Whom Will I Serve?

But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you….
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

—Luke 11:17–20, 23

Each day, every one of us is presented with a decision: Whom will I serve? Will I offer my day up to God, or will I seek to satisfy my own desires and agenda? In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus warns us that we must choose one or the other—we cannot have both. Even in responding to our own needs, wants, dreams, and goals, if we don’t invite God into those areas of our lives, we will find ourselves working against Him, and all our efforts will be futile.

God has entrusted us with an incredible gift in allowing us to have free will, to make choices that have real consequences in our lives and in the world around us. If we continually offer this gift back to Him, seeking to carry out the will of Jesus, then all the powers of heaven stand alongside us. But if we hold part of ourselves back, trying to keep God out of some aspect of our lives, then we become a house divided. This tension within our soul will cause us to stagnate, holding us back from fulfilling the mission God has placed upon our hearts.

The greater our knowledge, the more responsibility we have to guard ourselves against selfishness and sin, for humans are always tempted to use their gifts for themselves instead of in service to our God and Creator. We must always remember that these gifts do not come from ourselves but are given to us by God, and our truest happiness can only come from offering them back to God in gratitude. To drive out the demons in our lives and curb our tendencies toward sin and self-centeredness, we can choose to be grateful and look for God’s presence in every circumstance we encounter. We can open our hearts to invite God to enter into every aspect of our lives. When we give Him permission, He can and will do great things in us, and through Him, we we will begin to discover our true purpose and identity.

If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having….

When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me: “Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?” The better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all….

The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race….What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods”—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Rejection

Rejection is part of life; everyone has experienced it to some extent. It is easy to take rejection and give in to depression, allowing the rejection to influence our lives in an intensified depressed state. What we must remember is that rejection is just as significant in the Lord’s plan for our lives as the successes we encounter in our lives. The path Jesus Christ followed here on earth was determined by rejection. In the passage from the Gospel of Luke for today, He is rejected by the Samaritans, one of the few times in the gospels that Samaritans were actually portrayed in a negative light. Although the disciples want to rebuke the Samaritans, Jesus moved on towards Jerusalem. Jesus knew His fate and that a greater rejection awaited Him on the cross. The rejection of the Samaritans was a sign to Him of what was to come.

As Christians, we are not promised an easy journey through life. If we truly want to follow the path of Jesus, we have to expect rejection, but we should not take on negativity–quite the opposite. With every rejection, we should challenge ourselves to look for the will of God. What is God trying to tell me? What can I learn from this? Rejection can sometimes be seen as a “roadblock” keeping us from what we want to do and where we want to go. It may be a roadblock, but it might be blocking us from what we believe is the right direction but in reality is not the best way for us to follow. Embrace these rejections and move forward, confident that the Lord kept you from taking the wrong path.

“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” —Zechariah 8:23

As long as we seek the Lord in everything we do, we can be certain in faith that we are going in the right direction towards our own Jerusalem. Yes, Jesus knew the road to Jerusalem was the road to His death on the cross, but that death, however, would bring salvation to the entire world.

Directing Our Steps

Jesus told his disciples a parable:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.”
—Luke 6:39–40

Jesus has entrusted each of us with free will, leaving us room to act as we choose. Knowing our weakness and tendency toward sin, this can seem a terrifying responsibility. Sometimes I would rather God just take the reins entirely instead of leaving any decisions up to me. But God does not want to control us; He wants a relationship with us. He does not want us to act out of fear or passive obedience but out of love. When I overthink a decision or think I can’t live up to what God is asking of me, I forget that God knows me better than I know myself and has already accounted for the fact that I will make mistakes. There is nothing He can’t handle.

When it comes to discerning where God is leading us, we can often feel blind to perceive the road ahead. We turn to advice from others, hoping that they can tell us where to go, but they too are only human, unable to see our path fully. So how do we make our way forward? Jesus tells us that as His disciples, we are to listen and follow His ways, training ourselves to become like Him, so that instead of stumbling along like the blind leading the blind, we can learn to walk in His footsteps.

Any good teacher knows that there is a learning curve, that students will make mistakes along the way before they can master any new skill. And when Jesus calls us, He is aware that we are stepping out blindly, not yet able to make out what lies ahead. But He also knows that we won’t learn how to orient our steps if He doesn’t give us a chance to move freely, stumbling a bit as we go.

God knows that our attempts to do good may go awry, but, in the words of Thomas Merton, our desire to please Him does in fact please Him. When we go off course, He can redirect our steps and bring good out of any situation, as long as we continue to invite Him in and give Him permission to act in our lives.

Though we cannot see further than one step ahead, He leaves it up to us to take that one step and then allow Him to illuminate the next. He will never force us; He guides us, if we accept His help, with a gentle hand. Learning to trust Him means believing that He can handle my weakness and that He invites me to follow just as I am.

Sweet Surrender

Time and time again, God brings me back to a place of joyful and peaceful surrender. Not only am I a planner, but I sometimes desire to know exactly what’s going to happen in the future out of self-protection and fear. When the way ahead is uncertain, how I would love to have a cloud from the Lord like the Israelites in today’s first reading so I would know when, where, and how to move. Yet in the questioning and waiting, God gently whispers to my heart, “Just wait and see. Trust, my daughter.”

There are a lot of unknowns in my life right now, and I’m learning again and again to be okay with that. If God wanted me to know what He had in store for me, He would reveal that to my heart right now. But He hasn’t, and that is not for nothing, because God wastes nothing. He is teaching me how to trust in His goodness moment to moment, following in the footsteps of Our Lady’s mighty FIAT.

When we trust Him, we don’t need to have all the answers—because He does.

Sometimes, we’re just swimming in the currents of the river, getting tossed about by the waves and trying to stay focused on keeping our head above water. But God, in His infinite goodness for our life journeys, can always see the whole river. He knows what lies ahead and what lies behind. He knows the purpose, and He knows where He is leading us. And all at once, He is swimming with us through it all, leading us to the next right thing, leading us to a deeper communion with Him.

So I rise and greet the gift of a new day from God, with a courageous YES in my heart to whatever He has for me in the here and now, and with an even bigger YES to the things that lie ahead that are yet to be unveiled. What a journey it is.

Thank You, God, for the gift of unknowns. My unknowns are known to You, and I thank You for that. My unknowns are intimately held safe and sacred in Your hands. I praise You through it all.

Being Led > Being Content

R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

PS 23:1B-3A, 3BC-4, 5, 6

Today’s readings contain what is quite possibly the most well-known Psalm in all of Scripture. Psalm 23 has been used in all sorts of media: presidential speeches, blockbuster movies, hip hop and metal songs alike. Psalm 23 provides an easily recognizable religious reference, a comforting message, a clear, straightforward refrain. The desire for contentment, provision, and protection are ubiquitous, and align pretty well with our basic human needs¹.

In praying with the Psalm today, however, I felt that the Lord was calling us beyond the easy reading. We are not guaranteed access to the LORD’s protection and provision. Our calling does NOT boil down to the platitude, “We just need to see where God already is in our lives and be content with our current life circumstances.” I learned not be jealous and/or greedy in kindergarten; I believe the Holy Spirit has more for us here.

Today I took some of my GRE study–inspired reading comprehension skills and broke down the refrain: “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

 

Results: I shall want nothing. I will rest beside still waters and verdant pastures, His rod and staff give us courage.

Prerequisites (aka what WE need to do): The LORD must be our shepherd. We must be guided. We must be anointed.

 

Take a look at that second part! So often we focus on the results, without asking what we need to do! Part of the reason I believe this passage has gained so much traction in popular culture is the hope for deliverance. It’s not wrong to ask to be spared or delivered, but will it have any effect if we don’t meet the conditions or put ourselves in the position to receive it? Miracles are wonderful gifts from God but are only truly useful if our hearts are primed for relationship with Jesus (see: Nazareth, Mark 6).

So how do we prime our hearts for the LORD? How do we make ourselves ready? How do we get the God of the Universe to be our shepherd, give us all that we need, and protect us?

By being sheep, of course. Shepherds can only be shepherds to sheep. In reading through Psalm 23 today, Jesus spoke clearly and powerfully to my heart: “These words are not about being content or finding good in your life as it is, these words are about being led.”

Are we willing to follow the LORD? Do we ask where we should go? Do we trust that his paths lead to verdant pastures, or do we stick to our own, temporarily comforting paths and habits? Where in your life can you ask Jesus to lead you? Where are you currently trying so hard to find your way, and have yet to really pose the question to Him?

Jesus’ promise is real, it is beautiful, and it is comforting. He DOES lead me to verdant pastures. He DOES give me rest. He DOES protect me from my enemies and from fear. We WILL dwell with the LORD.

All he asks? “Come, follow me.”

 

  1. Yes, yes, Maslow’s hierarchy is outdated and problematic in many of its forms. Just making a point here.

Living in the Spirit, Following the Spirit

Brothers and sisters:
If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry,
sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy,
outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness,
dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,
drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.
I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Against such there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh
with its passions and desires.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.
—Galatians 5:18-25

Do you ever catch yourself reading a Scripture verse and thinking, “Okay that seems obvious”? Or maybe a better way to phrase the phenomenon is glazing over a verse here or there because it just seems too…straightforward? Easy to digest? Unremarkable?\

Sure, you do. We all do, we all know the feeling. It’s happens all the time when our minds wander, and sometimes even when you’re pretty well focused. That happened to me with today’s first reading.

Luckily, I caught myself this time. Do I really think St. Paul was redundant? Should I really write him off as an over-communicator? Of course not.

So I went back to the last verse of the reading: If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Straightforward, no? Yet what happens if we break this verse down grammatically? If I believe and profess that the Bible is the written Word of God, then every sentence, and possibly every word, should get this treatment. There are so many “levels” on which you can read Scripture, and God can speak to you through all of them! Read a chapter for the story, or meditate on a single sentence or passage a la lectio divina; the Spirit speaks either way.

So. Back to today’s verse: If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.

Why wouldn’t somebody be doing both? Why does it need to be stated?

As Catholics, what does it look like to live in the Spirit? The most obvious response is being a regular participant/recipient of the Sacraments. Jesus instituted the Sacraments as vehicles of grace, aka the gifts of the Spirit. Regular Mass-goers, you can check this one off: you, in a technical sense, could be considered to be living in the Spirit (if you go to Confession, and if you are not in a state of sin; big ifs)

If we’re living in the Spirit, it does not mean that we are necessarily following the Spirit. Participating and receiving do not mean that we are listening. If we are to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, do we need to receive the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. Is that enough by itself? Not at all.

“Following the Spirit” can have two related meanings: discerning God’s will in your life (i.e. following as a guide) and acting in accordance with His law (i.e. following as a rule). How often do we participate, but do not seek time in prayer for the Spirit to speak on a personal life decision? How often do we pray before a difficult conversation? A meeting at work?

These two elements, living in the Spirit and following the Spirit, are symbiotic and necessary. The grace of the Sacraments will flow into and inform our prayer and actions, and our prayer and actions inspire a greater desire for the Sacraments.

In addition to seeking out ways you can more deeply live in and follow the Spirit in your life, I ask that you say a special prayer for those who attend Mass regularly, but God does not have a central place in their lives otherwise. Pray that the Spirit would enkindle in them a new fire of love for Christ.

 

Wise foolishness and the abundance of God

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Our readings today have a clear message: be humble, follow the Lord’s will and not your own. We can feel this message of “let him become a fool, so as to become wise” when we talk about our lives to some unbelievers whilst trying to explain decisions made by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, peace in prayer, and other ways of discernment. How do we explain if we left a job with no other job lined up because we “just knew” it was time through prayer? How do we explain not being truly worried about the amount of children we will eventually have? It’s impossible without a childlike trust and humility in our Lord’s provision for us and faithfulness to us. In a world where very intelligent people can chide religious people by telling us we trust in, essentially, a “flying spaghetti monster,” it is no wonder sometimes that we feel “foolish” in the eyes of the world.  But this trust we have in our Lord is not truly foolish. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is, indeed, good. I pray all of us have some moment in our hearts we can go back to to ground us in times of unbelief or difficulty in faith where the only conclusions are that God is real and God loves us.

In our Gospel today, we see a moment like that happening frame-by-frame for St. Peter. He follows the direction of Jesus, who is clearly not an expert fisherman, after following his own experienced direction for quite some time and finding no luck in a catch. But this seemingly foolish move results in something so miraculous that he is struck with the fear of God: he is faced with a catch of fish so large that even his own equipment cannot hold it. His nets tear! What a beautiful image. This detail is speaking to me today:

Sometimes we think that it is because of our own equipment and knowledge that our lives are not going the way we planned. We have worked hard, using all of the knowledge that we have, and we are not seeing results or certain events happen in our life. But in this Gospel, we are reminded of Who holds every aspect of our lives in order. You can be as prepared for a giant catch, or desired result or happy moment, in your life as possible, have all the right equipment, but still, in that moment of fulfillment, you may also an inadequacy in receiving it. Your nets may rip, your mind and heart may fall short of receiving what Jesus is giving you. It may all seem too much and actually a threat to your life instead of a blessing. But these moments, especially, so potently remind us that the Lord does not give purely according to when we fulfill some formula or when we meet a holiness or readiness quote.  God is not like humans, He gives freely and purposefully, even though the purpose is most likely lost on the receiver. God does not give only according to our little abilities to receive Him, He gives fully, which should make us want to grow to receive more.

So maybe that wasn’t even the biggest net St. Peter had, but Jesus gave him an overabundance of harvest anyways. May we also heed our Lord’s calls to seemingly foolish things in the hope that in this “foolishness” is true wisdom as His children.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa