How living our faith and doing God’s will helps us through difficult times
The theme of the entire New Testament is that the infinite God has shown Himself to us in Christ. Faith thus starts with God who through Jesus opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Jesus is. Rather, our faith involves a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person with all our understanding, our will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation of Himself to us.
Bishop Joseph Perry
“Faith is not a contract. Faith is surrender. If no other relationship in our experience is one of self-surrender, if it’s all contractual, people won’t know how to believe.”
Francis Cardinal George
“The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it…. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
C. S. Lewis
It’s really very simple. Am I building up the kingdom of heaven or am I building up my own kingdom? Am I putting God’s name first and proclaiming His name, or am I proclaiming my name? Am I doing everything for God’s glory, or for my glory? We have to focus on this every day. If I am going to live God’s will, it has to be because I first seek the kingdom. Then He promises everything else will fall into place.
Fr. Larry Richards, Surrender! The Life-Changing Power of Doing God’s Will
God’s will is almost always much tougher to do than our will. It requires more effort, more discipline, and it yields much less instant gratification. Most unpleasant of all, doing God’s will requires us to surrender our position as the center of the universe (at least in our own minds). We have to put God at the center of the universe and direct our attention toward Him, rather than sit on our little imaginary thrones and expect others to direct their attention toward us.
Deacon John Rangel
”What this means is if we are going to do the will of God, every day is going to be a day of self-sacrifice. Again, to make this real and practical I tell people that they should examine their consciences every night before they go to bed and ask, “Did I do at least one act of unselfishness today? Did I give my life away at least once today?” If the answer is no, then they squandered the whole day on themselves, only did what they wanted, only took care of themselves. What a waste of a day!
Fr. Larry Richards, Surrender! The Life-Changing Power of Doing God’s Will
Be Pure. Hate evil. Embrace Christ with all your heart! Too many of us men need to surrender our personal agenda to God. We must strive to be transparent with God and with others, and to be more like Christ and less like our old selves.
O good Lord, I know well that thou art all perfect and are in need of nothing. Yet, I know that thou hast taken upon thyself the nature of man and, not only so, but in that nature didst come upon this earth and suffer all manner of evil and didst die for our sake. This is sacred history which has spilled from the heavens with light and glory and great promise for all who believe in thee.
O dear Lord, thou didst suffer in no ordinary way but unheard of and extreme torments. Indeed your agony still cries from the streets where we labor. This is the truth of the Gospel which has shaped my vision and my hope for all that is meaningful to me. You are the one foundation, Jesus Christ crucified. I know it O Lord, I believe it and I place this faith steadily before my eyes and heart.
And, here I am, a member of the police force, sworn to serve and protect the citizens of our city and in so doing bound to meet up with the two glaring portraits of life, sin and evil, goodness and virtue that collide on the streets of the living. I cannot do this task alone. All I know is that I am in sore need of your guidance and direction that I may judge wisely and discern truthfully; that especially in times of danger I may offer my life to you and for others and that in face of genuine encounters with the virtue of citizens I may praise them and be for them myself a symbol of honor and justice.
I left home this day to serve thee and thy people. I pray you bring me back home safely with my family and loved ones, only to again serve as I am want to do this day and every day. In all things honoring you as the Lord of my life, AMEN
Bishop Joseph N Perry – Archdiocese of Chicago – 2020
My late father was a World War II veteran who was assigned 1942-1945 to the European Theatre. That generation of men has been dubbed the greatest generation for reasons of their patriotism, their family values, and work ethic. It has also been suggested that many of the WWII veterans that returned home had been made pacifists by the ravages of experience connected with that war. The sons they spawned turned out the Vietnam War generation – my generation – who fought that war, others of whom became draft dodgers and pacifists, protesters through the streets for an end of a longer than long and lengthy conflict in Asia.
My father would not allow me as a child to have guns and holsters and toys that dealt with war. I was ill-equipped to play with the neighbor kids when they played war or Cow-boys and Indians or pretended to shoot each other. I did no quite understand it back then, only later in my adulthood did I begin to understand what my Father was doing with me that he could not quite articulate.
Ours is a different generation. We have gathered to pray, once again, for a new year safer for our children to travel the streets and sidewalks to school and church and parks and other places. We cannot confine our children to inside the home. It is natural for children to want to be outdoors. Continue to encourage them as you have always done to be aware of what’s in front of them, in back of them, on the side of them. More and more kids travel to school on busses or in cars these days. Yet even then, encourage your children and grandchildren to be vigilant, to speak up to parents and teachers when they see something wrong and where to take refuge if danger closes in on them.
When we were growing up my mother did not allow us to watch certain TV shows that were considered “adult entertainment”. In the 1950s, adult entertainment was Payton Place and The Untouchables. We had to go upstairs while mom watched her favorite TV adult shows. I wasn’t able to watch The Untouchables until I became an adult and then got a kick out of some floozy sitting atop a desk filing her nails while her gang lord crook wearing a gun and holster next to his rib was on the phone bringing booze into the city. Those images were off-limits for children of my time. How things have changed with the tenor of morals displayed on the viewing screen and the troublesome Internet!
Today is different. Notice, the popular video games with which children and teens are engaged. Most of them have to do with rabid violence, high powered weapons cutting down opponents and blood spurting every which way. Kids have these at home and work them with their coins in video arcades and at shopping malls. This is considered innocent youth entertainment. And we purchase these games for our youth. I suggest we should fast from these images and other movies where people like actors Stephen Seagal and Vin Diesel and others act out glorified violence. Unbeknownst to us these images work themselves in the consciousness of our youth getting across the idea that violence and killing are the only ways to be somebody. A gun in the hand always renders one a false sense of power.
Now, I am not saying my parent’s methods of raising us were the best. All I know is that I did not turn out the worse for it. I believe there is something to be said for steering clear of giving birthday gifts and Christmas gifts and gifts in between that symbolize violence and killing so prevalent in our city and other cities across the country. Follow through with the rearing of your kids and grandkids on this. Support your prayers and messaging by fasting from the images and instruments associated with violence. Then, sooner or later, the kids will understand.
Is it too late to save our families and ourselves for God?
It is not easy proclaiming the Gospel in a secularized world – a world that is of diminished religious tone.
In a recent address, December 21, to the Cardinals and staffs of the Roman Curia at the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled that we are no longer living in a Christian world.
“Christendom no longer exists. Today, we are no longer the only ones who create culture, nor are we in the forefront or those most listened to … we are no longer living in a Christian world, because faith… is no longer an evident presupposition of social life; indeed, faith is often rejected, derided, marginalized and ridiculed… the faith used to be passed on within families and the example of parents; society too was inspired by Christian principles. Today, this transmission has been interrupted and our social context, if not anti-Christian, appears to be at least impermeable to the Christian faith. Hence the question … how to proclaim the Gospel where it is no longer known or recognized? It is pointless getting agitated. There is no need to get organized, or to make a noise. There’s no need for gimmicks or stratagems. In the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, you move because the Holy Spirit pushes you, and carries you. And when you arrive you realize that He has come before you and is waiting for you.”
“Proclaiming the Gospel,” adds the Pope, “does not consist in besieging others with apologetic speeches … in shouting in peoples’ faces. Even less is it necessary to fling the truths and doctrinal formulas on others as if they were stones … if people to whom it is addressed have no opportunity to meet and taste in some way God’s tenderness and His healing mercy… to facilitate, that is, make it easy not to put us in the way of Jesus’ desire to embrace everyone, to heal everyone, to save everyone.” Always aware that without Him we can do nothing.
With these thoughts of the Holy Father in mind, is it too late to save our families and ourselves for God? How about the evangelization of our households, our friendships. How about fervent practice of our faith for these times and every time. How about we men being intentional pastors of our households leading the way?
As one husband and father of five children with one on the way openly testifies:
(In our families) “we see the beauty of a child’s faith and we see the immediate negative consequences of sin. There is little that can motivate a man to improve himself more than seeing his weakness imitated by his son. In the constant labor of family life, one either embraces the Cross and finds joy or one retreats to selfishness, shirks one’s responsibilities and accepts misery. The truth is that our vocation is labor and our spirituality must be one rooted in labor. Spending an hour trying to find a toddlers shoe, which for some inexplicable reason is never with its partner, is not a distraction from the life of holiness, it is where we find it! The laity is engaged in a struggle, a war that requires great labor and without spiritual fortitude and maturity it simply won’t be won.”
Dr. Andrew Jones, PhD, “Into the Battle: Finding Holiness and A Lost Shoe While We’re At It,” Lay Witness, Sept/Oct 2014.
Don’t you find it strange that in a world obsessed with communications via cell phones, IPhones, Skype and the Internet, it has never been harder to stay in touch, to build and maintain genuine intimacy. I’m not talking about that artificial contact found in bars or clubs where alcohol and atmosphere create the illusion that everyone is your buddy. I’m not talking about that superficial contact found in the members of the family popping in and out of the house picking up food off the stove or from the refrigerator but never taking the time to sit down and enjoy a meal together. I’m talking about real intimacy that lasts longer than the evanescent fumes of liquor and perfume, real intimacy that must be taken up after the gifts are unwrapped or exchanged back at the stores the day after. The kind of intimacy that takes time, demands sacrifice and intentional effort and is not circumvented by fear or disappointment, the kind of intimacy where each member of the family senses they are appreciated and respected.
This real intimacy I speak of puts other family members first and is willing to accept imperfection in ourselves and in our loved-ones. It is also open to work with challenge and change. This is the only kind of intimacy that keep couples and families together in the hard times as well as the good times.
It is indeed an honor to celebrate this sacred feast with you and to mark these festive days with worship proper to our lives. May the peace and warmth of the season wrap you and those who mean much to you within the embrace of God. May the turn of the calendar year mean another grace-filled twelve months for you and your loved ones with a wisdom that brings us closer to God.
Christmas as it has developed over the centuries touches some of the deepest strivings of the human spirit. We need something high caliber to give meaning to the mess we find in the world.
For several days we change the pace of our lives and dress ourselves not only in our material best but also in our best behavior for the feast. For Christmas reaches down to the very best that is in human nature. Christmas also reminds us of the very best that God wishes for us. After all, God gave us his best, his only Son, so that we might come to know Him and become sons and daughters like unto Him.
Christmas is a drama of the Divine dialectic, you might say, surfacing the many antitheses found in the human condition.
“Peace on earth and good will towards men.”
Mysteriously, once again, these festive days are haunted by political instabilities around the world that cause anxiety stirring the fiber of daily life. Jesus was born within turbulent times where an empire subjugated the known world of that day. The very race within which the Savior was born was a conquered people whose misfits were routinely crucified as a means to intimidate and to cruelly turn the stabbing knife of oppression.
We think of Christmas as a warm interlude of welcome this time each year. Regardless where we live, our images of Christmas involve families and friends gathered affectionately. And so it should be. We bring evergreens into our homes and apartments, real or artificial, and try to make them look as if they are snow or icicle laden. With good food and drink, hugs and kisses, together with all these things we try to create the image of tranquility, the image of happy connections with important people and events, the guise of peace – at least all the good things we desire above the struggle and failure found in our individual lives.
Religious Christmas greeting cards attempt to punctuate similar images. The scenes of Mary, Joseph and the Child are presented with warm glows and twinkling stars. The animals in the stable are clean and calm, the shepherds pastoral in appearance, the edge of their garments gold leafed and clean as any cleaners would make them; and the Wise Men majestic in their presentation of gifts and elegant in their robes with not a speck of desert sand or mud to be found on their vesture.
These scenes help us enjoy the intended effect of the once and coming of the Son of God but they do not mirror exactly the narrative that we find in the Gospels. But that’s alright. God understands our need to dream and to have dreams come true. Recall, God himself had a dream for the human race that we somehow lost grasp of.
The gospels describe a poor people in difficult times. Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth to the north, a small poor village no one would dream vacationing in. The Holy Family, as we call them, took a journey which was highly precarious. Typically, you had to travel in caravans or large groups or hire armed guards to travel with you to get through certain areas where robbers and muggers abounded. There was safety in numbers.
As Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem they find no place to stay. This is because the inns are filled with travelers due to the public census ordered by the emperor where everyone had to return to their ancestral towns and villages to register. Nothing about this was a holiday while it occurred.
It strikes me how unready so much was that first Christmas. The world was unready before the entrance of God’s gift to the world – unready in mind and mood, unready by guilt and sin. Is it possible that we might remedy each our own unreadiness in order to receive Him open-heartedly as it was meant to be that first Christmas?
In face of the world’s unreadiness shepherds are stirred as first witnesses of the Messiah’s birth. We have an idyllic picture of shepherds and their flocks. But, again, this was not the experience of the Gospel writers nor the picture they wished to paint. Shepherds were the lowest on the social pyramid, probably because they were rough dealing, rough talking and rough smelling. Society considered them nobodies.
Indeed, friends, had we been there we would have seen nothing of our Christmas in that first Christmas. That first Christmas was real. Ours is make-believe if not quite sanitized.
The gospel writer Matthew spruces up the story of Jesus birth with the arrival of the star-gazers (Wise Men) from the East who interpreted world events by studying the stars. Luke, on the other hand, wants us to see and feel the destitution, the hardship and the forgotten people of the land. Luke wants us to see the migrants and the homeless people in the travelers Joseph and Mary. He wants us to see the forgotten people of the world in the shepherds. He wants us to remember how desperately our world and many of its inhabitants needed God. Luke wants to teach that God purposefully sent his Son to us precisely when we were overcome by the mess that was in the world.
The biblical figures in today’s sacred narrative were people for whom life was hard. They lived many days with fear of starvation or harm by robbers or annihilation by an oppressive empire. We must find how we too are starved for things truly holy. We must face our own fears. These days can bring about a new peace on this earth that God wills for us despite — our mess.
So, truly, there is nothing glorious presented in the manner of Jesus’ birth. But, this is the writer Luke. Luke wishes us to see that God’s faithfulness is expressed precisely in our human events even when appearances seem to deny both God’s presence and His power. Even when we are beset with the mess of our individual lives, the mess in our families, the mess in our Church, the mess in our society and in other conditions around and about. If God is to be found anywhere, somewhere, we will find Him in the currents good and bad coursing through our lives, not in some Disney World-like reality. In deigning to take on human flesh to live and walk amongst us and show us the better way He graciously took on our mess. And it was our mess that killed him.
Despite it all we need Christmas. Had there been no Christmas we probably would have invented some semblance of it. For we human beings cry out for redemption from the awful mess that defines the world that we live in. We need a Savior to take us from all that has messed up our lives.
Luke, the author of the third gospel here, wants the world to remember that God promised to never abandon His people. Luke wants us to remember the ancient promises that He will be our shepherd, that God saves and will always save us from a messed up world. God keeps on saving if we can allow Him into our mess. The more we mess it up the more God pursues us to straighten it all out.
The prophet Isaiah in the passage (tonight) (from the midnight Mass), writes a hymn of coronation for a new born king of Israel centuries before Jesus’ birth. The scene then was, simply, leadership had failed in Israel. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria. The people of Judah to the south were afraid the same thing would happen to them. Isaiah invokes the same ancient promises of God. For the scriptures tell us consistently God always gets us through the mess!
Our task this Christmas is to find our identity with the shepherds and with Joseph and Mary. Our task is to search out our own moral and spiritual unreadiness so that God can change it to readiness to receive Him this day and every day, to search and find our Savior within the incongruities of our situations.
Apart from God we too are homeless. Apart from God we are sinful. Apart from God we too are nobodies. Yet, today’s feast of the becoming flesh of God tells us in no uncertain terms that we are somebodies as far as God is concerned. We always have been precisely when we were unimpressed by God’s attention to us. Tonight, we have every reason to hope and to grasp the light of God.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
This Christmas, I think of God deigning to come down to wallow with us in our mess. Religion’s job is to highlight the contrasts, the dialectic found in life. On the other side of holiness is found our sinfulness. Opposite the purity of life preached to us is found impurity. Opposite the peace the world craves is found perpetual conflict. Opposite the rich is found the poor. Opposite humility is found reckless ambition. God’s coming intervenes in the mess we create struggling with the dialectic for we are frightened to find synthesis at the conclusion of the awful antithesis that is indicative of God’s Will to save. Christmas will be no more than cozy images if we cannot see the favor of God in our lives despite the nonsense we find in our lives and therefore in our world.
So, there’s nothing wrong with what we’ve done with Christmas in all its fascination and decoration or in all of its staging as long as we can recall what Christmas is meant to do – help us reach for the promises that one day the mess will be over and done with, for God’s redemption is at hand.
The shepherds and this expecting couple knew they needed God. At times we’re not sure that we need God. We allow ourselves to think that what we have we’ve earned through our own hard work. We often fail to notice God’s signature at the bottom corner of our life’s portrait.
Christmas is for the needy. Christmas is for those who dream and who hope, who desire the more that only God can provide. The poor and the hungry, those helpless to clean up their lives, the lowest of laborers, they are still with us in our contemporary world. Though we live better we are not much better. On Christmas we remember people in need and among them we must include ourselves.
These festive days don’t be afraid to do the God-talk your households and friendships need. And in the act of giving gifts make sure you invoke the name of the Christ child to loved-one or friend, this God-Child that inspires all we are and do. After all, it is His feast we celebrate.
Each day gives us a moment to contemplate our families and what we really want them to be… to ask the blessing of God who has brought us together and appointed each one of us to be in this family.
Referencing our religious roots … in Jesus’ day… each member of the family did something to produce food, practically the only industry. Carpenters like Joseph would have spent as much, if not more, time building or repairing farming implements. Jesus would have learned his father’s trade. Jewish society was a lot simpler than anything we know. From the moment they were physically able, children worked. The men ploughed and planted, made repairs, shepherded the flocks and whatever else was needed. Boys stayed with the men learning the crafts and trades of their fathers and other men in the family. Girls stayed with the women learning how to turn wool into cloth and grain into flour.
In Jesus day, people lived in very small dwellings in extended family groups. They survived only by recognizing that their survival depended upon each other. They lived in the same rooms, ate and worked together, prayed together. It was the values of their religion that created their strongest bonds. Except for daughters who married, few left the home.
Our scriptures and church teaching emphasize the need for exemplary behavior on each our part in order to survive. This call to proper daily behavior is a Call rooted in faith. A strong family relies on its faith to guide and direct it.
A family is a living, breathing organism. Members of the family live off each other; they cope, assist each other and aggravate each other. They make the best of a situation; they invest in it, get to like it, maybe even need it. Sometimes families live with situations they shouldn’t; and make bad human investments; and learn to tolerate unlikable things.
Families must be flexible, but within limits. Nothing is ever what it used to be, nor is it entirely different. Each member needs room to grow. Families need to expect change and crises as a way of life. Our Church teaches that the purposes of marriage are mutual love and raising children. Love is always stretched. We have to discover new ways to express old love or loved ones begin to feel taken for granted. And children are naturally bundles of constant change. This makes the family a change agent, a growth industry!
Sometimes, families need to face the truth, to avoid a future catastrophe by bearing a present pain or embarrassment. We need to allow ourselves to be in trouble. If Mary was found a pregnant teen and Jesus was a runaway teen then we are allowed a scandal or two in the family. A good rule in family life – all life – is to play the problem where it lies. We almost always make it worse by trying to improve on our lie.
And, of course, families, like individuals, live on appreciation, without which even the best arrangements fall apart. Because the family is not an institution; it is an occasion if not an unfolding drama of love.
We worry about our families. We desire our children to have the best influences, the best education and a reasonable walk through adult life free of trauma and pain if at all possible. We want our families to be wrapped in the blessings of God. These are good things to ask for. For these reasons we fall to our knees asking God to keep us in His care.•