Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Cost

July 30, 2014
Gospel MT 13:44-46
Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

In college I had the opportunity to read Pensees (literally, thoughts) by Blaise Pascal. Part of the text involves what has famously been referred to as "Pascal's Wager". In it, St. Blaise offers a logical explanation for believing in God and living a Christian lifestyle. If heaven is for real, Pascal argues, then it is a "pearl of great price" and we should do all that we can to live accordingly. Conversely, if heaven is not real and Christ was nothing more than a hoax, living as a disciple of Christ on earth will still grant us a virtuous life free from the pitfalls and dangers of depravity. 
A third possibility exists, though. Imagine if you live as if Christ is not real and, as such, miss out on the immense joy of heaven. Given the 50/50 chance, the prospect of a virtuous life, and the payoff beyond anything we could ever hope or imagine, why would you wager that God does not exist and that Christ was nothing more than a magician?

Of course, hopefully our faith goes deeper than always calling "tails" (you'll be right at least 50% of the time, right?). In fact, considering the trappings and temptations of the world, the conviction required to count up the cost and still choose discipleship must be deeper and stronger than an understanding of statistics.

As followers of Christ, let us joyfully offer up all that we have and all that we are for the "pearl of great price". We already know the outcome of the coin toss. Let us wager correctly. 
Dear Jesus, give us the courage to give You all that we have and all that we are. Despite the cost, let us follow Him. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Heart is Yours

July 29, 2014
Memorial of St. Martha​

Gospel JN 11:19-27

Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

Or LK 10:38-42

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”

If you read through the two Gospel choices for today's Celebration of the Eucharist, the Memorial of St. Martha, you can readily see Martha's passion for Christ. In the first, from John's account, Martha runs out to Jesus to implore his help and assistance over the passing of Lazarus. Luke's passage shows Martha actively performing service in the name of the Lord. Martha speaks of her commitment, "But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you" (John 11:22). Martha continues, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One who is coming into the world" (John 11:27).

Martha serves as a powerful example of running to the Lord in our moments of need. Go to Him; He is ready to comfort us. She also serves as a model of faith in Christ. Similar to Peter's insight, Martha recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah sent to save the world. May we, too, have a passionate belief in Christ and faith that He makes all things work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). 

In both cases, though, it is poignant to note Mary's actions. Mary stays inside as Martha runs and converses with Jesus. Mary sits at Jesus's feet and listens to Him as Martha serves. In the first passage (from John), Mary is not mentioned again, but she serves as a contrast to Martha's movement and words. In Luke's telling, Mary's comparative inactivity receives accolades from Jesus. In response to Martha's plea asking for help from her sister, Jesus responds that Mary has chosen the better path. "There is need of only one thing," Jesus explains. "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her" (Luke 10:42). 

Mary actions juxtapose Martha's. Mary's inactivity starkly contrasts with Martha's activity. Despite the positive qualities displayed by Martha, Mary provides an alternative and better approach. She stays inside, possibly because of her confident and convicted faith in the will of the Lord. She has already accepted His plan, even though she does not yet fully know what that is. Furthermore, instead of serving, Mary sits and listens to Jesus. No act of service can merit our salvation, no good deed can win Christ's favor, no amount of activity can earn fulfillment. 

Sit and trust in the Lord. Sit and be with the Lord. Have faith. Listen. This, the Lord tells us, is the preferable approach. Stop trying to impress Him and allow Him to impress Himself upon you. Recognize your dire need for Him and give your heart completely to Him. 

He is all that we need. Like Martha, let us run to Him. Like Martha, let us profess our faith in Him. Like both Martha and Mary, let us trust in Him and give Him all that we have and all that we are.

Passionately. Totally. Faithfully. 


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

With One Foot Raised

Part of Ignatian (St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus / the Jesuits) spirituality cultivates the philosophy of indifference in order to confidently change and adapt to meet the needs of any situation. Called living with "one foot raised", this approach embodies a freedom from attachment to places, things, programs and even people in order to move, adapt, improve, shift and/or modify as needed. Some may consider this to be a cold and heartless way of living. It is necessary, however, so as to listen to God's call and truly follow His plan. While there is immense good that can come from ownership and collective buy-in, an "it's mine" attitude also fosters pride, selfishness, stubbornness and emotion that can impede progress.
St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, image courtesy of Creative Commons.

Jesus charges His disciples, "'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed Him (Matthew 4:19)." He calls and they follow. The first disciples left behind the only life they ever knew and followed the call of Christ. They lived with "one foot raised" being willing to drop their nets and embrace a new way of life without hesitation, without remorse, without regret.

Jesus called; they followed. 

This indifference is essential to adhering to God's will and being a successful educator. Throughout my formation as a Catholic educator, two pieces of indifferent advice have consistently resonated with me. The first, from former Associate Superintendent and long-time educator within the Diocese of St. Petersburg Helen Martson, came to me during a session for those who were discerning a call to move into Catholic school administration. "You will have to solve countless problems as an administrator," Mrs. Marston told us. "But, so long as the problems aren't caused by you, distance yourself from the emotion when having to solve them." Solve the problem, don't own it (unless, once again, you have caused it).

The second came during my time in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame from Fr. Ron Nuzzi. While telling a story about being an administrator and working within what is often a very emotional environment, Fr. Nuzzi exclaimed, "It's not about you!" It can't be. Teachers must heed this advice, too. It can't be about the adults in the educational process - administrators, teachers, parents - but must be about the kids. We must be indifferent when it comes to issues surrounding our students - instructional improvements, parenting advice, fielding negative comments, pointing fingers or placing blame - and the good of the children must remain a focus.

Becoming a parent myself, I have come to further understand "living with one foot raised". As my kids get older and as I come to love them more and more, I always try to remember that they are not mine. They are a gift from God. I understand this every time I realize that I can't control them, even at their ripe ages of 1 and 3. I know this more intimately as they continue to enhance their own independence, a trend that will only continue as they grow older and older. When anger swells and frustration mounts, recognizing that God has blessed me with an opportunity to be a parent helps to refocus my attention away from my pride or anger or need for control back to Catherine and Elizabeth.

As a parent, it's not about me. 

Finally, my own aging has also helped me to more fully understand that every good thing is from God  and that none of it is mine. It's His and He has graciously blessed me with it. Whether that's health or an amazing wife or wonderful kids or a worthwhile job or a house or car or clothing or food or outstanding parents or supportive siblings or a blog - none of it is mine. It's His and as such I must be willing to live with one foot raised, ready for the next step of His call for me and able to change, adapt and transform as He deems necessary.

St. John the Baptist, the greatest among those born of women according to Jesus, famously remarked, "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30). John lived with one foot raised and one hand pointing toward Jesus. He graciously pointed his disciples toward Jesus. John understood that none of it was his, but rather all of it was God's.

It's not about you or me. May we have the strength, courage and humility to live with one foot raised so as to follow the One that it is about - God.