The Choice Is Still Before Us

 
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” – Luke 6:46
Recently I was paid a great compliment: I was called a disciple. My reaction surprised me. I didn’t feel pride or embarrassment, but alarm. My immediate concern was that if people consider me disciple, they might strive to be like me and fall short of true discipleship. The closer I get to God the more clearly I see how far I have to go. I am a tall man, but a low bar.
 

We all have a choice to make, to leave our former life behind and follow Christ to Calvary. As Deacon Ralph Poyo shared in his recent visit, it is an all-or-nothing choice. We are called to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The only way to put God first is to place everything else behind Him.

The bad news is that we cannot work hard enough or love well enough to earn heaven without God’s grace—but neither can we cease to work and presume God’s grace will carry us.

The good news is that the choice is still before us, in every interaction, every moment here on earth.

How do we make the right choice in the moment? Jesus gives us clear instructions. For example:

  • Renounce your possessions, pick up your cross, and follow—otherwise you cannot be a disciple (Matthew 16:24-16, Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-26).
  • Love God, love neighbor, love enemies—it is not enough to love those who love you (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36).
  • Provide for the needs of others as you would for Jesus Himself—anything less is damnable (Matthew 25:31-46).

These words are like a punch to the gut for me. I have no trouble at all crying out to the Lord, but I’m terrible at doing what He commands. I go to Mass, pray pretty regularly, and try not to sin. But I enjoy my life, I dislike suffering, and I am comfortable in this community, in my circle of friends and family, in a job that suits my skills and pays the bills.

Surely I get bonus points working for the church? Didn’t the Pharisees?

We have hope, however. God seeks us constantly, loves us endlessly, wants to forgive us and welcome us home. God proves His love by sending His son to sinners, to live, suffer, and die in order to save us from our sins. We can choose today to accept this love or not. We can choose to love God back or not. We can choose to follow Jesus or not. We can make this choice right now.

But we can’t do it alone. If you are ready to change your life and follow Christ today, talk to someone today. Ask someone you regard as a disciple what to do next. They might be a little flustered at first, because discipleship is a big responsibility. If they are uncomfortable, it may mean they need someone to walk with, too. Ask them to partner with you. And if you don’t know who to talk to or want help from the parish to get started, send an email to smallgroups@stmcatholicchurch.org or call me at the parish office. 

Don’t wait. The way is narrow, but not so narrow that we can’t walk it together!

Over the Long Haul

I was blessed last month to be invited by our morning and evening MOM’s Groups to speak about marriage. At the time, I wondered what a man in his late 40s could offer a group of mostly young mothers in their first several years of marriage. Then I recalled a conversation with our oldest son Brendan and his wife Becky when they were discerning marriage. Specifically, I remember telling them, “We promise for better or for worse without really knowing what that means.”

It’s best that we can’t see the future. Maybe an unforeseen struggle will derail all our plans. Maybe it’s a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a child, a broken past or hidden addiction. Or maybe it’s the slow-building weight of sarcasm or unsolicited advice, the accumulated slights of day-to-day living in close quarters, or the endless routine of raising a family. Whatever our cross, when it comes, we can either carry it as a burden or swing it as a bludgeon. For better, or for worse.

After 26 years of marriage, I’ve learned that I’m still the same guy. Certainly I’ve changed a bit: I’ve kicked a few really bad habits, praise God, and gained some gray in my hair and beard. But I still have all the same buttons in all the same places, and Jodi still pushes them—for better or for worse.

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All That Wasted Time…

Several weeks ago I resumed praying the St. Joseph the Worker prayer on a daily basis for the first time in years. The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit calls us to prayer, and this was definitely a Holy Spirit inspiration. For the past month, time and again, I’ve been convicted by a few brief lines near the end of this prayer:

…having always before me the hour of death and the accounting I must then render of time ill spent, of talents unemployed, of good undone, and of my empty pride in success, which is so fatal to the work of God.

Prayer to St. Joseph the Worker

I don’t know about you, but I waste a lot of time. Oh, I get done whatever needs to get done, but that’s a low bar. The real question is, how do I spend the bulk of the time given to me?

I’m working on my old ’66 Ford pickup this summer. Three years ago it was a daily driver, until it conked out along the roadside between Elk River and home. Since then, it has sat in our driveway, in various stages of disassembly, while I tried to track down the problem and fix it. I’ve had the diagnosis and the parts for two years or so, and finally got it running again last month.

What took so long? First of all, there was the anticipation that the job was harder and the problem likely bigger than I understood. I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to finish the job that I failed to start it!

But more than that, I chose not to do it, because I had other projects, other priorities, other things I’d rather do. For example, in the past three years:

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Book Break: The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

I recently finished an English audio version of the 1828 Italian novel The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni on Audible. I first learned of this book—apparently the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language—from a post by Joseph Pearce on the Imaginative Conservative website with the provocative title, “The Betrothed: The Greatest Novel Ever Written?” That caught my eye, because, as a somewhat educated person, I had never heard of it.

I also share all this information to distinguish this book from a much more recent young adult romance novel and two-book series of the same name by Kiera Cass. This is NOT that.

Instead, this is a wonderful historical novel set in the 1600s in Lombardy, Italy (pictured above), telling the story of two young, relatively poor, and essentially good villagers preparing for their much-desired marriage, and a cowardly priest who refuses them the sacrament after a tyrannous local lord threatens his life if he should join them. The fearful parish priest is balanced by two heroic clergy, a Franciscan friar who serves as a father and spiritual director to the pair, and the real-life Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, the heroic and holy archbishop of Milan, whose pastoral efforts bring about novel’s conclusion.

What struck me most about this novel is how timeless great literature actually is. The book is about many things, each as relatable today as in the time it was set and the time it was written, including:

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Book Break: The Jungle

A few weeks ago, I attended a day-long training to become a home visitor for our local conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The most compelling part of the training was the section on what poverty looks like, from the perspective of the person living through it. This segment of the training was led by a man who was born and raised in some of the roughest areas of Chicago and Minneapolis, who was hired by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as a teen and loved and accompanied for years, through numerous trials and triumphs. Today he is a college-educated husband and father, a successful manager and talented speaker on the state and national level, and a Vincentian for life.

The training was thought-provoking and convicting; it, along with learning more about my own ancestors’ struggles with poverty before I was born, led me to want to dig deeper—which in turn led me to another unread book on my shelf: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Sinclair was an influential muckraking journalist, author, activist, and political candidate at the turn of the 20th century. The Jungle is his fictional but detailed and realistic account of power, corruption, and poverty during this time, particularly in the stockyard district of Chicago. The book follows one immigrant family from Lithuania, who moves to America on the promise of plentiful work for good wages, and finds a corrupt system of capitalists and politicians of every stripe, at every level, keeping prices high and wages low, controlling everything from housing and food supplies in the neighboring slums to law enforcement, inspections, and elections—and driving workers to desperate measures to avoid death by illness, exposure, or starvation.

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