In today’s Gospel, Luke 6:12-19, Luke tells of the great multitude of people who sought out Jesus to be healed of their diseases and to be cured of the torment of unclean spirits. Luke doesn’t elaborate on how this great multitude of people learned about Jesus’ healing. But, I suspect it happened by word of mouth, by those who heralded the healing and curing power of Jesus to their family and friends.
Reflecting on this passage, I related to the poor tormented souls as I recalled a time when I was overwhelmed by stress and the exigencies of life which brought so much unhappiness. I wasn’t looking for Jesus to cure me, but I let friends who knew I needed Him carry me to His emergency room, an ER with zero wait time!
So, I ask myself today, have I been one of those friends who, after being cured, or having witnessed His healing, made the effort to tell others who need Him? I can say “Yes”, but reservedly. This blog is one way I get the word out. I evangelize through spiritually mentoring other men to develop their interior lives and their relationships with Jesus. I share my faith in small groups with other men who already have a strong faith. But, do I reach out effectively and proclaim the Good News to those who have not heard it or are indifferent to it? Is my faith contagious? I think I can do better.
How about you? Is your faith contagious? In what ways do you tell others about Jesus and His saving grace? How might you do better?
“Lord Jesus, I thank You for Your constant presence in my life. Lord, open my heart to new ways to bring others to You, and, through Your grace, help me to realize the virtue of fortitude I need to be outgoing in bringing Your Word to others. Help me, Jesus, to live my life in a way that others want some of what I have. Amen.”
(Is Your Faith Contagious? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
Today is the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, the author of the second Gospel. Mark tells us that Jesus told the eleven Apostles, “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel.” Tradition tells us Peter preached in Turkey and Italy, Thomas in India, Philip in Greece, Andrew in Ukraine and Russia. Mark evangelized Egypt. Others went elsewhere. Together, risking their lives, they spread the Good News.
But, they didn’t get everywhere. They saved the low risk people for you and me: our next door neighbors, brothers-in-law, hair dressers, and plumbers.
Be like St. Mark. Go and evangelize!
(Lord Jesus, I give you thanks for the grace of fortitude bestowed on me in the Sacrament of Confirmation that overcomes any fear I may have of evangelizing to those who may not know you. Help us all, Lord, to complete the work of the Apostles, St. Mark and the other Evangelists. Amen.)
(Be Like St. Mark was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
It’s been twenty two days now since the U.S. presidential election. And, it’s been over thirty days since I’ve checked any news source to see how the election went down. I’ve not watched television, read a newspaper, listened to the radio, or ventured onto social media. I did stop by a friends house on Thursday evening after the election and he had his television on with election coverage. It seemed there was yet to be declared a winner because of evidence of voter fraud in some states. By now, that could even be old news. I wouldn’t know and I have no interest in finding out anything more. I will learn when the time is right. But, for now, I am at peace.
I am not a very political person in the first place, but I did vote for my preferred candidate. I voted my conscience, which was guided by my faith, and for what I thought was best for the future of America. Beyond that, there was not much I could do to affect the outcome other than pray that God’s will be done…. and hope that it matched mine. Yes, like most folks, I have my concerns of how life will be if the election goes opposite of the way I would like.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “they will seize and persecute you… have you led before kings and governors….and you will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.“ (Lk 21:12-19) The day may come when I am indeed persecuted, but I’ve decided I will not let it disturb my peace of mind and heart.
I found I was losing that peace by allowing myself to get caught up in the pre-election noise and angry vitriol that was being spewed from both camps. I’ve been voting for forty-four years and, although this is nothing new, I’ve never seen our nation as polarized as it is now, nor as divided between good and evil.
To compound my disillusionment with the whole mess, I sadly noticed that many people on social media who professed to be Christian, fellow Catholics included, were equally offensive. The Christian faithful, in defense of their candidates and moral beliefs, seemed all too eager and willing to join in the artillery battle and retaliate by lobbing an equal number of bombs on their opponent. For a child of the Cold War, it conjured up visions of a nuclear holocaust where he-who-runs-out-of-bombs-first is the loser when in fact everybody loses. Eventually, someone will hold the office as the next President. But, whichever way it falls, the character of our country has already suffered crippling losses because the morally right allowed themselves to be drug down from the mountain and into the muck.
I wondered if a non-Catholic who knows that we are called to love our neighbor even when a part of us might wish he or she would get run over by a beer truck would recognize us by our words and actions? It seemed to me that, in our Christian parlance, we hated the sinner and anyone associated with the sinner as much or more as we hated their sins. Anyone who might have been considering joining our Catholic ranks could easily have deduced that our faith was in one political party or the other and not with Jesus Christ, himself.
Life is full of hard times and unpleasant circumstances – difficulties which we do not like, do not choose and cannot change – that go against our will and cause us grief. Politics is simply one of those circumstances. You have only a fifty-fifty chance of being satisfied with the outcome. God doesn’t create the outcome to be viewed as punishment for those who don’t get their way. But, He allows it for the purpose of a greater good to be realized. We are not God so we don’t have the inside scoop on what that greater good will be. But, we are called to have faith, a faith that accepts that all will work out well for those who love and trust in Him. Thus, anyone who finds themselves either overly ecstatic or depressed by the election outcome has placed their faith in a human being instead of God.
As Catholics, we are called to evangelize, a job at which, I admit, we are not very effective. But, I can’t imagine that Jesus intended for us to evangelize by placing our faith in a political party and then beating the other side over the head with it. If anything, we are called to have such a strong trust in His will that we are willing to turn the other cheek. Rather than expending so much energy frustratingly trying to change other’s political views that don’t match up morally with our own, we ought, instead, to be putting our effort into living virtuously, making friends with people, getting to know them and understanding why they believe what they believe. We might learn something and they might become open and comfortable to do the same with us Catholics, thus opening the door for us to introduce or reintroduce them to Jesus Christ. Is this not what the early Christians did while they were being persecuted during that first three hundred years after Christ’s death? Are they not the ones who, per today’s first reading are those who are “standing on the sea of glass”, “who have won victory over the beast”, and who are singing, “the song of the Lamb” (Rv 15:1-4)?
You might think that I, by choosing to not follow the election coverage, don’t care about what’s going on in our nation, about all its problems and lack of unity. You’d be wrong. I care so much that I want to focus my efforts on what I believe are the root problems, namely a lack of faith and virtue, and a departure from the moral values inscribed on our hearts by our Creator. I choose to turn my back on the one-sidedness of the news media, and ignore the anxiety to which the world would have us fall prey and which causes us to lose hope. It may feel as though the world is going to hell in a hand-basket but I refuse to let it steal my peace. Nor will I allow it to make me live my life worrying about the future. The future is in good hands with God. He will come, “to govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.” (Ps 98:9)
This last Sunday morning, as I walked out of church after Mass, at which we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, two friends began to complain about the election not knowing that I have chosen to remain reclusive with respect to the media. I quickly raised my hand to signal resistance, let them know that I did not know where the election stood, and politely asked them to not spoil it for me. Then, in response to their confused looks, I explained that, for me, no matter who wins the Presidency, the real One Who was, is, and will forever be in charge is He Who was raised to His throne by being hung on a cross. He brings me peace and, in Him, I place my faith, trust and allegiance.
In whom do you place your faith, trust and allegiance? Does that one bring true and everlasting peace to your soul? Are you inviting chaos and anxiety into your life and allowing the bitter dissonance of the world to control you? There is a better way – a way of faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ.
“Heavenly Father, on this day before our National Day of Thanksgiving, I give You thanks that I live in the greatest nation ever created. We may have our problems, but there’s no physical place, economic or political system on earth better than the United States of America. I pray that we turn to Your Son, Jesus, as our guiding light, and for the fortitude to bring others to Him. I pray for the intercession of our Mother Mary, to whom our great nation is consecrated, to protect us under her mantle from the Evil One. Amen.”
(Finding Peace In The One Who Is Really In Charge, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
Every Tuesday evening at five o’clock after my Adoration hour, I meet with a small group of two to three other men to share our faith over the last week. This summer when the weather has been nice we’ve met on the bleachers in the shade of the trees behind the baseball field backstop at our parish school. We take turns talking about our progress in piety; the sincerity of our study to learn and grow our knowledge of our faith; any action we’ve taken to help others grow closer to Christ; and to relate any close God-moments we’ve had where we’ve seen or felt God’s presence at work in our lives. We also take this opportunity to help hold each other accountable.
Yesterday, it was my turn to go first. I shared that my prayer life had improved from a couple weeks prior, and, uncharacteristically for me, my study had taken off like a jackrabbit. I’d read four books in the last week – one on meditative prayer, one on life in the Spirit, a short book on devotion to Mary, and Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae – as well as listened to some of my classroom lectures. I had a couple action items worth honorable mention, and concluded that I’ve struggled lately with actively recognizing when God has been working in my life. I simply haven’t had any tremendous revelations to speak of.
Next up was my friend Mike. When he got to his study sharing he confided, with a wink in his eye, that he used to read a blog called Reflections of a Lay Catholic but for some reason it’s author had stopped writing. He added that, in fact, he would often get some of his weekly God-moments from that blog site.
Of course, his comments were intended to be a friendly jab at me for slacking off in my writing and they were taken as such. Nevertheless, I made a mental note to double down on living in the present so that I might better realize, when they come along, those small God-moments about which I often write. After my other friend, Paul, finished his sharing, we, as always, held hands, prayed for special intentions, and then together prayed the Lord’s Prayer.
During the forty-five minutes that we sat there sharing, the parking lot had filled up with the minivans and SUVs of soccer moms and their sons eager to get on the field and play. When the three of us finished our prayer we stood and walked to our own vehicles. Mine was the farthest away and as I neared my pickup truck a young mother caught my attention and told me with a sincere smile, “That was a beautiful display of your faith, the three of you praying together in public. I am so glad that my ten-year old son got to see that! Thank you so much!”
I didn’t know what to say other than, “Thank you!”. I think, but can’t say for sure, that I babbled something about doing that every Tuesday evening. I know I said, “Thank you!” more than once and I know at least one of those expressions of gratitude was not just back to the young woman but to the Lord above for creating that special moment and for allowing me to experience it.
Before driving away I sat in my truck and reflected on what had just happened. I thought about the Gospel passages from our daily scripture this week from Luke, chapter 4, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and how He calls us to minister as well. I thought about the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times. And, when necessary, use words.” I thought about how I often fail to use words as much as I should in proclaiming my faith, but, in this case, I was grateful for the affirmation that my actions spoke so loudly.
I thought about how, just possibly, that ten-year old boy might remember, years down the road, the moment when he saw three old men sitting on the bleachers praying together, and that he may decide to do the same. I thought about the young mother who’s faith may have been severely shaken in light of the current crisis in the Church, but may have just had that same faith reawakened. I thought I will probably never know but I can hope that good will come from it.
Finally, I took a moment to give thanks again to God for allowing me to experience that moment, for showing me that small acts done with love and gratitude are especially appreciated.
And, this morning, I give thanks to God again for giving me the fodder I need to post again in Reflections of a Lay Catholic so that my friend Mike will have something to read for his daily inspiration.
“Father, I love You and I know You love me. You are there for me each and every time I turn back to You after journeying away. Thank You, Lord, for my faith in You and for allowing me to share it with others. Please, Lord, let this ministry be efficacious in bringing others closer to You. Amen.”
(Tuesdays at Five was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
In today’s first reading (2 Tm 4:1-8), we see first hand St. Paul’s character. He follows sound doctrine, knows the truth, is self-possessed, evangelizes, competes well, finishes the race, and keeps the faith. He knows he’s near the end of his life but he still “sings [God’s] glory every day” (Ps 71:8) and, “speaks of the mighty works of the Lord.” (Ps 71:16).
As I try to grow in virtue I know I can never be perfect like Christ. He is God. But, with His grace, maybe I can get closer to being like Paul.
(Be Like Paul was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” 46But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” 49Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – Jn 1: 45-51 NAB
Wednesday’s Gospel from John made me recall exactly four years and four months earlier when I first met Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. My story of that first encounter, while separated and modernized by almost two thousand years, is similar to that of Nathanael (more commonly known as St. Bartholomew).
There was Nathanael minding his own business on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when his friend Philip walked up and said, “Hey, I want you to meet someone important from Nazareth.” Nathanael replied, “What? From Nazareth? I don’t think so!” But, since Philip was such a good friend, Nathanael, although doubtful, decided to go along.
Jesus used Philip as his intermediary. Jesus knew He was going to call Nathanael but He also knew Nathanael would be more likely to follow Him if he received encouragement in the form of testimony from his friend. It worked, and the rest is history.
I have no idea how many times Jesus might have called me and I wasn’t listening or I out and out rejected Him. But, I think He knew when the time was right and that I would need His disciples to lead me to Him.
Countless times I refused invitations from my friends Clay and Eric to attend men’s bible study sessions where holy men just like them shared their faith with each other. Over a period of months we, along with our wives, occasionally went out for dinner together and the conversations would inevitably turn to discussions of faith, and I would be uncomfortable. They were sowing the seeds. They were on a mission to make a friend, be a friend, and bring a friend to Christ.
Just like St. Philip, my two friends arranged the meeting. I accepted their invitation to attend a Christ Renews His Parish retreat weekend. Then, after they brought Him and me together in the same place, they stepped out of the way. That part of their job was over. The rest was up to Him. And He didn’t disappoint.
That weekend, I witnessed the Holy Spirit at work through the men facilitating the retreat. It didn’t take long before my notion about faith in Jesus changed from, “It can’t be”, to, “It might be.” Little by little, I heard The Calling. I gave an inch. He took a mile. I gave Him part of me but He wanted all of me. I was happy to oblige. Now, over four years later, I’m still giving and trying to find a way to give even more. And, what I receive in return is beyond anything I could have ever imagined! I certainly have seen “greater things”.
I owe this life to a couple close friends who weren’t afraid to live the Christ life by evangelizing and introducing me to their Lord Jesus.
It’s not easy being an apostle like St. Philip. It takes courage. It takes patience. It takes a lot of prayer. Some of us are better suited for that type of evangelization than others. But, we can all evangelize in one way or another. For me, these blog posts are one of my ways of evangelizing. What is your way? If you don’t know where to begin, you can start by following the advice of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
“Lord Jesus, through the love of Your apostles I was led to You and You have shown me the way to eternal life. Help me, I pray, to bring Your love to others who, like I was, are seeking the fullness of life that only You have to offer. Amen.”
(The Calling was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
“32And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; 34then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphetha!” – that is, “Be opened!”. 35And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. 36He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.” – Mark 7:32-36 (NAB)
When I heard this Gospel reading yesterday morning at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Muncie, Indiana I couldn’t help but think back to April 2013. I will never forget the day when I first heard this scripture passage – the morning of Easter Saturday. Later that night, after my baptism, first communion and confirmation, I became Catholic.
I wrote about the experience a few days later in my first ever blog post, My First Easter Vigil Mass. Thinking back to that post, my focus was on verses 35 and 36 – why did Jesus not want those whom he healed to tell anyone? But, this Sunday, my mind settled on the last two words of verse 34, “Be opened!”
Just minutes before my attention was captured by those two words, I heard the first reading from Isaiah in the Old Testament:
“4Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. 5Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; 6then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” – Isaiah 35:4-6 (NAB)
So, when the Deacon read, “Be opened!”, I had a slight epiphany. I knew that Jesus meant more than to cease being deaf and dumb when he cured the man. He meant exactly what the celebrant says at a child’s baptism, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”
Ever since that April two years ago, I have tried earnestly to be open to God’s Word and to proclaim my faith. I have made that effort not because I remembered and tried to live up to that which the celebrant prayed over me at my baptism, but because I wanted to, and because it was what I know is right.
Now, looking back, I began to wonder if I have given it my all. Have I been as open to His Word as I could be? Have I studied and tried to understand as much as I ought? Have I shied away from professing my faith to others because of the fear of not knowing enough to defend myself? Have I helped others to better understand and strengthen their faith or have I been laissez-faire in evangelizing?
The answer, of course, is, regardless of how well I’ve done, I can still do better.
When was the last time you asked yourself those questions?
“Lord God, thank You for all I’ve learned in the last two years. But, I need Your help to continue to do better. Please, help me to always be open to and understand Your Word. And, give me courage to proclaim my faith and help others live theirs. Amen.”
(Ephphatha – Be Open! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
St. Peter Cures the Lame Beggar – Bernardo Strozzi
This past weekend I helped lead a men’s spiritual retreat and I was slated to give a reflection for meditation early Saturday afternoon. I’d known I had to do this for some time but I was yet unprepared with any subject matter upon which to talk. I often procrastinate but that wasn’t the case in this instance. I simply didn’t know what I wanted to say. Contrary to ordinary, I wasn’t worried. I knew the Holy Spirit would guide me.
We attended Mass in the morning before the retreat began and I prayed for inspiration. As I concentrated on the first reading, Acts 4:13-21, I had a glimmer of hope. This passage spoke of Apostles Peter and John, after they had cured the lame beggar and converted five thousand, being ordered by the Sanhedrin to cease speaking and teaching about Jesus. Then, as I heard the Gospel, Mark 16:9-15, about Jesus’ resurrection, appearing to Mary Magdalene and the Disciples, and His commissioning of the Eleven Apostles, I knew the Holy Spirit had come through for me again! After a few minutes alone, and by the Grace of God, I had my reflection in hand:
“In this morning’s reading from The Acts of the Apostles, I heard Peter and John tell the Sanhedrin, 19 ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. 20 It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.’”
“And from the Gospel of Mark, I heard Jesus say to His Apostles, 15 ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”’
“These two passages speak to me of evangelization. They speak to me of the spirit of the Christ Renews His Parish program, which is itself an instrument of evangelization.”
“When I think of evangelization I usually think of two things: evangelization within the Church, and evangelization outside the Church. Pope Paul wrote, ‘The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized Herself….She has a constant need of being evangelized if She wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel’.”
“Ever since I became Catholic I’ve known the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel and to bring others to Christ. Pope Paul told us that before we can do that successfully we must evangelize within; that is, we have to be healthy to be believable to those without.”
“That’s what Christ Renews His Parish does, it evangelizes within the Church. It lights a fire inside those who have let their fire go out as well as stoke the fires of those who already burn brightly. It allows the ‘Holy Spirit to kindle in them the fire of His love’.” Imagine trying to spread the Gospel without this!”
“Someone on the outside looking in might be under the impression that all Catholics, or all Christians for that matter, are holy, and are always holy. They would be wrong, of course. Just in this group of 42 men, we are all at different levels of holiness. But, as our Deacon said this morning, our job as Christians is to get to heaven. And, some of us need help from each other to get there. It might be a family member who helps us, or a priest, or the person sitting next to you right now.”
“We can each evangelize this weekend by getting to know each other, by supporting one another, and by sharing, even in small ways, how Christ has worked in our lives. And, we can do the same thing after this weekend to people we know and meet.”
“Yesterday in my Holy hour of Adoration, I read a sermon from St. Augustine: ‘Scattered about the entire earth, your mother the Church is tormented by the assaults of error. She is also afflicted by the laziness and indifference of so many of the children she carries around in her bosom as well as by the sight of so many of her members growing cold, while she becomes less able to help her little ones. Who then will give her the necessary help she cries for if not other children and other members to whose number you belong?’”
“St. Augustine wrote that in the 5th century. Not much has changed in the last 1,600 years. We are still called to answer those cries for help.”
“As I was writing this I realized there is actually a third level of evangelization: self-evangelization. Going back to what Pope Paul wrote, before the Church can proclaim the Gospel without, it has to get healthy within. And, like the Church, for us to perform our role successfully, we have to be spiritually healthy. Individually, we need to be evangelized within. How do we take ownership and make that happen?”
“To kick off our retreat, our opening scripture reading this morning was John 1:1 – ’In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Personally, I believe therein lies the key. We can evangelize ourselves by reading the Word of God, by picking up His Book, the Bible, and reading the scriptures and listening to His Word. In doing so, we let it change us and we let it direct us.”
“As you go forward on this weekend and beyond, I’d like to leave you with this question upon which to meditate: With the renewal you will experience this weekend, how will you evangelize yourself, evangelize to others, and profess your faith in ways that will strengthen the whole Church, the Body of Christ?”
And, so that I “practice what I preach”, I offer this reflection to you, the reader, and ask you the same question: How will you evangelize within and without?
God bless you all.
(How Will You Evangelize? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
Last week at our Parish Council meeting we discussed the upcoming ministry fair during which the various ministries will explain what they do and who they serve for the purpose of encouraging more parishioners to get involved. Our discussion was about how the displays should look and how best to attract people to browse the exhibits.
Afterwards, I thought more about this and it seemed to me something was missing. There needed to be more than quality displays and getting people into the parish hall for it to be a success. People need to know more than what the ministry is – they need to know why that ministry is important to the volunteer – and it needs to be expressed in a way that will encourage others to want to participate.
I recalled a re-post from June 2013 titled Catholics are Called to Daily Martyrdom, says Pope. In his Angelus, Pope Francis reflected on Matthew 16:25 and said, “The faithful are called to follow the example of the martyrs in losing their lives for Christ, even if they do not suffer violence for their faith.” He emphasized that it is expected of us, if not our duty, to sacrifice for the good of others.
I remembered this because, although I agree with Pope Francis’ intent, I don’t totally agree with his delivery. By making the analogy between martyrdom by violent death and martyrdom by daily sacrifice, he leaves a dark and unpleasant visualization in people’s minds. I know his intent is to encourage more Catholics to sacrifice their time, talent and treasure for the good of others and for the Church, but there is nothing appealing in those words that will make people who are not already on that train want to jump on board. They imply giving up stuff we value – stuff like comfortable habits.
Words mean things. It’s an individual’s perception of the meaning of a word that induces them to act one way or the other. People can do tremendous things if they are motivated by the promise of positive and encouraging outcomes rather than a sacrifice that hurts.
With respect to helping others, it boils down to how people answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” When it comes to self-motivation, there are two basic types of people. Most people fall somewhere between these two extremes.
On one end of the spectrum is the person whose focus is without and whose answer to “What’s in it for me?” is “What can I do for someone else?” This is the person who is unselfish, is intent on helping others and doesn’t even consider a sacrifice being made. They may recognize a duty but their focus is on the other person. They enjoy it. Their sacrifice is born from love. Martyrdom isn’t even on their radar.
Then, on the other end, there are the people who focus within. Their driver is truly, “What’s in it for me?” These folks range from those who give of themselves because it is their duty, but who find no pleasure in their actions because their sacrifice is a labor to them; to those who say with pride, “Look at me and how much more I’ve sacrificed than so-and-so.” The pride that goes along with this “Holier than thou” attitude is the sin of all sins. Jesus might have said, “He who tries to find martyrdom in this way for my sake is trying to save his life for his own sake.”
It is okay for someone else to say, “You are a wonderful person, so sacrificing and caring of others.” But, it’s not okay for us to think of ourselves in that way. Our motivation must be inside-out. We must do good for goodness’ sake and not for the purpose of inflating our egos. We can only focus on the reward to the beneficiary of our action, not on our own reward. It’s a fine example of the Catch 22 I wrote about in Live Forever or Die in the Attempt– if you want to save your life, then you must lose it, not begrudgingly, but with a smile on your face.
The Pope’s message is wasted on the people in the first group because it’s a “no-brainer” to them. It has to be directed at the people in the second group. To be effective, it has to be encouraging and influence a change in attitude more than an increase in effort; a shift in perspective from looking within to looking without; and blindness to the sacrifice. Only when we develop humility and stop looking for our just rewards will we receive them.
In the case of our ministry fair, attractive displays will certainly help. But, we need those manning the booths to give encouraging testimony, focused externally, to help convince others to get involved. This is an excellent opportunity for offering simple evangelizing comments like those below that emphasize the good in why they serve others and, ultimately, the good of the Church, rather than suggesting that prospective volunteers do their duty for duty’s sake:
“I enjoy being a Lector because, by reading the scripture at Mass, I feel I can help others better understand the Word of God.”
“I am on the Hospitality Committee because I enjoy welcoming new members to the parish and introducing them to all we have to offer.”
“I participate in the Respect Life Ministry because I hope my actions will help save the life of an innocent, unborn child.”
“I am a Day Leader for Eucharistic Adoration because I hope to help others develop a closer relationship with Christ.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all Catholics answered Pope Francis’ call for evangelization by witnessing how blessed they feel when serving others, and how losing one’s life so it can be saved is a sacrifice born of love and, thus, not really a sacrifice at all?