‘More Money Than God’

I was talking with our son Trevor the other day and used the phrase “more money than God.” It occurred to me as I said it that the phrase could be taken two ways:

  • The first is the typical way: So-and-so has a greater amount of money than God has. (Not that God needs money…)
  • The second is more ominous: So-and-so has more money than the amount of God he has.

The second interpretation is the one Jesus warns us against, most concisely in Matthew 6:24: You cannot serve both God and mammon.

What is mammon? Wealth and riches, particularly in excess. Historically the word was thought to reference a demon or god associated with material wealth.

I’d like to think we’re not at risk of placing money ahead of God. We are not wealthy by US standards; we live on a budget and give to the church as best we can. Several years ago, Jodi and I began to dig out of debt—and while that journey is ongoing, last week we shared a short video outlining why we are supporting the parish’s BOLD FUTURE campaign.

We are blessed, we know it, and we are trying to share those blessings. Surely we have more God than money in our lives…right?

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‘I Can’t Love You Enough’

A while back I was counting my blessings in prayer, reflecting on my life and my family. I was struck by how differently things have turned out than I would have predicted, and how much better than I ever could have orchestrated myself. I remember choking up a bit (which happens more than I like to admit), smiling to myself and God, and saying to Him, “I can’t love you enough!”

When I said it, I meant, “I love you so much for all the great things you’ve done in my life, and even that isn’t adequate!”

But as soon as I heard my words, it struck me another way: I cannot love You enough. I am unable to love You, Lord, in the way that I should. You have given me everything; You lived and died for me…and I can barely find time to say thank you, let alone seek to do Your will.

I am unable to love You as I should, Lord.

That thought struck me again late last week, as we prepared to head to Bismarck for our oldest son Brendan’s graduation. As I reflected on it, I saw two paths I could take from there.

The first is well-worn and dusty; I have traveled it many times. It’s the path by which I try to pray harder, do more, use better words, cram more in. I try to earn my way into heaven through my own effort…and time and again, I fall, because I can’t love Him enough.

The other path is so little traveled that flowers grow, so that you almost dare not take a step. It’s the path by which I acknowledge the truth about myself: that nothing I can ever do can repay my debt to God for loving me into being and dying to save my soul. I learn to humble myself and submit to His plan, in which He saves me because I can’t love Him enough.

The first path leads to exhaustion, failure, frustration and despair. The second leads to freedom and peace. Which one, do you suppose, leads to Him?

He’s Saving Me

SoulApostolateOne of the books I’m reading in my “down time” right now is The Soul of the Apostolate, by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard. The book has been bedside reading for popes and saints, and was recommended on Jason and Chrystalina Evert’s Chastity Project website as a critical step second only to prayer for anyone aspiring to active ministry. Fr. Chautard was a 19th- and early 20th- century Cistercian abbot in France, who saw a proliferation of active Catholic ministries around him, led by priests, religious, and lay people. Some prospered; others did not. Some were fruitful, and some weren’t. Some prospered in a worldly sense, but bore little spiritual fruit.

He saw the reason for this as a neglect of the interior life: seemingly good people became so busy doing seemingly good works they no longer had time to spend in intimate relationship with God. They neglected prayer, scripture, the rosary, even communion—forgetting that God is the only source of goodness for the works they are attempting.

That’s a summary of the book, so far at least—I’m only a third of the way through. I share it now because it has led me to a new reflection on these past two months of joblessness. Continue reading

Slaves No More

I can’t possibly afford to be here.

Two years ago, I was working in communications at the University of Minnesota. I had spent six years as the president’s speechwriter and enjoyed a solid salary, stellar benefits, and the respect and friendship of several wonderful colleagues.

Nevertheless I felt adrift. The U hired a new president, and I changed jobs three times in two years—with each one less and less to my liking. I knew I needed to make a change. I thought about working for the Church, but communications positions were few and far between; most other positions required a theology or professional degree I didn’t have, and the pay and benefits couldn’t compete with a large public university.

Plus, like too many couples, Jodi and I were not smart with our money in our younger days. We never had a budget and ran up debt almost without thinking. So when the faith formation job opened up here in our home parish, my first thought was: We can’t afford it.

Unbeknownst to me, wiser minds and more faithful hearts than mine were at work. Friends and family were praying for me. And providentially, Jodi and I had attended Financial Peace University the year before. Jodi’s brother Jason followed Dave Ramsey’s program, and it changed his life—so when new parishioners Jason and Robyn Jones brought Financial Peace University here, we saw it as a sign and joined their first course. It changed our lives, too.

I won’t walk you through the entire program—instead, I’ll share one example. Ramsey insists that a zero-base budget is essential to managing your money. Every dollar you bring in is assigned a specific role. Bills. Groceries. Giving. Savings. Even monthly “blow money,” so you can treat yourself to whatever you want, no questions asked. Each month, you tell every dollar where it goes.

“At the end of the first couple months,” we were told, “you’ll feel like you got a raise.” Why? Because when you don’t assign every dollar to a specific priority, you waste money, without even knowing it.

After living paycheck to paycheck for years, we were skeptical—but sure enough, when we started the zero-base budget, we realized we were blowing an extra $500 to $1,000 a month on…nothing. We had barely covered our bills, and we had no money left and nothing to show for it except a few greasy pizza boxes and empty beverage containers. We started budgeting this way each month and realized we had been living and giving below our potential!

So when opportunity knocked here at St. Michael, we ran the numbers and discovered I could answer the call. The incredible thing is that we have the same bills as before (gas and parking went down; healthcare went up), yet everything is covered, even with less coming in.

When we speak about it, it makes no sense—where does the money come from?—but on paper it’s clear: when we track every dollar, we can see the money was there all along. When we couldn’t see it, we didn’t realize it was missing.

We aren’t debt free yet, but we’re on our way—and just getting on that path gave us the freedom to change, not just jobs, but our whole family dynamic and outlook. We make less money, and yet we are giving more to the church and other charities, enjoying ourselves more, paying off more debt more quickly—and worrying less. Although we still owe, we are no longer slaves to money. And that is a great feeling.