“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” – Luke 12: 49-53
Being a Christian can feel lonely at times. In today’s culture you may feel ostracized by the world that just wants you to keep your mouth shut and your beliefs to yourself. Also at times, you may feel a sort of spiritual loneliness; where like David in the Psalms, you feel like God is hiding His face from you. Being a Christian is not always a walk in the park. I have personally found that one of the most painful feelings for me is wanting to share the joy I have found in Christ, but even among those closest to me, they simply do not want to hear about it. Sometimes I desperately want to be open about that part of myself with those I love who are not Catholic, but I know it will be met with silence, sarcasm, or anger. Though I still speak up in defence of the truth, I have also had to find different ways of showing that faith without words to my family and friends who do not believe or are against listening to anything that leans towards objective truth.
In our present culture, where “hate” has become the new catchphrase for anyone who stands up for objective moral truth, it is almost comical to see how much hatred the world has for authentic Christianity. Jesus warned us of the hate we would experience for loving and following Him, but He also reminds us that the world hated Him first.
The struggle can be difficult at times, yet, we know that there is victory in the struggles that we endure as Christians. The feeling of loneliness we can encounter can become redemptive. We can come to encounter Christ more deeply by offering our suffering to Him and with Him. Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Suffering is a great favor. Remember that everything soon comes to an end… and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal.” We must take these words to heart and remember that the lives we live here are temporary.
It is of great importance to pray for the gifts of charity, humility, and patience. Charity is one of the hardest things to practice toward someone who speaks ill of you. It can be equally as hard to remain charitable when Christ or His Church is attacked. It can be much easier to get angry than to take a breath, pray for a moment, and speak respectfully to that person. Keep in mind our Blessed Lord before Pontius Pilate. He simply spoke the truth in peace.
It can be difficult to love the people who attack us, whether it be in the online sphere or among our families, friends, co-workers, etc. It is of paramount importance that we continue to love those who hurt us. This doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends, or even get along. It may even mean ending the relationship. But, we must be willing to reach out and serve them. We must remember that they deserve love and respect, even when they don’t give these things to us. Jesus loves the person who attacks us and desires for them to be united with Him for all eternity. Our job is to show that by our deeds, and then our words.
Remember you are not alone.
I remember years ago feeling very alone and wishing that I wasn’t. I was so caught up in myself that I forgot that I was never alone. I failed so many times to enter into prayer, to recall the saints, or to seek out authentic community. In hindsight, I wish I had been able to remember those painful hours Jesus wept in the garden. I forgot that on the cross, Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Now, I understand that I can take consolation in the fact that not only can I offer my struggles, loneliness, and sufferings to Jesus, but that I can unite them with His suffering for the salvation of souls.
Pray for those that persecute you. Pray that their hearts may not be hardened. Pray that they may recognize the love in you as God’s love for them. Pray for them if they abandon you, or if you have to leave that relationship for reasons beyond your control. Leave it all in the hands of the Father. He will take care of His children.
We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God. – Saint Vincent de Paul
It is a hectic life that we lead.
Work, school, family commitments, socializing… it’s a wonder any of us are still standing, dizzied as we are.
And at the very bottom of our ever-growing list of priorities, is our need for rest.
The Bible speaks a great deal about care for our physical bodies. Jesus’ life, in particular, emphasizes the importance He placed on rest and sleep. One would think that God incarnate would consider it unnecessary to take time to sleep and recharge, busy as He was fulfilling salvation history.
But then, He falls asleep in boats in the midst of raging storms. (Matthew 8:24)
And then, He encourages His disciples to rest after ministry. (Mark 6:31)
He even often carves out time away from the crowds to retreat and pray alone. (Luke 5:16)
Why would God model and encourage rest for us with such earnest?
Truly, the Creator knows His creation.
Medically, lack of sleep wreaks havoc on us. Short term, we can suffer decreased alertness, memory impairment and hindered fine motor skills. Not to mention overall grumpiness and irritability. In the long term, forgoing rest produces even more serious problems, like high blood pressure, obesity and possible psychiatric problems, such as depression.
Spiritually, things also tend to take a turn for the worst when we struggle with getting enough rest. As a mother of young children, I can attest to those long nights of tending to little ones, and the lack of motivation, the diminishing patience and the lost inspiration for prayer that comes with the morning light. In fact, I’ve noticed a pattern of increased temptation and struggle for holiness during those periods of time where sleep eludes me.
This made me wonder about the world at large. We live in a 24/7 society, where in most major cities, at least, you can go shopping for crayons and coffee at 3 a.m., if you so desired. There are cities that “never sleep”… and they’re proud of it. There is always noise, there is always money to be made or spent, there are always duties and responsibilities to fulfill. Stress and anxiety abound, with no seeming reprieve.
And yet, have we ever considered what our insomnia is doing to us?
There is a song written by Cage the Elephant in 2008 called “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”. The chorus sings, half desperate lament, half proud anthem:
“Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked,
Money don’t grow on trees,
I got bills to pay
I got mouths to feed
There ain’t nothing in this world for free.
Oh no, I can’t slow down,
I can’t hold back,
Though you know, I wish I could.
Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked,
Until we close our eyes for good.”
If, as individuals, we suffer from poor judgement, increased temptation and a tendency to wander from holiness when we lack sleep, what is our obsession with universal wakefulness doing to our collective souls?
Over the past few months alone, it seems that the faith has endured blow after blow – morality crumbling, hate increasing, spiritual apathy on the rise. It has become overwhelming and has created a downward spiral that no one seems sure how to even begin escaping from.
No one, that is, except for the Spirit.
“Come to me, all you that are weary… and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
We need to return to the Creator’s plan. Our Father would not ask of His children that which they could not give. So this incessant need to be awake and the guilt that wracks us each time we dare to rest – this cannot be of God, because even He slept.
The Creator’s plan comes down to this:
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)
As hard as it is sometimes, we should be making time for God’s stillness. When possible, go on a retreat, visit the Adoration chapel often, put the phones down and go to bed a little bit earlier – for these are some of the ways that we are stilled. From that stillness we will emerge with wisdom. We will be fearless in our evangelism and tireless in our ministries. The Church will be fruitful, thriving and alive!
And while the rest of the world stumbles along, exhausted, in its bleary-eyed haze, the Church, fully awake, will continue to fight on its behalf, as it has always done.
But first, we must sleep.
In Luke 16: 1-9, Jesus tells an extremely interesting parable, about a dishonest manager who is caught wasting his master’s money, but finds a clever way to come out ahead even when he loses his position.
This parable can be very confusing at first glance, because it appears to praise the dishonest manager for squandering even more of his master’s wealth, for his own gain. The master whom he defrauded commends him “because he had acted shrewdly,” and Jesus comments that “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
When the manager realizes that his life as he currently knows it is about to end, he makes use of everything he has in that present position to prepare for his future. What the disciples were meant to take from this, and what we need to take from it, is that we need to come to a similar realisation about our current state of life.
Our life on this earth will come to an end, just like the manager’s comfortable position. While we have the opportunity, we must be shrewd with the resources available to us to prepare for our future home.
When we look at state of the world, particularly in the ‘culture wars’ going on in modern society, it’s clear that Our Lord’s words still ring true. Those who advance an agenda of moral relativism, hedonism, and license are eminently shrewd, and they use the means available for gain at every opportunity. The result has been a stunning transformation of society.
Being Spiritually Shrewd
In light of recent events in the United States, a lot of people are thinking about how to react, and how to fight back. If we want to serve God in modern society, and evangelize our culture, we need to consider some ways of being spiritually shrewd.
Being shrewd means having good judgement, making intelligent choices, doing what is most effective for our goals. If we want to be spiritually shrewd, we need to stop putting too much emphasis on the worldly battleground, because that is the arena where our enemy invests his strength. It doesn’t take a military genius to tell us that we need to fight where we are strong, and our enemy is weak.
4 Ways of Being Spiritually Shrewd:
1. Love your enemies
Perhaps Our Lord’s most controversial and hardest teaching. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
For a long time, Christians have had it easy in western nations. Being Christian has often been the way to be honoured and respected in society. Now, the tables have turned, and if you live a Christian life, you are certain to be hated for it. Lets rise to the challenge of being real Christians, and be tenacious in loving our enemies. This means not just praying for them (though it does mean that), it also means loving them in action. It means actively looking for ways to wash the feet of our betrayer, as Christ did.
2. Offer up your sufferings
All of us who strive to live the faith publicly have, and will continue to suffer for it. This is the reality of our calling, but God makes suffering a blessing for us. This is part of the wisdom of God, which is “folly to those who are perishing.” But it is in this way that God allows us to unite ourselves to Christ.
“For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps.”
3. Carry out your Christian witness all the more, when it contrasts with the culture
Whenever the culture moves away from God, the need for people to return to the Church becomes more apparent.
If our society no longer respects the rights and dignity of all human beings, then let us take courage in the fact that our unshakable respect for those values will become more obvious, and attract people back to the faith.
4. Become more detached from the cares and concerns of the world
If we no longer have the opportunity to live in a society that honours the human family and offers protection and help to it, let’s take the opportunity to detach ourselves from the luxury of that help. God’s grace has always been sufficient for us and our families. Let’s take the opportunity to show that the human family doesn’t need a government or court’s permission to exist and thrive.
All of these are simple (but not easy) ways to take the defeats that the Church and her members may suffer in the world, and turn them into victory. Although we know Christ has won the final victory already, in our time on earth we must be willing to work out our salvation and make disciples, despite the sorry state of the world. God knows we can never be shrewd enough to outsmart the demonic intellect of the enemy, but he gives us all the means to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”, and to overcome the world by his grace.
My husband and I have been doing a Bible study with a friend of ours over the past few months. It has been such a great experience to sit down together, break open and discuss the chapter we have been reading, have dinner, and even play a few board games after if time allows. The fun and fellowship has been an amazing way to build relationship with one another, but most importantly, with Our Lord.
I have been realizing through this journey that we have had so far, how my relationship with the Lord has deepened and how and continues to grow. Through doing this Bible study, the reality really hit me that if I do not take measures for my faith to grow, it will instead gradually die. It is extremely disheartening that I have seen this all too much within my own family and friends, but also within myself at times. When I am not spending time with the Lord and taking measures to grow in my faith, my faith is weaker, but it grows stronger the more time I spend with Him and learn. I have seen the same in my own family and friends. I have seen too many family members and friends go from just regular Sunday churchgoers, to occasional ones, to not at all. I have also seen family and friends pick and choose over time what they believe “as a Catholic” based on their personal feeling and opinion, rather than seeking to come to know, understand, and embrace what the Church teaches and why. Slowly, they become increasingly lukewarm and give up any semblance of living the Faith.
I can recall personally wrestling with different tenants of my faith, everything from the Eucharist, to Sacramental marriage between one man and one woman, to not condoning abortion, etc, however I came to trust our Lord, and the Church He established, knowing He left His Church with the fullness of truth. This is key, for how can we seek the truth in the Church if we do not even believe that Jesus left us with the truth? From there, I sought to understand why He taught what He did. We are not to accept faith blindly, and so with faith coupled with reason, I researched, and read, and prayed, and came to the knowledge, understanding, and deeply held belief in the tenants of the Faith.
Truth be told, it was and is not always easy to push into our faith and learn rather than choose to reject because we disagree. We have a responsibility as Catholics to know our faith, but also to live it and grow in it, and share it. We cannot do this if we do not know it, and especially if we do not know Our Lord, or trust Him.
There are so many ways in which our faith can be deepened and can grow, and I encourage you to try to work one of these into your life, or some of them. You can go to Adoration, read the Catechism or scripture and/or do a Bible Study. For these, Catholic Biblical commentaries are invaluable! I’ve listed some resources below. You can also read and be inspired by the writings of the Saints, or other good Catholic literature, also links listed below.
Jesus once shared with us, in the Gospel of Matthew, the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids:
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The oil of which they speak is the oil of faith, and only our faith in the Lord, will count for us in the end. But where do we get this oil? We get it from taking measures to get to know our Lord, through the prayer and Sacraments, and through study of scripture and the writings of the Saints, and by their example which we read about. May we all take measures to know Our Lord. God wants to to be with Him, but as He tells us, we need to seek to know Him too.