Sunday, August 28, 2016

Life Has A Way Of Humbling Us

Life is good at humbling us.

Just when we think we are the best, someone better comes along. Just when we think we have mastered our jobs, an issue comes up that makes us look incompetent. Just when we think we are mature in our faith, we cave into a temptation which leaves us feeling empty and bewildered.

Many times when we have felt humiliated, we replace that wounded pride with bitterness. Envy of others fills the space left behind by our deflated egos. To make up for our feelings of inadequacy, we become more competitive and determined to see others fail as well.

However, Jesus teaches us to look at our past and present failures in a different way. Rather than let them be causes for shame and embarrassment, we should be thankful for them. Because of our mistakes, we can abandon the pretense of being perfect. We learn that the people who love us are willing to forgive and to continue to love us despite our imperfections. Most especially, our failures teach us to be patient with and compassionate toward those who are struggling.

Humility is at the root of what it means to be a mature, spiritual person. It means knowing that only God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Through humility, we break out of a view of life and the world that is centered on ourselves and our needs and begin to concern ourselves with the needs of others. It makes us capable of really listening to others and learning from them. Most especially, it makes us capable of listening to God. Humility is the soil in which God can plant the seed of faith.

The opposite of humility is pride. When we are ruled by pride, we want to be at the center of the universe. If someone calls into question something we have done or said, we say to ourselves, “How dare they!”. And when someone does not treat us the way we think we deserve to be, we say to ourselves, “Don’t you know who I am?!” Pride makes us look at others as pawns to be used to get our way or as obstacles to getting what we want. Pride blinds us to others and their feelings. Most especially, pride gives us a spirit of entitlement making it impossible for us to receive grace which comes to us as an undeserved gift.

We have to be careful when reading this Sunday's gospel not to interpret it as an etiquette lesson. It is not meant to teach us how we should act at a dinner party or how we should arrange tables when we invite others over. Rather, Luke calls Jesus' words a "parable" because they give us insight into how God acts. God lifts up those who are lowly. It is when we have hit bottom that God can finally meet us and reach out to us. It is when we are at our lowest that we finally realize that we do not have all the answers. At that point, we can finally reach up to take God’s hand which has been stretched out to us all along.

It is when we are at our lowest that we see how quickly we can lose the esteem of others. When we are down, we are surprised by how quickly people can turn on us and abandon us. At that point, we see how irreplaceable the love of God is. He is at our side whether we are winning or losing. His friendship is offered to us in good times and in bad. Whatever sins we have committed, he is ready to welcome us back and forgive us. No matter what we may have done, there is never a point at which God says he is tired of us and gives up on us. There is no limit to God’s loving care for us.

So at those times when we look like idiots in front of others or something happens to make us the subject of gossip, before we clench our fists in rage or bury our faces in shame, we have to first thank God for the opportunity to know what it is like to be humbled. We have to remember those who are humbled every day by their poverty or sickness. And we have to beg God that peace, joy and forgiveness may flood in where pride, self-assurance and contempt once held their ground in our hearts.

In that way, we can take our place at the banquet which is the Eucharist. This Sunday's second reading from the letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus' blood more eloquent than the blood of Abel. In the book of Genesis, Cain killed his brother, Abel, because he was jealous of him. Abel's blood called out to God for justice, and so Cain was cursed and ostracized. Jesus' blood, however,  was shed on the cross out of love for us. It calls out to God for mercy so we may be forgiven and restored to intimacy with him. However, we cannot reach out for mercy if we think we have the power to be good on our own or if we have failed to be merciful with others.

Jesus is the greatest example of humility. Though he is the Son of God, he was willing to become a man like us. He was willing to experience the pain that goes along with being human. He was willing to be mocked and ridiculed. He was willing to give his life up so that we could live. If Jesus is so humble, then why can we also not be humble? At the cross, we can lay down our need to be the best, our need to know it all and our spirit of entitlement. When we can become as comfortable in the lowest seat as we would be at the highest place, then God can give us a place of honor. Then we can experience the power of God at work in our lives which far surpasses any honors or titles this world can bestow on us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Left Out

Feeling left out is one of the most painful of human experiences. We are social beings and long to belong and feel accepted. When we are rejected, ridiculed or ignored because of the color of our skin, because of the way we look, because of the way we talk or because of our economic status, it can be among the most humiliating of our memories.

If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that, in order to fit in, we have sometimes compromised our values and beliefs. We have acted in ways that are contrary to our conscience so that others would accept us. Too many times we have so feared the rejection and ridicule that society threatens to those who will not conform to its values that we have not always been true to ourselves and to our faith. It is a sin which all of us have been guilty of at one time or another in our lives - so powerful is our desire to fit in and belong.

But there is a new society breaking into human history. There is a new community being gathered by the Word of God. Jesus' death and resurrection has made it possible that those whom the world rejects can find a new home. In Jesus' day it was the leper, the tax collector and the adulterer. In today's world, it is the homosexual who seeks to live a chaste life, it is the person who earns less but gives more, it is the divorced person who longs for communion with God and it is the victim who chooses forgiveness over revenge. God is gathering such people in his quest to renew the earth.

Now, we have a decision to make. Whose friendship do we desire? In whose company do we wish to be found when the doors are closed for the night? We cannot be in both places at the same time. What do we desire more? Are the pleasures offered by the beautiful people so valuable that we are willing to exchange our ideals, our principles and our beliefs -- essentially, our souls -- for them? Or will we prefer the society of those who are saved by the One Who created us with those ideals, principles and beliefs? Will we belong to the world or will we belong to Christ and His Body, the Church?

The gate is narrow. Jesus tells us that there are some who will not be strong enough to enter. There will be some on the outside because the master does not know where they are from.

Why would the master not know where they are from? Because he does not recognize their ideals, principles and beliefs. They are the values of the world, not of the Kingdom of God.

Why might we not be strong enough to enter? Could it be because we have never strengthened our muscles by fighting for our ideals and principles? Could it be that we have grown weak because we have decided to “go with the flow” rather than defend our values and the teachings of our faith?  

And why might the gate be too narrow for us? Could it be because we are too bloated from feasting on the world's riches, pleasures and vanities at the expense of our soul? Could it be because we have hoarded everything we could get our hands on rather than sacrifice ourselves to feed, clothe and shelter the needy around us?

God is offering us eternal friendship with Him through Jesus. Unlike the world which only loves those who meet its standards and ideals, God loves us unconditionally no matter how we look, no matter our social status and no matter our past sins. However, to be on the inside with God, we have to be on the outside with the world.  We have to be cast out by the world to be cast into the net of the fishers of men. We have to be misfits in contemporary society to fit into the Kingdom of God. There is no way to reconcile the two value systems for they are at odds with each other. We will belong to one or the other. We will be mastered by one or mastered by the other.

Jesus chose the narrow way. He was the most powerful man to ever walk the earth, yet He chose the company of the weak and powerless. He was the most holy man who ever lived. Yet He chose the company of sinners and scoundrels. He is the Creator of all life, yet He chose to give His life on the cross, suffering the most humiliating of all deaths. He chose poverty so that we might be rich. He chose weakness so that we might be strong. And He did it all so that we could break the hold that the world has over our souls. He did it to free us to follow Him on the narrow way. Are we willing to turn our back on the world’s greed and lust to walk the way that Jesus showed us no matter how difficult?

We are gathered here today to share in the master’s banquet. The Eucharist is the feast of poor souls. Its dry bread cannot compare to the juicy steaks or the creamy pastas we would enjoy in the world’s best restaurants. The sips of wine we wash it down with are closer to the homeless person's ripple than the rich man's bourdeau. But, for those of us on the outside, we see our opportunity to both be poor like Jesus by sharing His meal with sinners and to be rich like Him in His intimacy with God. We get a taste of where we are from and where we belong, and we are ushered in by Jesus to the Master's house before the door is bolted fast behind us.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Narrow Gate

We honor as saints those holy women and men who lived their lives according to the message of Jesus and are now enjoying eternal rest in heaven. They walked the narrow way by serving the poor, preaching the good news and dedicating themselves to prayer. Now, in heaven, they serve as an example for us to follow in our own lives.

When the Church declares someone a saint it is no small matter. Before they are held up as examples of a good and holy life, the Church wants to make sure that they truly were godly people. And so a thorough investigation is undertaken into their life and background. People who knew them are interviewed and any writings they may have left behind are scrutinized. There also have to be miracles which are attributed to their intercession. For this reason, it can take decades for someone to be declared a saint even when they have a reputation for holiness such as Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II. Before we declare that a person is undoubtedly in heaven, the Church wants to be assured that he or she is worthy of our imitation.

While the Church can declare with the certainty of faith that a soul is definitely in heaven, she will never declare that a soul is definitely in hell. Even when someone has been excommunicated for a very serious sin, we always hold out the hope of salvation for every person who has died. We do so because God has told us that he wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For this reason, we should never forget to pray for the souls of those who have died, no matter what type of life they lived. The hope of heaven is offered to everyone out of the mercy and love of God.

The greatest example of God’s desire to save all people is the cross. God sent Jesus, his only Son, to die for us so that our sins could be forgiven. He handed over that which was most precious to him so that we could be saved. It is the blood of Christ which is our hope of immortality. Through faith in his death and resurrection, we can be assured that our destiny is eternal life in heaven.

We have to be careful, however. While we must trust in God’s infinite mercy, we can never forget that hell is a real possibility. Jesus has made this clear in no uncertain terms. During his Sermon on the Mount, he declared, “Not all those who cry out, “Lord! Lord!” will be saved, but only those who do the will of my Heavenly Father.” In the parable of the sheep and the goats, he declares to those who refused to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And in today’s gospel, he says that many who expected to be given a seat at the banquet feast of heaven will be on the outside looking in. These words of Jesus should give all of us pause. While we must hope in the salvation of our souls, we should never take it for granted but, instead, should strive daily to live good and holy lives.

Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that we should “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” In Saint Matthew’s version of this reading, Jesus adds, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it.” This narrow gate is no doubt the way of life which Jesus marks out for us in the gospels. He tells us that he himself is the way. Any of us who have tried to take seriously the gospel message to love our neighbor and forgive those who have hurt us know how true Jesus’ words are. It is not easy to live our Catholic faith. We very often stumble along the way and get sidetracked. We might even want to give up altogether and look for an easier way. But we do not because we know that this path leads to Jesus, and we know that he is walking alongside us.

Today’s second reading is from the letter to the Hebrews. It was written for a people who are in many ways like us. They lived in a society that was hostile to the message of Jesus. They faced ridicule and persecution every day because of their faith. They were tired from walking the narrow path and discouraged. This letter reminds them and us about the example of faith set by so many of the heroes of the Old Testament from Abraham on up. Their road was not easy. But they persevered because they believed in the promise God made to them. Because of their faith, they kept their eyes fixed not on the difficulty of the road but on the reward awaiting them at the destination.

This letter reminds us also that the trials and difficulties we face along the way are meant to strengthen us. Just as our muscles grow stronger when they pick up heavy objects, so our spirit becomes stronger when we face difficulties with faith and patience. By accepting the challenges we encounter along this narrow path that Jesus marked out for us, we grow in faith. He tells us that many will attempt to enter through the narrow gate but will not be strong enough. We can be sure that we will be strong enough if we have persevered through the difficulties life puts in our way.

We are all called to be saints. God has called each of us to live good and holy lives. It is never easy to walk in the footsteps of Christ. It requires discipline and sacrifice. Because the path the world marks out for us seems so much easier and more alluring, we might want to give up along the way. But we keep fixed in our minds and hearts that we are on a journey to our heavenly homeland. For this reason, we gather here today to receive the Body and Blood of Christ which is food to sustain us on this pilgrimage. He will strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees. He will remind us that though few choose this narrow path, we are not alone. We are all journeying together with Jesus at our side. By his grace, we hope to persevere through the obstacles in the way until we are welcomed into the banquet prepared for us in heaven.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Blessed Among Women

The “Hail Mary” is one of the best known prayers for Christians. Like the “Our Father”, it is taken mostly from the Bible. The opening lines, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you,” is taken from Gabriel’s greeting to Our Lady when he announced to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

The words which follow, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” are taken from the greeting which her cousin Elizabeth gave her when Our Lady visited her upon learning that she was pregnant with John the Baptist.

Mary is blessed among all women because she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. She was blessed to carry Him within her, to love Him as her own child and to accompany Him throughout His life right up to His death on the cross. In fact, Mary will say of herself in her great song of joy, “The Magnificat”, that “all generations will call her blessed. We honor our Lady as the “Blessed Virgin Mary” because of the unique role she played in the life of Jesus and, therefore, in our salvation as believers in her Son.

Had it not been for her willingness to say “yes” to God’s plan to bring the Savior into the world through her, Jesus would not have been born. Mary willingly participated in God’s plan though it meant sacrificing her own plans for the future. Because of this, we honor Mary not only as the mother of our Saviour but as our mother also in faith. Just as we would not have life without the sacrifice of our own earthly mothers, so we would not have eternal life without the sacrifice of our spiritual mother, Mary.

Mary is “blessed among women” not only because she was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah but also because she lived a holy and virtuous life herself. She was a disciple of the one she cared for. Not only did she feed Him when He was hungry, but she fed on every word He said. Not only did she bathe Him at night, but she was cleansed by following His teaching. Not only did she support Him as He traveled the countryside preaching the good news, but she was supported by the great signs of healing He performed. Finally, she remained faithful to Him until the end, standing at the foot of the cross, taking part in the most horrific event any mother has ever endured - the crucifixion of her Son. Mary is “blessed among all women” because she heard God’s word through her Son and lived it.

Because of her faithfulness to her until the end, Jesus shared with His mother the victory He earned over death. Just as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, so He raised His mother up, body and soul, into the glory of His eternal Kingdom. Could you imagine a son who, suddenly coming on a fortune, would not share it with his mother? Could you imagine him not building a new house for her and providing for her just as she had provided for him? Just so, Jesus honored His mother by sharing His victory over death with her and by crowning her as queen of His heavenly Kingdom.

This is the feast we celebrate today, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. It is the fitting conclusion of a life marked by faithful service to the Son of God. Mary was blessed to love and serve Jesus throughout her life. Now, in death, she is blessed to enjoy the fruits of the salvation He came to bring. After Jesus, she is the first to share in all the joys of heavenly life not only in her soul but in her body as well. Because she was faithful to God, God remained faithful to her crowning her with everlasting life and glorifying her body.

In heaven, Our Lady continues to serve her Son by praying for us, His people. Like a good mother, she brings our needs to her Son. She has not forgotten us who strive to follow her Son under the burdens of this earthly life. In all our needs, we can turn to her because she knows what it is like to struggle, she knows what it is like to go without and she knows what it is like to suffer. In Mary, we literally have “a friend in high places” who will never forget us and will pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Mary is “blessed among all women” but we are also blessed because we have come to believe in her Son and strive to keep His word in all we do. With the help of Our Lady’s prayers, we can be confident that we will continue to grow in grace until we too are called to share in Jesus’ victory over sin and death and take our place in the Heavenly Kingdom praising God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit forever with Mary and all the saints in glory.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Armed With The Word Of God

Can Jesus be serious?

What does He mean when He tells us that He has come to bring division rather than peace? Is He not the Prince of Peace? What can He mean when He tells us that because of Him father will be against son and son against father? Did He not command us to honor our mother and father? Did He not teach us to love our neighbor? Why all this talk then of setting the earth on fire and creating conflict?

There are times in the gospels when Jesus, like the rabbis of His day, used exaggeration to get His point across. He does that, however, to show the crowds how important His teaching is. Therefore, when Jesus uses exaggeration, it does not mean that we take what He has to say less seriously but more seriously. When Jesus exaggerates, we must sit up and pay attention. This is certainly the case with today’s gospel passage.

In trying to discern Jesus’ message there are a few ideas we can rule out from the outset.

First of all,  Jesus is not condoning the use of violence. We know this by looking both at His teaching and His life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to turn our other cheek rather than answer violence with more violence. He teaches us to love our enemies and those who persecute us. Also, when He was tortured and put to death, He refused to use force to defend Himself although He was innocent. He rebuked Peter when he used a sword to cut off a soldier’s ear. Throughout His life and teaching, Jesus renounces the use of violence.

Secondly, Jesus is not talking about ideologies. He is not preaching about the type of divisions that come about because of differing political philosophies or religious affiliations. Our Saviour did not come to give us more or better ideas. Rather, He came to give His life for us and teach us the way of love. The point is not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about the way of self-giving charity even in the face of hostility and persecution which we see in the cross.

When we look closely at today’s gospel, we notice that Jesus is talking primarily about relationships and, most especially, about family relationships. This gets to the heart of Jesus’ message. He came primarily to restore our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Through His blood and through the waters of baptism, we are now sons and daughters of God. We can rightly call Him “Father”, and we can rightly call Jesus “Brother”.  

Because of this new relationship with God, all our other relationships must change - even our closest family bonds. Once we give our lives over to Jesus, He becomes our number one priority. This is how Pope Francis In his encyclical letter, “The Light of Faith”, describes this new relationship: “Christ’s work penetrates the depths of our being and transforms us radically, making us adopted children of God and sharers in the divine nature. It thus modifies all our relationships, our place in this world and in the universe...”

We know how often conflicts arise in families. Brothers and sisters often fight over who will inherit what piece of furniture. Parents argue with their children over their choice of friends or spouses. Unfortunately, religion can also be the cause of conflict in family life. When we decide to take our faith seriously, it can alienate, irritate and even infuriate our parents, siblings or cousins who may find themselves in relationships or lifestyles which are at odds with the Church’s teaching. They often waste no time letting us know what they think about the Church and can even call us hypocrites or accuse us of being judgmental.

All this can make family gatherings very awkward and can leave us at a loss as to how to respond. We may feel sadness that relationships we cherish so much are being put under strain by our decision to follow Jesus. We may even wonder whether the disagreements are our fault because of the way we are representing ourselves.

When we find ourselves in such a position, we must first remember that Jesus promised us that following Him would cause ruptures in our families. It is part of the cross which every disciple must carry. Secondly, we must remember to always respond gently and lovingly even when a family member is being dismissive or hostile. It is not often our arguments which convince our loved ones about the truth of the gospel message but our example of kindness and happiness. Thirdly, we must never doubt the power of prayer to soften hearts and open up minds. We may never sense a change in our loved ones, but if we are praying for them, we can be sure that God will be at work moving them to reconciliation with Him.

Jesus came to bring peace. However, it is a peace built on truth, justice and love. It involves some conflict, hostility and even persecution. Sadly, this will often come from the people we love the most - our own family. If we accept it and respond in love, we can trust that God will use us to help bring them to salvation along with us. Then a real, lasting peace can be established - a peace that no one can take from us because it is founded on the faithfulness and love of our Heavenly Father.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Something To Hold Onto

After many years of hard work, Carol thought she had finally arrived.

She had a successful career in the healthcare industry, was married with two sons and lived in a large house in a desirable subdivision. Though it seemed as though she had it all, there was still something nagging at her. With everything she had achieved, there still seemed to be something missing. She felt unfulfilled as if there were something more she was called to do.

Her friends told her that she was probably working too hard or that she needed a makeover. But she was convinced it was something deeper than that. So she turned to prayer. As she reflected on her life, she began getting the feeling that she wanted more children. However, that would mean giving up her job to stay home and raise them. They could afford daycare and Catholic school for two children but not for any more.

Over the months, it was a real struggle for Carol and her husband to come to terms with what they began to believe God was calling them to do. Nonetheless, trusting in His goodness and love, Carol left her job and they made the sacrifices necessary to welcome more children into their family.

Their friends thought they had lost their mind. They tried to tell them that what they were doing made no sense financially and that, because they were older, they were risking their health. But they were convinced that it was what God wanted for them.

Several years later, Carol had three more children and was homeschooling them. She also started her own business consulting with other homeschooling families. Though they are not able to vacation as often as they had before and have had to put off some maintenance to their home,  they cannot imagine what life would be like without their five children. Their home has become a magnet for the other neighborhood children who can feel the joy that exudes from this beautiful family.

Carol and her husband trusted God, found the courage to say “yes” to what He was asking of them, and learned that it made all the difference in the world.

Carol and her family are examples for us of the faith we read about in today’s second reading. Faith is not only believing that God exists, it is not only accepting as true all that our Church teaches, it is also putting our lives into God’s hands so that He can do with it whatever He wills. It means not only standing up to recite the Creed but picking up our cross and following Christ wherever He may lead us. It all starts with the simple prayer, “Lord, I will go wherever you lead me.”
Our father in faith, Abraham, is the Bible’s first example of such trust in God. As the letter to the Hebrews tells us, he left his homeland because he believed in God’s promise of a better land awaiting him. Though he and his wife were very old, they believed that God could give them a son who would give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Then, when a son was born to him, he was willing to sacrifice him. All this because Abraham believed that God would not let him down. He was willing to do whatever God asked of him because He trusted that God was good. That is the essence of faith - betting our lives that God will provide for us no matter what.

Brothers and sisters, God is good. He loves us each with a deep and personal affection. There is nothing we can do to lose that love He has for us. No matter what, we can trust Him. His love is the surest thing in this world. Friends come in and out of our lives. Family members let us down or pass away. Our financial situation and health can sometimes fluctuate dramatically. What seemed important yesterday does not seem so important today. What seemed so reliable last week does not seem like such a sure thing this week. There is one thing we can count on from day to day and from year to year throughout our lives. It is the love of God for us. He created us to know, love and serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the life to come. Whatever He asks of us is for our good and for the good of our loved ones. Whenever we find the faith and courage to say “yes” to Him, we can be sure that He will take care of the rest.

We live in very unsettled times. Everything seems to be changing rapidly. It is increasingly more difficult to know whom we can believe in. With so much confusion and chaos around us, it is natural that we will reach out to whatever seems steady and secure at the moment the way passengers on a boat hold onto the mast when going through rough seas. But there is nothing more solid and secure than God’s love for us. When the vagaries of life become too much for us, we can always turn to Him. He will not let us down. Even if it means making significant changes in our lives, we can be sure that it will be worth it.

In his encyclical letter, The Light of Faith, Pope Francis writes: “In God’s gift of faith...we realize that a great love has been offered us, a good word has been spoken to us, and that when we welcome that word, Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, the Holy Spirit transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us joyfully to advance along that way on wings of hope.” Whenever we are feeling lost, whenever life does not seem to be fulfilling its promises, we can always turn to our Heavenly Father who stands ready to offer us whatever we need to live full and happy lives. We need only put our fears aside and place our lives in His hands. He will do the rest.

Monday, August 8, 2016


As a society, we are experiencing an epidemic of stress and anxiety. Trying to keep up with the demands of life, we have worn ourselves out. Many of us are getting much less sleep then we need because we are worried about paying our bills or finding a job. This heightened stress takes a toll on our bodies making our blood pressure soar. It causes us to overeat and drink too much to compensate for the pressure we feel. It makes it harder for us to relate to others because we become closed in on ourselves. We are trapped in a prison of fear.

How different our life is when we put God at the center of it! Jesus promised those who follow him that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Those who live according to his teaching are no longer burdened by having to live up to the world’s unrealistic expectations. We no longer measure ourselves against what others expect of us. Rather we measure ourselves against the word of a merciful God who knows us and loves us. We no longer live in a prison of fear. We who follow Jesus live in the freedom of faith.

Today’s second reading from the letter to the Hebrews focuses on what faith means in the life of the believer. Faith means more than believing that God exists. As Saint James tells us, even the devil believes in God. Rather, the faith that transforms our lives and saves us is the belief that God’s promise to us will be fulfilled. It means trusting God and his word even when our instincts tell us something different or the people around us are making different choices. It means believing God’s word so deeply and so earnestly that we pattern every aspect of our lives in accordance with it. We give food to the hungry because Jesus tells us we must. And we bite our tongue rather than spread gossip because it is what Jesus expects of us. We make these choices not because they are easy nor because people will appreciate us for it. Very often, the opposite is true. Rather we act with love and mercy because we hold onto God’s promise that he will reward our good deeds. We make these choices out of faith.

When we are experiencing a high level of stress in our lives, it is important for us to take some time aside to reflect and pray. Sometimes stress is unavoidable. In that case, Jesus will help us carry our burden. However, more often than not, we feel pressure because we are trying to live up to the expectations of others. It could be that we are burdening ourselves with debt trying to live up to the standard of living we think our society expects. It could be that we are involved in a lifestyle that makes us fit in with those around us but which goes against our core values. In these cases, Jesus offers us the opportunity in faith to throw off those burdens and exchange them for the light yoke of his word. He gives us the strength to no longer fear what others will say or think and to live in true freedom. Once we experience the peace that comes from doing God’s will, we will no longer want to go back to the pressure of trying to live up to the world’s expectations.

The antidote to the stress and fear we are experiencing as a society is faith in Jesus Christ. But how do we get such faith? It is not something we can learn by reading a book or that we can earn by being good. Faith is a gift of God. The good news is that because God loves us, he wants us to have everything we need to live a full and happy life. And so, he will give us faith if we ask him. In fact, we already have the gift of faith through our baptism and confirmation. We just have to put it to use. If we think we do not know how to put our faith to use, we only have to ask God to teach us. As our life focuses more and more on him, we will see just how active he is in our lives and how willing he is to help us along.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus gives us an important example as to how we are to exercise our faith. As believers, we are to live in the active expectation that Jesus will come again. This is the real important difference between those who believe and those who do not. Those who live without faith act as if this world is all there is. They live to accumulate possessions and experience as much pleasure as possible. Sacrifice, giving to others and patience mean nothing to them because they are living only for today. However, they live in fear because all these material things they hold so dear can easily be taken away from them.

Those of us who enjoy the gift of faith have an altogether different outlook. We know that this world and its pleasures are passing away. Our hope is set not on what this world can give us but on the eternal life promised to us by our Savior. We still need to work, to support our families and to prepare for the future, but we do so in trust knowing that God will provide for us. And if hardship or misfortune should come our way we endure it with patience knowing that God is at our side and trusting that he will make all things work for our good. It is not an easy way to live, but it is a more fulfilling and happier life than this world can give. And it is ours if we stake our lives on God’s promise.