping Comes?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus issues a frightening warning to all those gathered around Him. He foretells eternal damnation for those who will not repent. Blood will be spilled. Souls will be condemned by their actions. People will perish. But He does not give His warning without also providing hope.

There is still time. Damnation is not inevitable. After issuing his warning, Jesus provides a parable that offers hope to those listening. He tells the story of a fig tree that would not provide fruit. When the owner of the orchard saw its lack of fruit, he desired to cut it down. But the gardener spoke up on behalf of the plant, asking for one year before the fig tree should be cut down. In that time, the gardener would cultivate the ground and fertilize it, giving the tree the best chance of bearing fruit. If at the end of the year fruit had not been produced, the gardener would cut down the tree.

We are each that fig tree in the parable, and the one year of cultivation is the span of years that we will live on this earth. That is the time that we have to be cultivated and fertilized. That is the time that we have to embrace our salvation. Jesus Christ is our gardener, our defender, but even He must work within the bonds of our allotted time. We must embrace our salvation while it is ours to accept. Once we have passed, there is no turning back. If we have not accepted our salvation by then, it will be too late. We will perish. We will be uprooted and cast away.

We don’t know how many years we have been given, so the time for conversion is now. Jesus Christ has already provided us the means to be saved. We just need to accept it. The ground has been fertilized and cultivated. Christ’s blood and water have been poured out from the cross, watering the ground. He has given us His Word in the Scriptures and His very Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We just need to take and read, take and eat, take and drink, and we will be saved.

Jesus Christ has provided the cultivation of the ground where we grow. Our souls can be fed. Now we must prepare for the harvest. We must bear fruit. We must open ourselves up to God’s Word, repent, and receive the Bread of Life. Christ is preparing us for the harvest. Will you be found ready when the time for reaping comes?

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Shannon Whitmore currently lives in northwestern Virginia with her husband, Andrew, and their two children, John and Felicity. When she is not caring for her children, Shannon enjoys writing for her blog, Love in the Little Things, reading fiction, and freelance writing. She has experience serving in the areas of youth ministry, religious education, sacramental preparation, and marriage enrichment.

Signs of the Times

Jesus points to the fact that his listeners (and his detractors) could certainly interpret indications of oncoming weather – clouds mean rain, wind from the south means heat – and he suggests that interpreting indications of spiritual realities should be just as easy. But is it?

Spiritual indicators are, on the one hand, just as obvious as weather indicators; they are, on the other hand, just as likely to be misinterpreted. The “secret” to interpreting properly is in the dispositions of our own hearts and minds.

The Jewish people should have known the signs of the Messiah’s coming, announced for centuries by the prophets. St. John the Baptist had paved a clear way, announcing that the Kingdom was at hand. Jesus himself was performing miracles of healing and restoration, preaching the coming of the Kingdom among them, and announcing (sometimes subtly, sometimes more clearly) that he was the One sent by the Father. And yet, those in authority did not want to accept these signs. Jesus called them out, making clear their reasons: they were not sincere in their intentions, they did not have the necessary good will, they had a personal interest in protecting the status quo because they liked the power and prestige they enjoyed. This roaming rabbi did not promise to overturn the rule of the Romans or restore the earthly Kingdom they looked for, and so they could not accept that Jesus was who he said he was.

When Jesus says to them (and to us), “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” he is pointing to the truth that God is always revealing the Truth, revealing His Will, revealing the way for us, if only we open ourselves to it with sincerity, humility, and love. IN CHRIST, we can know the Will of God, understand our position in the universe (which is infinitesimally small), and therefore appreciate our position in the Heart of the Father (which is disproportionately large). It is here, placing ourselves in our correct position of universal smallness and ontological largeness – here where we know that despite the fact that our existence on this planet is short and limited in scope, we have been called to the magnificence of life within the very Heart of God – that we are truly open to see God at work in our lives and in the world.

So when Jesus says we should be able to judge for ourselves what is right, and what is happening, what he is really inviting us to do is to humble ourselves before the objective Truth that IS, and open ourselves fully to the Spirit’s creative activity in human life. In prayer and immersion in the Word, we can enter more deeply into a relationship with God, and begin to hear the beating Heart of the Father.

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.

If You Set the World Ablaze, You’re Going to Tick People Off

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.” – Jesus

Most people would not smack books out the hands of a cripple at the library. Most people won’t cuss out the girl at McDonalds because they got an apple pie instead of a pumpkin pie. Most people quietly tolerate Facebook posts they disagree with and scroll on, avoiding the social brawl about to happen in the comment section.

Most people want to be known as a “good person.”

Very few of us want to be seen as jerks.

It’s a part of our humanity to avoid conflict and want to be liked by people around us. This instinct helps keep societies stable. Unfortunately, it also makes us poor Christians.

What’s interesting is that Jesus came to the world to rock the boat. He turned everything on its head. So much so, he was crucified for it.

And here’s the crazy part: Jesus wasn’t “nice.”

Nice is a shallow adjective that is easily misinterpreted to be Christian. Christ loves all people, but it’s because of his love that he has to put his foot down. A “nice” person does nice things for their own ego and because they are concerned with how people perceive them.

Christ creates division.

Modern Catholics are very quick to go with the flow. There’s often an expectation of tolerance and niceness when we think about the modern day Catholic. This is not at all the case. We are supposed to love others but if others persist in evil we cannot condone such behavior.

Humans are given Free Will. Ideally, we use our Free Will to choose the good, but in order for it to be a truly Free Will we must be able to choose the evil. If evil is not an option, is our Will free?

If you have never felt left out or at odds with non-believers there’s a very good chance that you are not living out the Catholic faith that Jesus intended. Jesus himself told us that division would happen. Jesus himself lived the Gospel so loudly that he was killed for it. Have you come even close to being killed for your belief in the Gospel?

It doesn’t have to be a literal death; it is more often a social death. A death that involves being unfriended on Facebook or getting called a “prude.”

If friends believe abortion is acceptable, we should love them, but we must show our dissent. We might lose our friends because of it.

As Jesus did, we should be friends with the sinners, “prostitutes”, and “tax collectors” but we also must share the Gospel and urge them to “sin no more” (in the most loving way possible).

To tolerate sin is failing in our Christian Faith. Being Christian has nothing to do with being nice and everything to do with dying for your faith. We are not a faith of subtlety.

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Patrick produces YouTube content for young Catholics on Catholic Late Night and Overt TV. He loves using humor to share the Truth of the Catholic faith with anyone who will listen. He resides currently in Chattanooga, TN and is a parishioner at The Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. Patrick graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville with a degree in Communication Arts and a Minor in Marketing.

Let’s Wait…Or Not

If you have lived as long as I have and had a few jobs in your life, perhaps you have worked with people that as soon as the boss walked out the door they let their “hair down.”  In other words, they would do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do when he/she was present. Sound familiar? God forbid the boss would come in at a time when there was an enormous amount of goofing off going on. There would be consequences! This is the kind of theme in today’s Gospel of Luke.

How much time do you spend thinking about your mortality? I promise you, the older you get, the more you think about it! (Today is my 75th birthday). Actually, at this stage of my life, I think more about getting closer and closer to God than about when I am going to die.

Secularism has crept into churches all over the world. If you are or were a regular church goer you might have noticed that in many cases attendance has gone down. And I’m talking about before Covid-19. And now it’s getting worse. There is a visible force attempting to destroy Christianity here and around the earth. It shows up in our church big time. Very sad. Some feel that since Christ has not shown up after 2000 years, then perhaps he never will, or worse yet, that he was never really God. I have heard some say that there is no proof that God exists. Some people actually think that God exists simply because they believe he exists. Sorry to those people, God exists whether we believe it or not.

That brings us back to the surprise party. That day that Jesus decides to come back. Remember, it will be like a thief coming in the middle of the night!  Malachi says, “Oh, that great and terrible day.” It will be great for believers but terrible for unbelievers. Does it give you chills? It does me! It may be a time to look at our spiritual walk.

  • Am I spending more time with the Lord?

For those of you that struggle with silence, that was number one on my list many years ago. When I started college, I would have rather had a bad roommate than none at all. I could not handle silence at all. My wife helped cure me of that problem. Soon after we were married she would get up at 5:00 AM to spend time with the Lord. She was a great role model for me. If you are of a contemplative nature, then sitting before the Blessed Sacrament is like a slice of heaven. Lectio Divina is a wonderful way for you to widen that pathway between you and God. You will be amazed. If you don’t have access to a church or chapel try praying a daily rosary or a divine mercy chaplet or both! Read books on the lives of the saints to see how others overcame great difficulties to become holy.

  • Am I helping others in need?

If you are stumped on this one, then see Matthew 25. Jesus gives a great list of those things that you and I can do. It will make him smile. Joy comes with giving! If you are still stumped, ask the Lord in your evening prayer what he wishes you to do. You will get an answer!

Serve with joy!

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Deacon Dan Schneider is a retired general manager of industrial distributors. He and his wife Vicki recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They are the parents of eight children and twenty-nine grandchildren. He has a degree in Family Life Education from Spring Arbor University. He was ordained a Permanent Deacon in 2002.  He has a passion for working with engaged and married couples and his main ministry has been preparing couples for marriage.

God’s In-Pouring love

“Be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.”

Weddings are wonderful events, celebrations when we somehow are able to set aside the past and hope for the future of a couple with whom we have in some way shared the journey of life.

However…

What would be some reasons why a wedding feast wouldn’t be a joyous celebration?

Think about it for a minute…

I’ll name a few hypothetical reasons why we may not be thoroughly and completely delighted at a wedding feast:

The bride has a more beautiful wedding dress than I did.
The wedding feast is larger than what my spouse and I would be able to have.
I don’t approve of the marriage.
I’m worried about the future of the couple.
I wish I could be that happy in public like the groom. Instead I shrink with fear or shame for some reason I can’t understand.
My marriage or vocational choice has gone through the wringer with sorrows and setbacks. It’s not fair that they have everything going for them.
I have been slighted or hurt or unjustly treated by one of them and hope they get what they deserve.

Whoa. Suddenly the feasting is no longer shining with joy. It is distorted and darkened with jealousy or fear or anger or…

…Or hurt…

In the Gospel today Jesus tells us to be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast. He says they should have their belts done up and their lamps lit, that is to be actively getting ready for his return.

So what are some reasons why we may not be actively, excitedly preparing ourselves for the Lord’s coming?

Here are some hypothetical possibilities…

I’ve lost a child and no matter how much I prayed, God did nothing.

My life hasn’t turned out the way I had hoped.

Others have gotten ahead of me and I resent that I’m not more talented, more positioned for success, more wealthy.

Trauma in my early years has left me struggling to trust, to hope, to love anyone and even God himself. I’ve shut down to protect myself.

I can’t remember the last time I was happy.

My experience of love in my formative years was conditioned on my good behavior or good grades. I never seem good enough for God. I can’t believe he would love me.

I pray but I don’t think God listens to me.

I think that God will come to punish me. I’m not even sure there is a place for me in heaven. I’m still worried about something I did when I was a teenager and if God has forgiven me.

Something similar lies at the root of both of these hypothetical lists.

Hurt.

The wounds we have sustained in life deeply affect us…at the level of the heart. We certainly get absorbed in the thoughts and memories and feelings that swirl within us on a conscious level. Just think of these hypothetical situations and all the drama that they create within a person and in relationships. Our small mind’s antics are just ways to distract us from the utter pain we each carry in some way in our deeper heart, pain from past wounds accumulated over the years.

Friend, I encourage you to hold that hurt and honor that wound. Know that deeper than the wound itself, however, is the spark of God’s in-pouring love that sustains your life on every level. We all have to struggle with the small-minded antics that get played out within us and which drive us then to act in small-minded ways. Hurt does that. The readings today, however, call us to look deeper. To actively seek to hold up the lamp in the dark begging for God to show us his face. To reveal how through all the pain we “in him are being built up into a dwelling-place of God in the Spirit.”

It begins with being aware of what is holding us back, what is small-minded and pain-filled and welcoming both the wound and the healing. As the wound heals, the light is released and the delicious joy of the wedding feast invades our life, pushing away the small-minded narrowness with the amazing discovery of Jesus’ promise: “In truth I tell you, he will do up his belt, sit them down at table and wait on them.”

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Sr. Kathryn J. HermesKathryn 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/ For monthly spiritual journaling guides, weekly podcasts and over 50 conferences and retreat programs join my Patreon community: https://www.patreon.com/srkathryn.

Sharing Vs. Selfishness

“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Luke 12:15

If only we could seek to live out these very words shared to us by Jesus in today’s Gospel. We must consciously guard our hearts of all greed and envy. Jesus is warning us not to allow selfishness to taint our vision and act as if we are God.

In life, we must be careful not to allow our actions to be done out of selfishness thereby leaving little to no room for God and others.

The parable in this story points to what happens when we become consumed with “stuff” and are selfish. I could not help but picture this man’s barn full of grain that was never intended to be shared with others, even to the point of his food rotting instead of feeding those who are in need.

This is not a story of growing a business to sell the grain, expand bigger barns to store more grain for others, but instead, Jesus tells us that he desired to create larger barns to store grain so he could live a life of selfishness. This man was wealthy and never suffered from lack of food; he was already blessed, his barns worked fine as they were. The man said to himself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink and be merry.” This mantra of living doesn’t involve anyone but self and is a temptation we must all fight.

When God appeared, he said, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you, and the things you have prepared to whom will they belong? “

This question is a crucial one. What will your legacy be? With whom shall you share your life’s earnings? How do you spend your time, talent, and money? Our Lord is pointing out that this man created these barns for himself and not for others; it was all for his pleasure.

Jesus ends this parable with these powerful words, “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” Luke 12:21

Today’s saints,  Sts. John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions were missionaries in the New World and shared the Gospel message even resulting in martyrdom.

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Emily Jaminet is a Catholic author, speaker, radio personality, wife, and mother of seven children. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mental health and human services from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  She is the co-founder of www.inspirethefaith.com and the Executive Director of The Sacred Heart Enthronement Network www.WelcomeHisHeart.com. She has co-authored several Catholic books and her next one, Secrets of the Sacred Heart: Claiming Jesus’ Twelve Promises in Your Life, comes out in Oct. 2020. Emily serves on the board of the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference, contributes to Relevant Radio and Catholic Mom.com.

Changing Seasons, Changing Hearts

This time of year always has me reflecting on change. I watch in awe as day after day the trees turn into a brilliant array of colors, then fall one by one as the brisk winds carry them away. Our family also celebrates several birthdays. Two of my in-laws, myself, my young son and my Dad all increase their ages by one this month. The trees prepare for winter and the calendar pages turn.

The change of seasons has me reflecting on internal change as well. As the leaves transform from a healthy spring green to a crisp brown on the ground, I wonder if there is something within me that needs to fall as well. Which elements of my character, which poignant words, which vices should just fall to the ground to be trampled underfoot?

The words of the First Reading are powerful: “I have called you by your name… I am the Lord…” I am so tempted to think that I am talented or capable or hardworking. It is so easy to criticize, complain and be filled with negativity. In those moments of weakness, I forget this amazing truth. He has called me by name!

One who is called is also chosen. One who is chosen should follow in the footsteps of the One who chose him. My life should emulate His words and actions so as to be a good example and a source of joy to all I encounter.

Listen to the words of St. Paul in today’s Second Reading: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love, and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters, how you were chosen.”

Perhaps on this Sunday it would be a good exercise for us to reflect on these questions: Do others give thanks to God for me because of how I emulate His love? Do you remember others in your prayers, especially those you may struggle with? Does your life include works of faith and labors of love? Do you have an enduring hope in our Lord? Do you realize that you are chosen and live accordingly?

As I type I immediately realize that I have a long way to go. But we can never reach the finish line until we approach the starting line. May this season of change bring many changes in our hearts as well so that we may grow ever closer to our Lord and inspire others to as well.

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Tami Urcia grew up in Western Michigan, a middle child in a large Catholic family. She spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, studying theology and philosophy, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Kentucky. She loves tackling home improvement projects, finding fun ways to keep her four boys occupied, quiet conversation with the hubby and finding unique ways to love. She works at Diocesan, is a guest blogger on CatholicMom.com and BlessedIsShe.net, runs her own blog at https://togetherandalways.wordpress.com and has been doing Spanish translations on the side for almost 20 years.

The Peace of Christ

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).

We might think something like this when we hear today’s Gospel passage, which promises condemnation to those who deny Christ and blaspheme the Holy Spirit. We are told that nothing is impossible for God, and that the Son of Man came that all might have life, but we are also told that the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. What if we stumble into blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What if we are not courageous in our public conversations, and so do not defend Christ when necessary?

Taken out of context, these verses are terrifying. Indeed, even in context, they still call to mind our verse from Hebrews. But given the surrounding readings, we have a broader perspective, allowing us to shed our anxiety and embrace the grace of Christ. We ought to be on guard against infidelity, cowardice, and blasphemy, but we ought not be anxious about them. Concern is warranted, even called for, but anxiety paralyzes. We can see the merit of this approach within the context, but also within the warnings themselves.

Denying Christ before others is self-explanatory.  “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” on the other hand, is sometimes misunderstood. It is considered by a great many saints to mean final unrepentance, a hardness of heart that denies responsibility for sin. These sins are grave, but they are also uncommon. You would be hard-pressed to commit the act of renouncing Christ or blasphemy against the Spirit without a firm intention to do so. Still, we are told to be on our guard.

In the same breath that he warns against these things, Jesus reminds his disciples of the Holy Spirit’s assistance: “When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say” (Lk 12:11–12). This shows us a deeper truth than our fears offer: for the faithful follower of Christ, there really is nothing to worry about.

To be sure, there are things that should give us pause. It is still a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and sin is no joke. However, a view which narrows in on these elements of the Christian life fails to recognize the riches of God’s grace. Saint Paul speaks eloquently of this grace in our first reading, mentioning “the hope” of God’s call, “the riches of glory” that belong to the saints, and “the greatness of his power” for the faithful (Eph 1:18–19). The Psalmist picks up the thread, proclaiming God’s great glory throughout the entire earth.

With God’s grace so prominent for the Christian, anxiety becomes less significant. Sin and temptation remain, but their power pales in comparison to the victory of Christ. For the well-formed Christian, the assistance of the Holy Spirit is an assurance of peace: “the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say” (Lk 12:12). This is the key: though we aim to avoid the judgment of God, we can rest assured in the knowledge that God is with those who believe in him. A vast array of aid is available to us, if only we look up to heaven and ask for it.

That being said, this takes some discipline. It is not enough to simply have good will and believe in Jesus. Saint Paul does not stop praying for the Ephesians, thinking that their faith and love are sufficient for a perfect life. Instead, he prays for a deepening of knowledge, that they may act even more in accordance with God’s call. The spiritual life, rejuvenating as it is, requires hard work and preparation, so that we can be well-equipped in time of trial. The disciple of Christ can rely on the Holy Spirit’s assistance when brought before rulers and authorities because he knows that he is in a state of grace, open to the promptings of the Spirit.

With this in mind, we can be assured that there is peace and joy for those who follow the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Though there are sins and enticements that we must avoid at all costs, this effort is made simple by the abundant grace of Christ. We need only to avail ourselves of the fonts of those graces: prayer, the sacraments, trust in the Lord, and docility to the Holy Spirit.

Contact the author

David Dashiell 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.

How Everything Changes

I used to sleep well. So well, in fact, that I could enjoy an espresso after dinner and still nod off the moment I went to bed. I loved the rest; I loved the dreams. Going to sleep at night was a pleasurable experience.

That hasn’t happened for a long time.

This year, for the first time in my life, my doctor gave me a prescription for sleeping pills, because I felt that if I had to endure even just one more panic-filled night, I’d go quite mad.

It’s not an abnormal reaction to the year we’ve all been living. Sleeplessness is one of many disorders on the rise, and it’s easy to see why. The novel coronavirus has brought a degree of anxiety into the world matched only by other pandemics—or wars. We’re fearful on so many levels as the losses mount up: the loss of friends and family to a death we cannot properly process or even grieve, the loss of income, the loss of security, the loss of homes and livelihoods… We know that more and more children are going to bed hungry, that whole families have nowhere to live, that the death toll is mounting at an ever-increasing rate.

It’s not just not being able to sleep, either. Others are experiencing depression, anxiety disorders, hypervigilance. We’re afraid because of a sense of the world being totally out of control, the wildness and irrationality seeping into every aspect of our lives.

My academic work was primarily in religious history, and to some extent I draw comfort from knowing we’re not the first to experience these levels of anxiety and despair. The Hebrew Bible is filled with lamentations as generation after generation cried out to God. Wars. Slavery. Pandemics. Injustice. Why, why, why? I read the books of the prophets and they could well be speaking to our times.

And then we turn the page and open to the New Testament, and everything changes.

A child is born into poverty, his family forced to migrate into a foreign land. He grows up in relative obscurity, is mocked and despised, dies an agonizing death. This doesn’t sound like what anyone would call a successful life, does it? Yet that child became the savior of the world. Everything about Christianity turns past assumptions on their head.

The powerful? They count as nothing. The religious zealots? They are hypocrites. The riches of the world? They are as valuable as dust.

And the assumption that God is distant, unheeding, is gone forever as he gives his beloved son to save humanity from its own stupidity, folly, selfishness. The assumption that God is distant and unheeding is gone forever in the gift of the Holy Spirit, given so we need never again be alone. The assumption that God is distant and unheeding is gone forever in the promise of eternal union with him.

God is here, now, and will not abandon us, no matter how difficult our journey home to him might become. “Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?” asks Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. “Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”

Do not be afraid. Words that cut through the pain of our present reality. Words that weave themselves into our troubled dreams. Words that echo in our hearts. Do not be afraid. God is with us. We are not in this terrible moment alone, no matter how isolated from others we may feel, because God is with us. God cares. God knows us and loves us and will never leave us.

And that changes everything.

We don’t know why our lives, our world, must be so painful and difficult now, but they are the lives and the world we have been called to live in. To journey through. To endure.

But we’re not in them alone. The promise is there, as new and fresh as when it was first made; the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the promise. God is with us.

Years ago a monk in a Vermont priory set the words of a collection of Scripture verses to music. This pandemic year, Catholic musicians gathered virtually to sing it again, and I invite you to listen to them today. And tomorrow. And for as many tomorrows as we need to remind ourselves…  that everything has changed.

Contact the author

Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.