Tuesday, July 19, 2016

People Who Pray Get More Done!

This is the most enduring truth of the spiritual life - whatever we give to God we get back one hundred times. God cannot be outdone in generosity. No matter what we may offer Him, no matter what sacrifices we may make to do His will, He will bless us many times over.

Martha and Mary learned this in today’s gospel. By sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him, Mary was not shirking her responsibility to help her sister Martha or wasting her time. Rather, as Jesus tells us, she had chosen the “better part”. Time spent with Jesus is never wasted time.

We see this truth exemplified also in Saint Isidore. He was born in Madrid, Spain in the year 1070 AD. Because his parents were poor, he was sent to work on the farm of a wealthy landowner at a young age. Farming is grueling work, demanding long hours of labor. However, young Isidore insisted on going to Mass every day. Many mornings he would show up to the fields late because he had gone to church. His employer would yell at him and his fellow farm hands often made fun of him. But, as it turned out, the land Isidore tended was three times more productive than that of the other workers. On several days, in fact, while Isidore was at Mass, the workers witnessed angels tending his crops and animals. He became an example to the other farmers - and to us as well - that if we tend to our spiritual lives, every other aspect of our lives - our work, our families, even our physical health - will be taken care of as well.

All the great saints of our Church were able to accomplish great things. They built hospitals and schools, evangelized entire countries, wrote great spiritual classics, fed the hungry tirelessly and served the poor despite the cost. If they were to stand before us here today, they would all tell us that the only way they were able to perform so many good works was through the strength they received in their daily prayer. The hours they spent in God’s presence gave them the love, the courage and the endurance they needed to then spend long hours in service of His people. Prayer was not a waste of time for them but was absolutely necessary to make their lives meaningful and productive.

No person has worked harder at serving the poorest of the poor than has Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Perhaps no other woman was able to do more good or inspire more people in the twentieth century than she did. Every day, before going into the streets of Calcutta, she would spend an hour in prayer followed by Mass. This is what she said about prayer: “Every moment of prayer, especially before our Lord in the tabernacle is a positive gain. The time we spend in having our daily audience with God is the most precious part of the whole day.”

When we feel under stress - when our work or studies or the demands of family life overwhelm us - prayer is often the first thing we stop doing. Our anxiety has such a hold on us that we believe we do not have time left over to give to God. Prayer can seem like a waste of our time in such instances. However, the opposite is true. It is when we are feeling pulled in a hundred different directions that we most need prayer to give us focus. It is when the demands of life have us tied up in knots that we need prayer to unwind us. It is when we feel depleted, weak and used up that time in God’s presence can fill us back up again with His gifts of peace and strength.

Time spent with God whether it is in prayer or in volunteering our time to serve others is never wasted time. In fact, it is really the only time that matters. Whatever work we may be involved in today has only a temporary effect. If we cut the grass or trim the hedges, they eventually grow back and we have to cut them again. If we make dinner, we will soon be hungry again and have to make breakfast. If I spend the week preparing my sermon for Sunday, come Monday I will have to start the process all over again for the following Sunday. However, when we pray, the relationship we forge with our Heavenly Father lasts for all eternity.

We may be tempted to think that work is important and prayer is optional. But it is really the other way around. Without prayer to support us, the rest of our lives would be meaningless. We might be able to get a lot of work done, but it will be tedious and joyless. With prayer, however, our efforts take on new meaning, become more productive and we find ourselves living with more focus and less anxiety.

We can learn this for ourselves in our own lives by following Mary’s example and beginning each day by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him. All it takes is spending fifteen to twenty minutes every morning in quiet time reading the Bible or quieting our minds to focus on the presence of God. No matter how chaotic the activity around us is, if we spend time with Jesus every day without fail, we will see our hearts begin to change. We will gain a new perspective on life and experience more peace. It is the easiest thing to do and yet the most rewarding. Furthermore, it does not cost us anything except a little time and what we receive in return ensures it will be the best investment we could ever make.

Here in this place, we have taken time out of our busy schedules to sit in the presence of the Lord and to hear His word. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta tells us, this is the most precious part of our week. Nothing we will receive this week, nothing we will accomplish, can be more precious than the Body and Blood of Christ we will share in Holy Communion. God in His great generosity is blessing the time we spend with Him today. If we give Him even more time every day in prayer, we will experience more blessings

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Warm Home And A Listening Heart

What would you do if Jesus came to visit?

Would you welcome him with open arms and invite him into your home? Would you call up your friends and family to come over and meet him? Would you set your table with your finest china and spread a banquet out for him?

Who would not be excited to have Jesus be a guest at their home?

While he would no doubt appreciate all our efforts to make him feel welcome, there is really only one thing which he would ask of us. He would want nothing else than that we sit with him and listen. More than anything else, he would want our friendship.

It was the lesson he taught Martha in today's gospel. She and her sister Mary were blessed to be friends of Jesus and to have him as a guest in their home on many occasions. In her joy, Martha busied herself preparing a sumptuous meal. Mary, on the other hand, showed her love for Jesus by sitting at his feet and taking in his words of wisdom. Martha wanted to feed Jesus. But, above all, he wanted to feed them with his word. Jesus teaches them - and us - that the "better part" is not keeping ourselves busy but sitting ourselves down to listen to the wisdom of our Master.

In light of today's gospel, it is important for us to ask ourselves what it means to live out our faith. Is it simply a matter of following rules? Does it only require going to Mass on Sunday and avoiding serious sin? Is religion about the good works we should do? Or is it something more? 

Living our faith means primarily having a loving relationship with Jesus. It is the recognition that he loved each of us enough to spread his arms on the cross to grant us the forgiveness of our sins. All the rules and regulations that are part of religion only make sense when we come to understand that Christianity is a matter of having a profound and personal friendship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Not only does today's gospel shed light on what it means to live our faith, it also teaches us an important lesson about prayer. 

If religion were only about following rules and regulations, then prayer would be a simple matter of reciting formulas and acting out rituals. But when we understand our faith to be about building our relationship with Jesus, then prayer becomes a conversation. As we would with any friend, we pour out our hearts to Jesus. We tell him about our hopes and fears, our dreams and our demons. We thank him for loving us and praise him for the beauty of creation. We ask for his strength to fight temptation. We beg for his wisdom so that we can know his will and make choices that are pleasing to him. When we understand that Jesus is our friend, prayer is no longer a chore but a joy. It becomes something we look forward to and make time for just as we would with anyone we love.

If prayer is to be a true conversation between Jesus and us, then it is important that we not only talk but listen. There can never be a conversation when only one person does all the talking. And when the person we are conversing with is Jesus, then it makes sense that we should be doing a lot less talking and a lot more listening.

Listening is often the most difficult part of any relationship. The same is true of prayer. How can we listen to God when we cannot see or hear him? How does God speak to us? How do I know that it is God speaking to me and not my imagination? There are no easy answers to any of these questions. In fact, it takes a lifetime of prayer and self-discipline to begin to understand them in any depth. But a good place to start is by reading the Bible and making it part of our prayer time. Whenever we read the Scriptures or hear them proclaimed at Mass, it is God himself who speaks to us. As we study the Bible and familiarize ourselves with it, we train our ear to recognize his voice. We become better able to distinguish when it is God who is speaking to our heart and when it is, rather, our own desires. Making the Bible a part of our daily prayer life is essential to the growth of our friendship with Jesus.

There is no greater example of the desire Jesus has to have an intimate friendship with us than the Eucharist. At every Mass, we are Jesus' guests. He prepares a meal for us - the gift of his Body and Blood. When we receive communion, he welcomes us into his life, the life he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And we welcome him into our hearts. Just as we would prepare our homes to welcome Jesus if he were to visit, so we should prepare our hearts, because he is about to enter them in a very real way.

If we cherish his presence within us, welcome this divine guest with love and listen to him, then he will surely welcome us when we enter his eternal home in heaven.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Feeding A Hungry Child

We are living in a world wherein the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Very often, alongside luxury and opulence, there are those who live dangerously close to poverty and destitution. Alongside those who wake up wondering which restaurant they’ll go to for dinner later in the day, there are those who wake up wondering how they will feed their children.

Nowhere is this more true than in California’s Orange County. While we may think of it as the land of the rich and the famous, there are many laborers who are struggling to provide for their families’ most basic needs. In the city of Anaheim where monthly rents far exceed the income of many workers, families are often forced to live in motels to avoid homelessness. It is estimated that as many as one thousand families in Anaheim find themselves in this situation. Because these motel rooms do not often have kitchens and because families often do not have money left over for food, many children go hungry at night.

Bruno Serrato wanted to make a difference.  He was the son of Italian immigrants who struggled to make his way in America. Starting off as a dishwasher, he eventually started a very successful restaurant in Anaheim. To give back to his community, he donated time and money to the local Boys and Girls Club which served the so-called “motel kids”.

When his mother had come to visit him from Italy, he took her to the Boys and Girls Club where he had been volunteering. She talked to a boy who was eating a bag of potato chips and was shocked to learn that that would be his supper for the evening. She turned to her son and said, “Bruno, you have to do something!” He replied, “I am doing something, Mama. I’m giving money to this Boys and Girls Club and volunteering my time.” She said, “No, you have to feed these children.”

Inspired by the concern of his mother, Bruno started “Catarina’s club” in 2005 to provide hot meals for the motel kids of Anaheim. Every evening he personally prepared as many as seventy meals. However, with the economic downturn, he struggled to keep up. His restaurant business was down, he was receiving fewer donations to the Club and the number of children who needed meals was growing. He could have given up on Catarina’s club but he came to love the people he was feeding. So he decided to refinance his house to keep this good work afloat.

Today, he is feeding as many as two hundred children a night in two different locations. The cable news network, CNN, named him one of their heroes for 2011. Bruno does not see himself that way. Rather, he sees himself simply as someone who sees starving children and tries to feed them. If every restaurant followed his example, there would be no more children going to bed hungry every night.

When we use the word “Good Samaritan”, people like Bruno Serrato come to mind. They are those who refuse to look the other way when faced with human suffering. They open their homes and their wallets to those who are suffering, sometimes at a high personal cost. In doing so, they make a difference in the world and inspire others to do the same.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be such people. We are to recognize Jesus not only in His word, not only in the Eucharist but in every person we meet. We are to love each person as we love ourselves. Everyone is our neighbor.

In the parable we are reflecting on today, the Good Samaritan leaves the beaten man in the care of the innkeeper giving him two silver coins. In the same way, our Heavenly Father has left the poor and suffering peoples of the world in our care. As the Good Samaritan left the innkeeper enough to take care of the beaten man, so God has given us enough resources to take care of our neighbors. We have plenty of food, water, clothing and shelter for everyone on the planet. The only reason there is still poverty today is that many of us fail to share what we have with others. It is really that simple. If all of us were to give even just our excess money, food or clothing to those in need, there would be no more poverty.

Our most precious commodity in today’s world, however, is not material possessions but our time. The number one reason we do not help others is because we are too busy. Like the priest and the Levite in the gospel, we are in such a rush and so focused on what we need to get done that we do not even notice the suffering of our brothers and sisters around us. Perhaps it is the case that we keep ourselves so busy because we do not want to see all that suffering. All the activity in our lives is a convenient excuse to ignore the hands reached out to us asking for help.

God is calling us to slow down, to stop and to stoop down to help others. We can be afraid to help because the need is so great and our resources so few. We can feel as though we will get swallowed up. But when we heed God’s call to care for our neighbor, we also become filled with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. God created us to give of ourselves for others so when we, like Bruno Serrato or like the Good Samaritan, treat our neighbor with love and mercy we are fulfilling the deepest desire of our hearts. We sense the loneliness, depression and anxiety that marks our busy world start to fade away. We feel whole again because we are reconnecting with others.

This is the challenge that God offers us today - to live like human beings, to stop living like robots who rush from one assignment to another without noticing our brothers and sisters in need. This is the power of the gospel to change the world one heart at a time. It has to begin with you and I deciding to look open the homeless person with compassion, to see the needy as our brothers and sisters and to not deny anyone who needs our help.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Stopping To Help Someone In Need

At the end of World War II when the Allied armies defeated the Nazi forces, they began to discover the ugly truth about the holocaust of the Jews. In Poland and Germany, the concentration camps were liberated and the horrors taking place there were revealed to the world. General Eisenhower, the leader of the American forces, insisted that photographs of the piles of skulls, mass graves and gas chambers be taken so that the world could never forget or deny what took place there. He also forced the villagers to tour the camp and see for themselves what had been going on in their own towns.

Even more than 60 years later, it still shocks us that more than eight million of our fellow human beings could be slaughtered and that so many other people looked the other way. More recently we hear of human tragedies in Rwanda, Nigeria, Darfur and Kyrgyzstan and wonder why no one will stop it. The sad fact is that too often those who have the power to provide some relief to a persecuted soul tend to look the other way and choose to ignore the suffering of their fellow human beings.

How have our hearts become so hardened? We have forgotten the lesson which Jesus taught the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Every woman and man is my neighbor. I must love and serve everyone I come into contact with no matter their nationality or race. I must even love those who hate me. This radical truth is at the heart of the gospel message. Jesus loved me and died for me even though I am a sinner. I must love and give my life over for my neighbors no matter the cost even if I do not know them and even if they do not thank me.

Thankfully, by the grace of God, there have been people who, like the Good Samaritan, refused to look the other way when their neighbor was suffering. Throughout Europe during the Second World War many people at great personal risk opened their homes to Jews who were fleeing the Nazis. They did not allow their fears to keep them from showing compassion to those in need. Neither did they say that there was nothing they could do. Rather they provided whatever help they could and brought some hope to those in despair.

There is a cost to reaching out and helping others. So often we look the other way when our neighbor is suffering because we are afraid to get involved. We do not want to be the next victims. We excuse ourselves by saying that we have enough troubles without getting mixed up in the problems of our sisters and brothers. To ease our conscience, we might say a prayer for them. But that prayer is of no use if we have the means to pull our neighbor out of the gutter and refuse to do so.

Too often we look the other way because we believe there is nothing we can do. The weight of the world's problems seems too great for any one of us to bear. Sometimes we feel that we are barely capable of keeping up with the demands our families and jobs place upon us. But we are never completely powerless in the face of evil. If we have voices, then we can speak out against injustice. If we have hands, then we can reach them out to those who suffer. There is always something we can say or do when our neighbor is being persecuted or treated unfairly. We need simply to pray for the courage to do so. And once we do speak out, others will be inspired to do the same. We can make a difference, no matter how small, by letting our hearts be moved with compassion for our fellow human beings and by allowing our hands to be opened to them.

All over the world, tragedies take place simply because there is no one to help. In our own country there is crime, poverty and injustice because we would rather cross the street than help our neighbor out of the gutter. If we are to survive as a society, we must learn the truth of Jesus' teaching. All men are my brothers. All women are my sisters. I cannot make a future for myself if my neighbor is lost in despair. I cannot be healed if I do not treat the wounds of my fellow human beings. And I cannot be saved so long as my brothers and sisters wander in darkness. Most importantly, I cannot worship the God I do not see if I refuse to help my fellow human beings whom I do see.

When we were dead in our sins, Jesus died to bring us to life. Though we have rejected him, he never ceases to reach out to us with his grace and mercy. We gather here today, many of us with hearts burdened by grief and pain, to find some comfort in God's love. Can we who find such comfort in God's word now look the other way when our neighbor is suffering? Can we who are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ now refuse to feed the hungry who come to our door? We will not look the other way because the love of God has now entered our hearts giving us compassion for our neighbor. And the Spirit of God gives us the power to lift him out of the gutter no matter what the cost may be to us personally. Our reward for stepping out in faith to save others will be that our God will reach down to save us at the hour of our death and bring us to that place where there will finally be no more tears and no more suffering.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Lay Faithful

There have been a lot of changes in the Church over the past fifty years. For some of us, the changes are happening too fast and are hard to accept. For others, the changes aren't happening fast enough. Either way, we are all searching for new and more effective ways to bring the Good News to a world which is also changing rapidly.

One of the very good changes that has taken place is the increased participation of lay people in the ministry of the Church. Many of us remember a time when anything that went on in a parish was done by a priest or a sister. Today lay people serve as lectors, Eucharistic ministers and catechists. They visit the sick in the hospital, direct retreats and serve on advisory boards in parishes. This increased participation has brought much needed vitality to the mission of the Church.

But there are some dangers in the way we often think about the role of the laity.

Too often we consider it a result of the shortage of priests. We think that if there were more vocations then we would not need lay people to help out. That is absolutely not true. Each of us because of our baptism and confirmation is given the right and the duty to assist the Church in preaching the gospel and in providing help for the needy. Lay people are not just deputies of the pastor but real partners in the mission of Jesus and equally responsible for the life of the parish. As a community of believers we are all working together to make this parish a stronger sign of the presence of the Risen Christ in today's world.  

Another danger we run into is thinking that the principal role of lay people is to serve the parish as Eucharistic ministers, lectors and religious education instructors. While these are important ministries, they are not the primary objectives of the baptized in the Church. Rather, the baptized serve the Church primarily by bringing the Good News into their homes, their schools and their places of business. Each of us is called to bring light into the dark places of the world. We are called to be examples of the change that only Jesus can bring to the human heart to those we meet no matter where we meet them. This is the most important vocation of the laity - to bring the Gospel message where priests, deacons and sisters cannot go and to people who would otherwise not come to Church to hear the message of Jesus' love.

In today's gospel, Jesus chooses a group of seventy-two disciples to go out to the surrounding towns. There are three tasks he charges them with: to preach the Good News, to heal the sick and to cast out demons. It must have seemed impossible to those disciples to think that they could ever heal the sick and cast out demons. But they found that they were able to do so in Jesus' name.

Sitting in this church today, it might seem impossible to us that we could preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. But, like those disciples, we are given the power to do great things in our families, our schools and work places in the power of Jesus' name. Not only can we do it, we must do it.

Let's take a look at how each of these challenges Christ makes of us - to preach the gospel, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons - can be lived out in our daily lives.

First, we are each called to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. That does not mean that we have to climb up on our desks and preach a sermon or interrupt an office meeting to remind everyone that Jesus loves them. Most of the times it will be our actions not our words that will witness to the presence of the Risen Christ. It will be by sticking up for a classmate who is being picked on or by helping a co-worker who is struggling to get a project done that we will show others that Jesus is alive in our midst. If we strive to live good and holy lives, the people we live, work and study with will take notice and begin to ask us how we came to find such peace and joy. Then the door will be open for us to speak with them about the love of God. 

Secondly, we are called to heal the sick. For those who work in the health care industries, this is a calling to heal bodies. But for most of us, the healing we are called to bring is spiritual. It means bringing peace to hearts that are troubled and comfort to those who are sorrowful. It means letting others know that someone cares for them and that they are more valuable than their job title or paycheck. Our work and school environments can be so stressful that we too often overlook the needs of those around us. A simple word or touch on the shoulder can do much to lift another's spirit and lighten one's load.

Thirdly, we are called to expel demons and bind the power of Satan. This is a power we are given in the Spirit that we too often overlook because it sounds too far out. But it is a power we exercise primarily by endeavoring to fight evil with good. By forgiving those who have hurt us, by refusing to participate in gossip, by not seeking revenge against those who talk behind our back, we are breaking the power of the Evil One. Satan feeds on our fear, bitterness and pride and uses them to break up our families, wound our relationships and harden our hearts to the love of God. By refusing to continue the cycle of revenge, we take away his power and expel him from our homes, schools and places of business. 

No matter what our state in life - whether we be priests or policemen, sisters or carpenters - the task is the same: to preach the good news, to heal the sick and to cast out the Evil One. Through our baptism and confirmation we are given the power to do all this in Jesus' name. We can do great things in our families, schools and places of work by the Spirit of Christ working within us. Chances are that if we are living a good and holy life, we are already touching the hearts of those we come into contact with. We might just not be aware of it. God has even more in store for us if we will entrust ourselves to him and use the power he has given us to bring light into the dark places of our world.

The one who calls us commands us not to be afraid, because he is with us always.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

Burning Questions

It is the question all Christians must ask themselves daily:  How do I fit the practise of my faith into the demands of everyday life?

Some have responded to this challenge by answering the call to give their lives totally in service to God. They are the nuns, priests, deacons and others whose whole lives are wrapped up in service to the gospel. We should never forget to show them gratitude for the work they do on behalf of the Church and the world.

However, most of us are called to live our faith out in the midst of the world. We are pulled between making time for prayer and good works on the one hand, and raising a family and holding down a job on the other. It is difficult to pray the rosary or study the Bible when supper needs to be prepared , the kids need a ride to soccer practise or when we have to work overtime to complete a project. It is difficult to keep our minds focused on the kingdom of God when so many other demands are made on our time and energy.

Nonetheless, Jesus calls us to love and serve him no matter what our station in life may be. We are to give our lives totally in his service whether we are a priest or parking lot attendant , nun or nurse.

What are the secrets to balancing the practise of our faith with the demands of life in the twenty-first century? Today's readings give us some important clues.

In the second reading from the letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul reminds us to "serve one another through love." Love is the calling of everyone who wishes to follow Christ. It is love which makes everything we do pleasing to God. Therefore, by adding a little love, I can take whatever it is I am doing during the day whether it be washing dishes or printing reports and make it an opportunity to serve Jesus. When I offer all my thoughts, words and actions up to God in love, then the demands of my job and family no longer get in the way of my life of faith, but actually help me to grow closer to God and others. They also become opportunities for prayer because I am continually reminding myself that everything I do, I do for Christ. And I am drawing on the power of his Spirit so that I am capable of loving as he does.

Therefore, the first "secret" to living our faith even with a hectic schedule is to dedicate everything we do to God in love.

Jesus' words in the gospel give us a clue to the second "secret".  When a man runs up to him promising to follow him wherever he goes, Jesus tells him: "The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." Jesus was homeless. As he traveled through the countryside, he either spent the night with those who opened their homes to him or he slept on the street. He had no permanent place in this world. His home was in heaven at the right hand of the Father. It is a reminder to us that we have no permanent home here either. Our final destination is heaven. The goods we accumulate through our labor will not last. We are not meant to get too comfortable here on earth. Whether we have been blessed with abundance or are struggling to get by, our homes and material possessions are not ours to keep. Remembering this helps keep our work in perspective. We are called to something greater than the status and prestige that many promises.

And so, the second "secret" is to keep in mind that everything we have earned is merely on loan to us as we make our journey to our heavenly homeland.

Finally, we need to be always ready to answer the call to serve the needy around us. In today's gospel, two of the people who approach Jesus have excuses for not following him. But Jesus did not have time to wait around for them. It was "now or never". How many times have we used the demands of family life or of our job as an excuse not to practise charity? How often have we overlooked the needs of others because we were so focused on getting our chores done? Jesus tells us very plainly the when we fail to feed the hungry or give drink to the thirsty, it is really him whom we are ignoring. Are our heads buried so deeply in the details of our everyday lives that we miss Jesus when he passes by? We can never miss the opportunity to give food to a beggar, to give an encouraging word to a friend, or to witness to our faith to those who are in doubt because we are too busy. We stop being human when we are unable to sympathize with and help others.

The third "secret", then to becoming holy in the twenty-first century is to stop letting our busy schedules be an excuse for not doing good.

We do not have to join a religious order to live a life pleasing to God. Neither do we have to give up on the hope of becoming saints because we have jobs and families. By offering our work up to God in love, by not valuing the accumulation of wealth too highly and by not allowing our busy lives to be an excuse to overlook the needs of others, we can discover a sure path to holiness in our everyday lives. Furthermore, our good works will start to transform our families, our places of work and our society. We need only call upon the Spirit of God every morning, and he will guide us through all the way to our heavenly homeland.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Forsaking All Others

From the time he was eight years old, Grant Desme knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a major league baseball player. With a focus rarely seen in such young children, he committed himself to learning the game, long hours of practice in the field and seemingly endless sessions in the batting cages.

Because of his hard work and dedication, he was able to excel at every level. He advanced from Little League through high school and into the minor leagues until he was finally drafted by the Oakland A’s.

However, in 2007, he was sidelined by a shoulder injury and had to sit out much of the season. During that time, he realized just how fragile his dream was. With a simple injury, he could lose his whole career. He began to think more about what was most important in life. Though he had always been a committed Catholic, he meditated more on what it was that God wanted for him.

During that time, he came to another realization. He had worked very hard over the years to get to where he was. He always thought that the fulfillment he was seeking was just around the corner. If he could just get to the major leagues, he told himself, then he would be happy. But no matter how far he advanced, he still felt the same emptiness inside. Though he had everything a young man could ask for - a career in professional sports, a huge bank account, a flashy car - he knew there was something lacking but he could not quite put his finger on what it was.

When Grant recovered from his injury, he came back stronger than ever. The pinnacle of his success occurred in 2009 when he was voted the most valuable player of the Arizona Fall League. It was just a matter of time until he would be called up to play in the big leagues. However, it was at the height of his success that he realized what it was that was missing in his life. God was calling him to be a priest and he knew that until he said “yes” he would never be happy. And so, in January 2010, he shocked the professional baseball world by announcing that he was terminating his contract with the Oakland A’s and entering the novitiate for the Franciscan friars.

One would think that, three years later, living the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, a young man who had everything the world could offer would regret his decision to leave it all behind. However, in an interview with the National Catholic Register, he said that he did not miss his life in baseball at all. Though he had left everything behind, he found a new freedom and a new joy in serving Jesus. He had already experienced all that the world had to offer and found that it could not satisfy him. Now he was seeking after the treasure that only God can give him.

Grant Desme exemplifies what Jesus is looking for in his followers - someone who is willing to give up everything to follow him. As we see in the gospel reading today, our Lord seeks women and men willing to stop making excuses, leave everything behind and follow Him to Calvary. When we do find the courage to accept Jesus’ offer to follow him, we do not experience regret or grieve over what we have left behind. Rather we experience joy, we find fulfillment and the happiness we thought we could find in the world and its empty promises. If God asks us to leave something behind whether it be material possessions, relationships or bad habits, it is because He has something even greater to offer us. This is what Grant Desme experienced and that is what all those who find the grace to say “yes” to Jesus no matter what he asks also experience.

We do not hear anything else in the gospels about the three men who turned down Jesus’ offer to follow Him. We can imagine that they returned to their homes and went on with their lives. But we have to wonder whether turning down Jesus would have haunted them for the rest of their lives. Perhaps they wondered what their lives would have been like if they had said yes to Jesus. Perhaps for the rest of their days, they experienced a lack of fulfillment and peace because they were not living fully the life that God had called them to.

This has precisely been the experience of so many men and women who, feeling called by God to religious life, tried to put it off. They told themselves that it was just their imagination that they felt called to serve our Lord as a sister, deacon or priest. They told themselves that they were not worthy or that they were not able to meet the demands of religious life. Eventually, however, they realized that there was no other way to find fulfillment and happiness in life than to answer Jesus’ call to serve His people. They found true happiness and freedom in leaving everything behind to follow Christ more closely in religious life.

There are many ways to follow Jesus. Each of us has a role to plan in God’s plan of salvation. But as a Church, we depend on women and men who are willing to sacrifice everything to serve God’s people as sisters, deacons and priests. If you feel an attraction to religious life in your heart but are afraid to say yes, please continue to pray for wisdom and courage. Speak to a priest or sister you respect about what you are feeling and look into it. Feeling attracted to religious life does not always mean that one has a vocation, but until it is tested you will always wonder what could have been, like the men in the gospel.

God is calling each of us - no matter what our condition in life is - to follow Him. What excuse do we have for not accepting His offer with all our hearts? What is keeping us from experiencing the freedom and joy that He has prepared for us. As we offer up the gifts of bread and wine, let us also offer up everything in our lives that gets in the way of our yes to God. And as this bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, let us pray that our weakness will be transformed into strength, our fear into faith and our sinfulness into grace.