Saint Jose Maria Escriva
St. Therese of Lisieux
No one ever called John the Baptist a “quitter”.
Ever have one of those moments where you just want to quit?
People called John the Baptist many things, a prophet, the Forerunner, a trouble-maker, a fanatic- but I don’t think anyone ever called John a quitter. And if anyone had the right to quit, it would have been John. You may recall he lived a very austere life in the desert. He ate wild honey and locusts. I’m sure that never got old! And he wore rough camel skin, which after a lifetime of living in the hot desert must have smelled wonderful. As “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” John preached a message of repentance in preparation for the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God that wasn’t popular with religious and political leaders of his day. Eventually, John was imprisoned and later executed by King Herod. So it would seem to me, that if anyone had good reason to quit, it would have been John. If it had been me, I would have given up at the first meal of locusts. But of John, Jesus said “no one is greater.” John never quit.
What was it that enabled John to persevere? Because, if we can figure that out, we won’t be quitters either. We won’t abandon our faith if it become inconvenient or we become uncomfortable. We’ll be able to stay the course and remain firm. I think what the Scriptures show us this morning is that John was born with the knowledge that his life was planned by God. Like the prophet Jeremiah, John knew God had formed him in the womb. Like the prophet Isaiah, John knew God had called him by name. In other words, what set John apart from many of us was the fact that he had a profound sense of God’s providence.
My brothers and sisters, like John, none of us were created without God’s knowledge. None of us is a random accident. Our lives are not by chance; the events of our lives are not arbitrary. As Christians we believe that God has a plan, a plan for our good and the good of the whole world, and that in some mysterious way, each of us has been called, by name, to be part of God’s plan. We trust that if God has called us, he will equip us. We believe nothing in our lives is beyond God’s providence. Each and every moment God has willed. And if God has brought us to it, He will see us through it.
I think what really set John the Baptist apart was the fact that he lived his life in radical response to this reality. And you can too. You can hold firm to the knowledge that like the prophet Jeremiah, “before you were knit together in your mother’s womb” God knew you. When times are tough, remember that like the prophet Isaiah, God named you in the womb. He knows you intimately. He knows every detail of your life. He knows when you sit or lay down. He knows your thoughts and deeds. He even knows the number of hairs on your head. There is no detail of your life that escapes His knowledge. And so God knows your struggles. He knows your challenges. He knows your temptations. And He knows what you need. Trust that He is the loving Father who provides for His children.
If you ever feel like quitting, remember John the Baptist. Remember, that like John, God willed you into existence and God has a purpose for your life- a purpose beyond anything you could imagine for yourself. If in each moment, you can trust in the providence that got you there, and you can trust that God is with you, that He hears you and knows your needs and will provide, then you can persevere in your trials. My brothers and sisters, like John the Baptist, you have been made by God, fitfully and wonderfully made by God. And God doesn’t make quitters.
St. Frances de Sales
Walk By Faith Not By Sight
This past week I was in Georgia serving as the chaplain for Lifeteen Summer Camp. We had about 150 high school teens who came together to worship, to learn about their faith, and to have fun. I led some talks, celebrated Mass every day, lead adoration during praise and worship, and heard a ton of confessions. The teens were great. It was fun to be with them for the week. I got to play a bunch of games, float down a river on a tube, jump on a trampoline and even go through a copes course.
I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I am afraid of heights. Walking across a tight rope suspended between two trees 30 feet in the air was nothing I would have chosen to do on my own. It isn’t on my bucket list! But after walking with a group of teens for the week, and seeing them band together and support each other and challenge each other, then have them get excited that their priest would be willing to climb the ropes with them, how could I refuse? I became the first priest to do the high ropes course at Camp Covecrest Hiawassee.
There were several stages to the ropes course. At times I had to switch between different ropes, climb a tree or rope ladder, cross a bridge and swing down a zip line. At one point, I was suspended over 30 feet in the air, walking only on a wire, holding onto a rope. On this particular stage, I had to lean out over the wire, pushing out on the rope. Some of the teens called this stage “The Superman” because in the very middle of the wire, you felt like you were horizontal to the ground, suspended with your hands stretched out, flying like Superman. But I didn’t feel much like Superman! I felt like Wimpy-Man. I was scared. I had to close my eyes to keep from looking at the ground because I was afraid I would fall off the rope. I was wobbling and on the verge of tears; the teens were cheering me, “Yeah Father!”
I don’t know if you have ever done a copes course on the high ropes? Maybe you’ve climbed a tall tree? Maybe you’ve just been so high up you were scared you might fall? What did you do? In the end, all I could do was shut my eyes, and inch my way, shuffling my feet across the wire, praying for it to end. Sometimes that all we can do: WALK BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT. Compared with the struggles we face day to day in our lives, a high rope, or a tree, or a zip line is really nothing. There are far more difficult challenges than our fear of heights which we all must face at one time or another. Maybe it’s a moment of suffering, or doubt, or persecution or ridicule, or maybe it’s loosing a job, or a spouse, a friend or someone you have cared about. Maybe its divorce, or sickness, or a whole mess of other difficult realities that challenge us to WALK BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT.
One of the things that make it difficult for us to WALK BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT is the fact that the world we live in is so heavily influenced by technological advances, a scientific worldview, and materialism. Many people today think that we have no need for “superstitious religion” because with enough time, energy and resources- and maybe the right person in the White House- humankind can create heaven on earth. This tendency of our culture to promise happiness without God is a false promise, because we were “made to live in communion with God, in whom [alone] we find happiness” (Catechism, #45). Yet in difficult moments, many of us succumb to the temptation to walk by sight instead of faith.
In the second reading, St. Paul was speaking to Christians who lived in a culture very similar to our own. Corinth was a worldly, wealthy, and pleasure-centered Greek city. St Paul reminded the Christians of Corinth, and by extension us today, that our true happiness is not to be found here on earth but is waiting for us in heaven. It is this long-term perspective that gives us the courage to resist temptation and despair in the present. Until the day of the Lord’s return, St. Paul tells us how Christians ought to navigate through this fallen and often times dark and scary world: He says “WE WALK BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT.”
For me, one of the best examples of how Christians ought to live is the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the very beginning of her story, an angel appeared to her and announced to her that she would have a son and his name would be “Jesus” and he would be the Savior. She simply said “Yes.” But from that point forward, she saw nothing special. She gave birth to baby boy who looked like every other baby she had ever seen. He grew up in Nazareth eating and sleeping, studying, playing and working like any other growing boy. There were no fireworks, no peak experiences, no overwhelming emotions or the consolation of knowing God’s intimate presence. Yet, she stayed faithful to her mission, trusting God, all the way to Calvary where she stood at the foot of the cross and watched her Son die a horrible death.
In that moment, her hope didn’t waver. Why not? Because, Mary trusted in God’s goodness. She trusted the promise God had given her- even when her senses seemed to contradict God’s promise. Hoping against hope, Mary did not to succumb to despair amid the inexpressible pain of her Son’s Passion, instead she chose to WALKED BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT. Mary demonstrates for us what St. Paul spoke of in the second reading. The key to WALKING BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT is HOPE. Faith isn’t a closing of the eyes to what is going on around us. It isn’t pulling the wool, or the covers over our eyes. Faith isn’t a refusal to believe what the senses tell us, nor is it a rejection of science or human reason. Rather to WALK BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT is to hope and trust in God, to place oneself in his hands. If you can do that, when life throws you a curve ball, or in the midst of sadness and pain, or when you are 30 feet up in the air clinging to a rope, it is entirely possible to WALK BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT.
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island (via shortbreadsh)