Thursday, August 29, 2019

God's Will

As a parent, there have been countless times with each of my three children where my interactions with them were nothing more than either side repeating his/her thoughts incessantly.

"Daddy, I don't want to brush my teeth!"

"If you have teeth, you have to brush them."

"But, I don't want to brush my teeth!"

 "If you have teeth, you have to brush them."

The volume of either line might increase. Maybe the pace of delivery quickens or slows. There might even be tears associated with what is said. But, the content remains the same.

In many ways, I think this interplay is similar to the way that I've interact with God as of late, or maybe forever. And, maybe, like a good parent, or least one that is much better than I am, maybe this is the way that God has chosen to respond to me...or maybe not. It's God's response back to me that has me puzzled. 

At various points in my life, I have had many conversations with God about His will for my life. In most cases, those conversations have been incredibly one sided.

I've told God that I want to know His will for my life.

I've asked God what His will for my life is.

I've offered to God what His will for my life should be.

I've prayed for the wisdom, courage, and strength to know, follow and see to the end whatever His will for me is.

And, despite some whispers, some fleeting breakthroughs of grace, I often don't think I've heard God's reply. Does this mean that I'm not following His will for me? Does this mean I'm not praying hard enough, or often enough, or the right prayers? Does it mean that I'm doing His will and His silence is His way of saying, "Yes. Now go and do it."

But, over the past few weeks and days, I've had some glimpses of how I may be able to find an answer.

The first is in the form of the lead singer for the band Tenth Avenue North, Mike Donehey. Mike recently published a book titled, "Finding God's Life for My Will". I haven't read it yet, but Mike's main premise is that instead of asking God what His will is for our lives, we should ask how we need to change so that we can more closely align our lives to His. In Mike's own words, "God's not after our success, He's after our surrender. He's not after our achievements, He's after our hearts."

St. Theresa of Calcutta had a similar message:

“God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.”

Stop worrying about God's will and start following the life of Jesus. God's will for me is that I come to know, love, and serve Him. The best way that I can do that is to be as faithful as I can to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

I can find God's will for my life by putting the life of God in every ounce of my will. 

Another lead came in the form of a question I recently heard posed by a Catholic consulting group to an organization using its services, "How do you discern God's will?"

At face value, this question seems really deep and philosophical. My initial response was, "I have no idea! If I knew that is all that I would do. Ever!" 

But, after my quick frustration subsided, I realized that the question can be much more practical. What am I doing in my life to discern God's will? What habits, practices, behaviors afford God the opportunity to reveal to me His plan? 

The Mass, frequently receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, reading scripture, praying the Rosary, listening to podcasts about the faith, enjoying Christian music like Tenth Avenue North, spending time in silent prayer, performing service to others, sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament, dialoguing with other disciples, studying Church teaching, keeping a gratitude journal, doing an examination of conscience, praying novenas...

Our rich faith tradition offers many pathways for God's grace to break through our lives. Having a handful that are used for the purpose of discerning God's will can offer Him avenues to reach us.

He doesn't want our success. He doesn't want our accomplishments.

He wants us to be faithful. He wants our hearts.

He wants us.

He constantly pursues us, trying to find ways for grace to interrupt us and turn us toward Him, closer to Him.

God's will for my life is that I give my life to Him. In doing so and by engaging in practices to actively discern His will, I will find God's life for my will.

And, I will find God's will for my life.

I will find God's will.

I will find God.

I will. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

No Adequate Substitute

One of my daily prayers for my children is that they will hear the call that God has on their lives and that they may have the courage to answer it by saying yes.

Elizabeth dances with many ideas of what she'll be when she grows up. Catherine's list is a bit shorter and more consistent.

As for Gabriel, he says he wants to be a flying bulldozer.

Regardless of what they will do, I pray that they will come to know God, love Him, and ultimately choose to serve Him and that they will be who God created them to be - His disciple.

I pray that my fatherhood offers them rich opportunities to encounter Christ, because I believe that they will come to fulness of life only through a relationship with Him. Christ said, "I came so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).

I believe that Christ desires the good of my children even more than I do. Because of this, I need to bring them to Him. There is no adequate substitute for a relationship with Jesus.

A few years ago, as a member of the Diocese of St. Petersburg Vocation Enrichment Team, I attended a meeting with Catholics from around the diocese to focus on enriching, enhancing and promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The theme for the day: Family - The First Home of Vocations - centered on the role of the family in fostering a sense and acceptance of vocation.

Fr. Alfredo Hernandez, the keynote speaker for the event, retold pieces of his own vocation story, including the simple prayer of his mother for him to discern what God was calling him to do and that if it was priesthood that he would be a good priest.

Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2221 - 2231), Fr. Alfredo mentioned that the role of parents involves moral formation in addition to physical and intellectual nurturing:
2221 The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute."29 The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.30 
Parents must recognize their role in moral and spiritual formation and they must accept that it is "almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute" for their influence. Such is the important role of parents in the faith lives of their children!

At times, though, this task can seem overwhelming. Given the magnitude of decisions that parents make on an hourly basis regarding the formation of their children, just surviving seems good enough a lot of the time.

One of the best ways to pass on the faith is by modeling the faith. Children come to learn about love, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, loyalty through the examples of those virtues. And while this seems daunting, it can happen in small, yet profound, ways.

Fr. Alfredo recalled that his mother would call him regalcito de cielo - little gift from heaven - and this shaped his sense of generosity and trust in God. We are made to be a gift and we are called to be a gift to others. Fr. Alfredo's mother made this clear to him through the use of this sweet nickname.

He also recounted reciting this prayer as a child with his dad: "Take my heart. Take my heart. It is yours, and not mine." Once again, this faith sharing need not be long or poetic. Instead, it must be heartfelt, authentic, and consistent.

As Catholic educators, we must help parents and families to establish a culture of joy instead of a culture of the temporary.

Our society tells us to love for as long as love lasts, to commit so long as the commitment is easy.

Our God, however, wants us to make a decision for once and all. To be all in. Totally. Close the door from the inside. Have the confidence to make a definitive - lasting - decision. Be open to the possibility of the permanent, and take whatever small step you need to take now so that you can take the next one, and the next one, and the next that you can be ready to take the permanent one at some point.

True joy is borne from the encounter with others, hearing someone say, but not necessarily with words, "You are important to me." True joy is borne from knowing that Christ died to tell us this.

Our families can and need to be the places where this message is first conveyed. But, if it isn't, our Catholic schools must be places that offer both a surrogate message of worthiness and a prescription to help families grow stronger.

From Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, written in 1982 by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education:
The family is "the first and fundamental school of social living" therefore, there is a special duty to accept willingly and even to encourage opportunities for contact with the parents of students. These contacts are very necessary, because the educational task of the family and that of the school complement one another in many concrete areas; and they will facilitate the "serious duty" that parents have "to commit themselves totally to a cordial and active relationship with the teachers and the school authorities". Finally, such contacts will offer to many families the assistance they need in order to educate their own children properly; and thus fulfill the "irreplaceable and inalienable" function that is theirs. (#34)
As Catholic educators, our efforts to partner with families, to communicate early and often, to celebrate the positive while honestly addressing areas in need of improvement, to provide opportunities for involvement, education, prayer, not only develops the relationship between the home and the school for the benefit of the student.

It also sends the message to families, "You are important to me" in more than just words.

True joy is borne from these encounters.

Joy that leads to a fulness of life in Christ, a fulness that only comes by answering the call that He has on our lives.

A joy and a fulness for which there is no adequate substitute.