“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 email@example.com 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!
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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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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Yesterday I was completing a couple home projects in our basement and reminiscing with our teenage son, Trevor, as I worked. In the course of the conversation, a shared memory surfaced: Once when I was working on a different project (the kids’ treehouse, I think), I sent Trevor to the garage to get the orange carpenter’s square.
“Big, flat piece of steel, like two rulers at a right angle to each other. It should be hanging on the peg board over the work bench. Bright orange—can’t miss it.”
He was gone a long time.
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When I was old enough to read the fractions etched into the sides of sockets and wrenches, I became my Dad’s “gofer” (as in, “Go fer this; go get that.”)—and I had an uncanny ability to look squarely at the tool my father asked for and not see it. I could not see something for several minutes straight; we never tested the upper limits of this knack of mine, primarily because the sought item would snap into focus the moment Dad disentangled himself from the drivetrain of the pickup, rolled out from beneath it on the creeper, stood, sauntered over to the bench, and pointed at it, right where he said it would be.
“Oh,” I would say sheepishly, handing it to him. “I didn’t see that there.”
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In case you missed the news, we’ve a playwright in the priesthood: Fr. Kyle Kowalczyk, pastor of the Church of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Delano, has also written, directed, produced, and acted in theatrical productions since high school. This week and next, his Catholic community theater company, Missed the Boat Theatre, is performing Moonshine Abbey, an original musical by Fr. Kyle and composer Sam Backman. It tells the story of a community of monks trying to preserve its rule, identity, and livelihood of brewing beer and distilling spirits during Prohibition.
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