Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"O God, All My Hopes are in You": Moral Dilemmas and Resting in Prayer, Grace, and God's Will

“When, therefore, you are suffering from some sickness, temptation, persecution or other trouble, go to Him at once and ask Him to reach out to you His helping hand. No sooner will you have put before His eyes your affliction by saying: “Behold, O Lord, for I am in distress...” (Lam. 1:20), then He will console you, or at least give you strength to suffer patiently the passing trial, and it will have been better for you to have had that trial than to have been delivered from it. Make known to God all feelings of sadness or fear that oppress you, and say to Him: “O my God, all my hopes are in You. I offer You this affliction and conform myself to Your Will. But have pity on me, and either deliver me from it or give me strength to suffer it.” And God will surely fulfill in you the promise He made in the Gospel always to console and comfort the afflicted when they have recourse to Him: “Come to Me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” (Matt. 11:28)”
~ How to Converse with God  by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Moral struggles are no easy matter, and if given the option, most will choose to face a physical struggle instead.  Physically, we can either overcome the battle or accept the defeat.  Moral, spiritual struggles are much tougher and have a lingering, life-altering effect.

A few months ago, I had an epiphany that rerouted my faith journey. Much of the traditions and doctrines of the Church became my means of focus and study.  Deepening my understanding of and desire for the Church, I submerged myself in reading and praying through The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacred Scripture, and many writers, both lay and ecclesial, of the Church. Initially this led me to lean on devotions, sacramentals, and frequent reception of the Sacraments. Although these practices were bringing me closer to Christ, strict analysis and study of the Church, however, quickly led me to a scrupulous examination of self and a constant worry about my failures to follow and consciously conform to all Church teachings. Worry and scrupulosity became a heavy burden, one that led me to a moral crisis. Although I was trying my best to empty myself and live a life in Christ, I was not, however, able to completely conform my life to the teachings of the Church. As a newly reverted, on-fire Catholic, this was devastating. And in this devastation, I cried out in prayer for Jesus to lead me to His will, not mine.

In looking back, it was my will to follow Christ by strictly aligning myself to the doctrines of the Church, even if it meant abandoning reason and love for those around me. In trying to solve my moral dilemma, I sought daily devotions and frequent Reconciliation as a way of “making it right” and pressing on with my faith journey. In trying to live a life in Christ, I prioritized living a life in perfect sync with the Church. I was becoming a modern-day Pharisee. This way, however, was not God’s will for me. My dilemma hit hard when, in my zealous pursuit of Church doctrine, I offended those closest to me.

At this point, it would have been easy to abandon “religion” and only seek “relationship” with Jesus, as many who love Christ with good intentions wrongfully preach. Community, worship, and service to God and neighbor must be in the context of community; it is why Jesus established His universal church on earth. Instead of despairing, I reached out to God in prayer, Scripture in meditation, the faithful in reading, and to my pastor in counsel. This, for me, was the winning combination.  And although I did not get an easy answer, I received the grace, forgiveness, and love of God in Jesus Christ.

Our journeys to Jesus, I am convinced, follow different paths, yet are in some ways similar. Scripture spells this out in many of the apostles’ stories. Peter, for instance, was strong and brave, but his short temper and lack of faith at times led him to abandon Christ. But Peter had the humility to repent and trust in the mercy of Jesus, the Son of God. Thomas was to quick to doubt the resurrected Jesus, even though he lived with and learned from Him.  He was at the feet of God, but Thomas refused to believe until he felt the wounds of Christ. John, the beloved disciple, was closest to the heart of Jesus, so close he gently rested his head against his breast at the last supper. We all follow different paths, but when we willingly choose God, we arrive at the same destination by His grace.

Listening, having faith, being humble, and leaning on Jesus in times of trial is a summation of my journey as a servant of Christ. By God’s grace, my moral dilemma has led me closer to Him, deepened my faith, and, hopefully, is making me a stronger conduit of Christ’s light to others. But they key to our faith journey is prayer and conforming to God’s will, praying not only for Jesus to lift the burden of our dilemmas but, if God so desires, to strengthen us to carry them for Him.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Matthew 19:29 -- Modern Martyrdom, Faith Witness, and Giving up All in the Name of Jesus Christ

"And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life." 
~ Matthew 19:29 (NABRE)

We do not have to read far in the daily headlines to find the many real sacrifices of Christians and minority groups in the middle east.  Many Christians were given the choice to convert to Islam or die a brutal, terrifying death.  Violent deaths and sufferings have been reported via the news media. Yet in the face of such brutally real threats, Christians are either fleeing their land or facing death.  By God's grace, they are clinging to their faith in Christ. 

These people are living testaments to the power of the Holy Spirit, and their willing martyrdom in the face of such brutal circumstances, speaks volumes to the many lukewarm Christians in America.  This crisis is a faith wake-up call and reflects the message Jesus teaches in the sermon on the mount in the gospel of Matthew Chapter 5:10-11, for he says that those who are persecuted, reviled, ill-treated, and wrongfully accused for His sake will inherit the kingdom of God. We are called to carry the cross of discipleship, and that cross can be heavy and knock us down.  But it is through our faith and reliance on Jesus that we are strengthened to do the impossible, as these persecuted people bear witness. 

Please remember to pray for these children of God, Christians and non-Christians, who are persecuted and robbed of their humanity as we live, thrive, and breathe in a modern, protected world. Please look upon their living testimony as a finger pointing to the true meaning of living out one's faith. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is not easy, and let us never take our faith for granted. Please, through prayer and loving action, help spread peace in our world.