Sunday, September 23, 2018

Being Catholic Despite the Chaos, Part IV Sunday September 23, 2018

Catholics, when truly living that identity, live as Christ: models of Good, Truth, Love and Joy.  While the Catholic isn’t necessarily carrying big banners in protest against the world or hitting people over the head with the Catechism or the Bible, the way they live their lives, sharing their love and devotion to Christ and being Christ-like threatens others (or seems to threaten them). Why?

Because when we are with someone who is Good, Truth, Loving, etc, we become aware of our own failings in those areas, we become unsettled that what we have become comfortable with falls short of the ideal and that we need to change.

We don’t like change; it is unsettling, it is scary, it pushes us outside our comfort zones.

So we can find ourselves discrediting the one who is challenging us. We find reasons why we don’t have to change:
That is what we are hearing in the first reading today: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.”

Well, I really know what that person is like.”
“That teaching, that belief is archaic, not practical or irrelevant in the 21stCentury.”

It is easy to dismiss, ignore or discredit the messenger than to live the message.
That is why we need the Church, the Family of Faith.  Don’t think BIG institution. Think Parish, St. George. We need the parish for the Sacraments, for learning more about God and his teachings, for the support of our own conversion of mind and heart and living as Christ each day.
We need the Parish to help us build up our domestic churches, that is our families. We need our parish and domestic churches to help us build the spiritual endurance to persevere in our faith when criticized by others.
We also have a responsibility—to the domestic church and the parish church: to share what we have received: 
To support others on their journey of faith; to share our talents to support the efforts of evangelization, faith formation and other activities that support and strengthen our living the mission of proclaiming the Gospel by word and deed.
It’s not only practical, it is part of our love of neighbor and through that love, our love of God. It reveals our gratitude to God for all he has given us.
I think it is important for us here to recall what Jesus taught was the greatest commandment, the foundation of the entire Christian live and identity: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk. 12:30-31)
Love is where we encounter God. Love is how we live as Christ. Love places our focus outside of ourselves.
St. James tells us today, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.”
He is reminding us that the struggles we will face as disciples of Jesus Christ just aren’t out there.  There will be struggle within us.  The chaos that affects us the most is often found within our own hearts and minds. There is an urge to stay where we are, to keep ourselves comfortable and to ignore the Word of God calling us to something different.
One of the commentaries I read this week observed that the apostles, in writing what we now hold to as Sacred Scripture, show how they themselves struggled with Jesus’ teachings: both in understanding what he was teaching and then in living that teaching.
Jealousy and selfishness are often the reasons behind not changing. These—along with fear and complacency—keep our focus on ourselves and make us the standard.

When we ignore the struggle, we no longer identify as Catholic, or as children of God, but live the false identity that allows jealousy and selfishness into our lives and they only result in a sense of aimless wandering, restlessness, anger and a seemingly continual (and losing) struggle against the chaos in life.

James continues:

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”

These words of James can be summed up in St. Augustine’s famous line: “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”

It is in God that we find perfection; He gives us the graces, the healing and strength we need to engage in conversion—turning our hearts and minds to God.

Catholics are called to live a total commitment to Christ. Our worship of God and living as Catholic involves a total giving of our self: time and talent are a part of our worship of God and a means of conversion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us—right at the beginning—that conversion of mind and heart, that is turning one’s mind and heart to God and allowing ourselves to be drawn deeper into relationship with Him, is a lifelong process.
When our lives become defined by the chaos in life, when all of our energies are dealing with that, we give up on the work of conversion. Faith becomes about just showing up and not engaging. Eventually other things take priority and we begin to lose our identity as Children of God. Restlessness, stress and anxiety consume us.
Certainly attending Mass and daily prayer are an important part of conversion, these are times when we communicate with the Lord. Also, sharing our faith with others through the activities of the parish and service are important, they are how we grow the family of faith.
But Jesus draws our attention to another important lesson and practice of conversion:
“If anyone wishes to be first,he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

Jesus is teaching us that humility and simplicity of life are also needed. I mentioned the observation of one of the commentaries about the humility of the apostles in sharing how they struggled with Jesus’ teachings.   Notice though in the Gospel account, Jesus doesn’t reprimand them for discussing greatness, rather he redefines what greatness really is and invites them to become ‘servants of all’.

We are called to the same humility and simplicity of life.  It is an important means to nurturing our identity as Christians and our relationship with the Lord. 

I came across an article this past week written by a young woman.  She wrote about Gospel simplicity this way:

“it is the virtue which enables us to throw away the notebooks and binders from our college days and give away our favorite (clothes) that (haven’t) fit since our first child was born. (it) is also the virtue that prevents us from finding our self worth in a new sofa or a car with all the upgrades. It prevents us from conflating Christ’s idea of the good life with Madison Avenue’s idea of the good life, and it frees us to buy and to keep what we know we need, while letting go of what others want us to think we need.”

Now this doesn’t mean we all go home and sell everything we have and live in the woods like St. Francis, but we are called to live simply, not beholden to material goods or wealth or activities.  Simplicity allows us to let go of the chaos and focus on the things that matter, the things that are forever.

There are many ways we can simplify our lives.  I shared some in my own life in the bulletin this week.

Simplicity of life means curtailing our spending habits, being more intentional of what we spend money on and why. It involves seeing how we can use our finances not only to provide for ourselves and our families, but also support the mission of the proclamation of the Gospel.

Simplicity of life doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of all the technology in our lives, but it could involve limiting its use to just work and other necessities.  It could mean limiting our use of apps and sites like Netflix, etc.
Another quote I came across this week concerned Franciscan spirituality.  The author wrote: “To live simplicity after the example of St. Francis means to treat everything in life—material things, relationships, job opportuniites, etc. as a pure and total gift from God.”

She continues,

“Viewing everything as gift vastly changes one’s perspective on life’s purpose and life’s opportunities. A sense of entitlement quickly fades away , and we are left with nothing but love. Love is, of course, all that we truly need to carry out God’s will in our lives.”

God’s will is the goal of conversion.  Humility helps us recognize that we are weak, have limitations and need help.  It helps us accept that with God’s help, we can reach our true potential and when we seek to live His will for us, we find love, joy and peace of heart.

Such conversion and simplicity of life are real struggles. Yet, we don’t engage in these struggles alone, particularly if we are married or live in a family.  

We need the support and guidance of others in the Family of Faith as well.

Humility and simplicity of life are not concepts promoted by the society and world we live in, just the opposite.

By seeking these virtues and engaging in ongoing conversion, we challenge that and will be pressured to walk away from faith.

Yet, conversion of heart and mind, humility, simplicity of life and seeking to live God’s will is the only path to true love, joy and peace.