Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Word Comes Down Upon Us.

1. We are endowed with a natural desire that goodness be rewarded and evil punished. But the environment we grow up in can shape our opinion and knowledge as to what exactly is good and what is not good. In other words, we may be ordered toward the good, but we must learn what the good is. For example, we must learn to say please and thank you as children. As young people we must learn how to control our desires so that they do not control us. We must study to gain knowledge and wisdom so that we can be productive citizens contributing to the common good of society.

2. It is similar in the spiritual life. The knowledge that God exists is rational and reasonable and normal. Such knowledge can only be removed with effort and only then when there is something else which we can put as a false god in place of the real one.

3. But even though our natural and normal inclination is to acknowledge God’s existence, knowing about God is a bit different. We must learn if we are to grow and develop and make good decisions instead of sinning. How great God is, in that He has revealed Himself to us given us the knowledge of what we can do to be like Him. The Good News is that God does indeed love us, and yearns for us to be like Him and to be with Him forever. But if we do not learn what is pleasing to God, an eternity in His presence will not be joyful for us, but rather a trial.

4. But Jesus lists three things that impede us from receiving the Gospel in a way which will prove fruitful. These are the demons, the lack of roots, and worldly allurements.

5. The basic attitudes that modern people have regarding demons are denial, joking, and terror. Some deny the existence or effects of demons. Some think that they are cartoon characters to take lightly. Others are so afraid of them that they see them everywhere or as equal to God. Demons are a real threat to everyone. We should not take them lightly. So for example we should make every effort to avoid inviting them into our lives. A person does that by NOT getting involved in the occult - reading horoscopes, attending séances, going to psychic, playing with the o-board. Although demons try to harm us and can be very dangerous, they are not more powerful than Jesus. Our best response is to avoid them, but respect the danger they present.

6. The third impediment listed in the Gospel is worldly allurements- essentially the comforts of life. We are plagued by these, and so we do not produce the fruit which we should. We live in a society where most of our physical needs appear to be met. And if we work hard, we can reasonably expect to live in a degree of comfort that much of the rest of the world does not. We set our hearts on new shoes or new phones or new houses or new cars or new spouses or whatever. And many times these things are actually available to us. Material things are for the most part good. But they do not last. But even if they do not fall apart, we still want something else anyway. Saint Augustine said that he was so in love with the beautiful things of creation that he failed to look at the Creator, who is much better.

7. The way to escape being choked by things is to practice almsgiving and fasting. Almsgiving is what we give to the poor after we have already met our obligation to tithe (that is, to give a tenth to God). Almsgiving is meant to hurt just a little. Fasting- withholding from ourselves something good, will discipline the body and the passions which affect it. Saint Peter Chrysologous once preached “Prayer knocks, fasting obtains, mercy receives”.

8. Another impediment might seem to be tribulation or persecution, that is, problems. Certainly, there are people in the world who are being threatened today with death if they do not reject Jesus and the Catholic Church. There is the problem of our own failure. And sometimes we meet someone who professes Christianity but acts so bad that some people say if that is the way Christians act, why bother to go to Church. But these problems are not impediments to producing the fruit of the Good News. The true impediment is lack of roots.

9. Lack of roots is probably the biggest problem in our country right now. You may know that the largest religious group in America are Catholics. But you may not know that the second largest religious group is Non-Practicing Catholics. Then there is the huge number of those Catholics who leave to join other churches for whatever reason, but usually for the reason of lack of roots in the faith.

10. Maybe the rootless-ness is not their fault. Maybe the parents did not take someone to Mass or teach them how to pray when they were young. Or someone told them that all religions are the same so it does not really matter. (Careful study will reveal that religions are NOT all the same).

11. Maybe the lack of roots was self imposed, like when someone says that they do not get anything out of Mass so they are not going to attend anymore. Some even believe that once they make first Communion or are Confirmed, then their studies in the faith are over. But tell me, could you make a decent living as an engineer with an 8th grade knowledge of Math? If your reading level is still at second grade, will you be as successful as you could be? If you are as mature as you were when you were 14, will your marriage be happy and your children receive the parenting they deserve? NO! In all these areas, we expect to study and grow and mature.

12. The same is true in the faith and practice of our holy religion. We should grow and mature. Unfortunately, many people go through life with the faith of a seven year old. The faith of a seven year old is fine for someone who is seven, but what about a 17 year old, or a 27 year old or a 57 year old? Human beings are naturally religious, but we must grow in an environment of faith so the roots can sink deeply. Consider the Pecan Tree- once you have one, it is very difficult to get rid of. You can mow over it, chop it down or try poison on it when it is very young and it will keep coming back. Why? Because Pecan trees sink very deep roots, so it can hold on through a lot of problems.

13. How do we sink deep roots? We do that through prayer and study. A professor of mine in the seminary told us if you do not study you are going to Hell!- because we were studying to be priests and if we do not know the answers for our people they will go somewhere else to find them. So we must read Scriptures and study the teachings of the Church. Of course, the Word of God is not just a book or collection of writings. The Word is also a person, whom we need to get to know through prayer.

14. once the roots are developed, then we have to water them with more prayer and more study. With strong roots, we can weather the storms of life and produce the abundant fruit of the Gospel. But without them, we will wither.

15. Now it looks as if it is all up to us. Or maybe we might like to complain to God because we are not in the rich soil which Jesus describes. But good for us that our Lord is not one to stand by idly while we are attacked by demons, choked by worldly goods, or wither from lack of roots. Jesus is the one who constantly seeks to help us. He died for us. He has made us the children of the Father. If we just open up a little bit, His word can come in and make such a big difference.

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