An opportunity to reflect on the weekend readings before you go to Mass on Saturday or Sunday.
An opportunity to reflect on the weekend readings before you go to Mass on Saturday or Sunday.
Although the hope is that summer will never end, unfortunately the time has come to hang up your swim goggles and trade them out for your backpack. This transition from summer to the start of school is a challenging one. Especially after a summer of going to bed late and sleeping in, the 6:30 AM wake up calls from mom and dad are just as unwelcome as the mounds of homework that will start accumulating over the next few weeks.
There are downsides to returning back to school, but ultimately, there is a reason for education to exist: it is important to learn about the world that surrounds you. It is essential to take advantage of the time you have in school because you can learn to be an upstanding, intelligent, and active member of the global community. Even if school feels like a drag, the consequence of attending is useful.
To get through this transition, some people adopt a mantra or saying that can serve as motivation to propel themselves forward in beginning a new school year. St. John’s school even does so by naming a year-long theme, “Now is the time”. The responsorial psalm for this Sunday is preaching a similar message. Take a moment to read Psalm 95:
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
"Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works."
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9)
This psalm is speaking of the importance to respond to your responsibilities and enter into them with passion and fervor. In the context of school, this means that it is important to approach the school year with a positive attitude. Though the transition that comes with getting into a routine is bothersome when compared with the freedom of summer, the return to school will be even worse if you have a sour attitude.
While applicable to school life, this psalm is focusing on something bigger: your relationship with God. Just like school, God’s call may not come at an opportune or ideal moment in your life. You may feel like you need just a little more time living a life of freedom. However, just like attending school is important, responding to a call from God is extremely valuable.
Adopting the attitude of both the school’s “now is the time” theme can enable you to embrace the message of the psalm. Much like the end of summer and start of school may feel premature, listening for God’s voice so you can hear your life’s calling may seem premature too. However, now is the time to seek out God’s voice and open yourself to the plan God has in store for you. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to grow closer with God and discern your vocation. Now is the time to harden not your hearts.
If someone asked you to throw your phone out the window, you would probably look at that person like they lost their mind. Even though opening the window and throwing your phone out of it would be simple enough, it would be a lot more difficult to complete when you think about the consequences of such an action. Your phone would likely break and then you wouldn’t be able to text your friends, upload to Instagram, or take the latest Buzzfeed quiz. Face it, throwing your phone out the window is easier said than done.
The second reading this week from Romans is similar to being asked to throw your phone out the window. Take a moment to read the passage:
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
Offering and dedicating your life to God is what all Christians are called to do, and this is a beautiful call to fulfill. However, this call is a lot easier to agree to in comparison to the reality of following through and actually committing yourself to God. Many sacrifices are required, including offering all of your gifts and talents God has bestowed on you and sometimes even requires you to go against what is popular. Especially in light of all of the pressures and temptations of the world, offering yourself fully to God and to God’s will is difficult.
Unlike the reality of throwing your phone out the window, dedicating yourself to God is actually worth the consequences that follow. What is most important to keep in mind is the second verse of the reading where all are affirmed of the benefits of such a commitment to God: that following God’s will is “good and pleasing and perfect”.
Amidst the challenges and sacrifices that accompany the choice to live a fully Christian lifestyle, there is reward in doing so. You will be overwhelmed by a contentedness and joy that no other human experience can provide when you finally say “yes” to God. In that moment and beyond, God offers an incredible feeling of peace to those who follow what is good and right. While that path and lifestyle may be easier said than done, the reward for following through is beautiful, magnificent, and more than worthwhile.
Those with little siblings, cousins, or friends know that young children love to ask questions. Their curiosity inspires them to ask creative questions and about one million follow up questions. Unlike a follow up question from an adult, a young child’s follow up is usually one word: “why?”
You can probably recall a time where you heard a kid asking a string of seemingly endless questions, but in case you haven’t, here is an example. Imagine a child walking up to a parent and asking the following question:
Child: “Can I go outside?”
Parent: “No honey, I’m sorry, it’s raining.”
Parent: “Because there was too much water for the skies to hold up.”
Parent: “Because it was in a cloud and clouds can only hold so much water.”
And so on and so on.
This exchange can go on forever because children’s curiosity does not tire easily. Kids are in a constant state of learning and want to know as much as they can. As kids continue growing older, this curiosity doesn’t end. Even though the questions asked may be a little more complex than a four-year-old’s as you grow older, the question “why?” is at the heart of most inquiries.
The second reading from Romans 11:33-36 highlights the tendency for people to ask questions to understand the greater meaning of events, people, or things. Take a moment to read the passage:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
It is human nature to question and search for meaning in life, and that sometimes includes asking questions for which humans don’t have answers. It can be discouraging when you don’t understand the meaning of something, and you may even question where God is within a situation. When really challenging and unexplained events occur, people often turn to God and ask that question “why?”.
“Why did this happen? Why did this happen to me? Why does such suffering and pain exist?” These questions are normal to ask, but it is important to be careful in the way you seek answers.
Such a solution to these types of questions is to be found in the second reading this Sunday. The passage assures all that God is the greatest being in the universe. No being can know more than God and no being can do more than God. Even though this fact may not provide a concrete answer to big questions like the ones above, it does provide some comfort.
In other words, when events in life occur that are beyond reason or explanation, you can turn to God and accept that it was God’s plan. Even if you aren’t able to see God in the situation immediately, a blessing, grace, and lesson is to be revealed in every human experience.
It may be frustrating to constantly search for God’s explanations in painful or negative experiences, but Christians are called to adopt this mentality. As the reading says, all things are “from him and through him” (Romans 11:36), and trusting this message offers a greater comfort than any answer to a question.
If Pixar movies have taught their viewers anything, it is how to laugh and cry repeatedly in a short two hour span. These movies are skillfully created and really pull on their viewers’ heart strings. Their most recent way to toy with human emotions was making a movie that featured the emotions joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and fear as the main characters in the movie “Inside Out”.
Even though this movie suggests that our emotions derive from little orb-like characters voiced by famous actors, our emotions come from someone much greater: God. God gifted us with emotions and the ability to feel different ways at different times. Even though emotions like anger, loneliness, sadness, and fear are not always welcomed, all of emotions are beautiful because they are of God.
When asked to think about God, you may not picture God as animated as the little emotions in “Inside Out”. However, the Gospel this week describes Jesus as experiencing some intense emotions like the ones pictured in that movie and the ones you experience every day. Take a moment to read the Gospel:
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour. (Matthew 15:21-28)
Reading this account of Jesus is shocking. Jesus is usually described as a merciful, loving man who is understanding and patient. This reading, on the other hand, presents him as short tempered and almost rude. One of the reasons that this account of Jesus is so surprising is because Jesus is not always thought of as a “real human”.
Instead of viewing Jesus as fully human, it is sometimes easier to think of Jesus as only divine. After all, Jesus can walk on water, Jesus can turn water into wine, and Jesus can even rise from the dead. Learning about the amazing miracles Jesus performed can make it challenging to realize that Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully divine.
Although it is necessary to actualize the magnificence and power of Jesus, but it is equally important to realize that Jesus is just as much human as you. It is almost natural to say you’re not like Jesus because you can’t perform miracles or divine works.
However, focusing on Jesus’ humanity can help you realize the similarities you have with him. Just like you, Jesus also slept, ate, drank, studied, and even farted. This is not said to be irreverent, but rather to point out that Jesus came to this earth in the same form as you planet so you can feel a closeness to God, especially during times of hardship.
Like mentioned earlier, all of the human experience and range of emotions is not always pleasant. But, the next time you are experiencing a moment of unpleasantness, remember that even Jesus felt the same emotions you felt. Not only does this realization offer us comfort, but also should teach up a lesson.
Even though Jesus lashed out at the woman asking for Jesus to heal her daughter during this week’s Gospel. This strong emotion displays Jesus’ humanness and the tendency for emotions to become overwhelming at times. But this story of Jesus’ humanity does not end with a moment of anger. Rather, Jesus followed up this negative emotion with an apology of sorts. Because of the faith she showed, Jesus healed the woman’s daughter.
Think about how many times in your life you lashed out at someone. Although you cannot remedy these moments of frustration by performing a miracle like Jesus did in this Gospel, you can respond with a similar level of kindness. You are not divine, but God equips all humans with the gift of emotion. These emotions are beautiful and the positive ones can help you counteract the negative emotions and guide you to show more tenderness to all you encounter.
Our world is full of people, events, and objects that are loud or attract a lot of attention. Think about a television show like “Dance Moms”. The host of that show is very loud and gets people’s attention because of the way she speaks to her students. Even though it might be funny, engaging, and entertaining to watch, a show like “Dance Moms” leaves most viewers unfulfilled after a few episodes. The enjoyment of watching a dynamic woman teaching (and yelling at) young dancers does not leave viewers with a lasting sense joy or peace. This flashy television show is just one example of the attention grabbing things in our society that ultimately leaves people feeling empty.
The first reading for this upcoming Sunday, 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13, has Elijah in a similar situation to “Dance Moms” viewers. Elijah, a prophet, is in a cave at the mountain of God seeking shelter when God told him to stand outside and wait for God to pass. Take a moment to read what happens:
“A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
Elijah’s story this week is a valuable one, as he is teaching an important lesson. Elijah practices both wisdom and discipline in this story because he places his focus on what is important, even though it wasn’t the most attention grabbing or magnificent action that was happening around him.
You may think this story is challenging to put into action today because you likely won’t be called out to a mountain to listen for God’s voice amongst tests of natural disasters anytime soon. However, moments similar to this happen in your day to day life more often than you probably realize.
Imagine walking into your school cafeteria and looking for a place to sit. Although it may be tempting to sit with the popular group who is engulfed in a captivating conversation already, God may be hoping for you to sit with someone who is alone or in a group that is not engaged with one another. It might be tempting to get distracted by the interesting conversation of the other group, but you might be able to make a big impact by committing to that small act of kindness. Plus, you may not only be bringing the spirit of God that is mentioned in this reading, but you too may hear that same whisper through the person who was sitting alone at the table.
There are countless examples of times in our modern society where metaphorical high winds, earthquakes, and fires may distract our attention. However, God challenges us to maintain our focus on the essential and most important aspect of life. Life’s most essential message, the word and teachings of God, may be only a whisper amongst storms, but remaining attentive and seeking that whisper will be worth the wait. For although only a whisper, it will touch your heart with a force greater than any storm, and leave you with a lasting sense of joy, peace, and wisdom.
If you haven’t experienced this already, there will come a time in your life when you are having such a good time at a friend’s house or a family party that you wish you could freeze time and stay in that moment forever. Modern advances in technology have created some crazy devices, but unfortunately, one that freezes time does not yet exist. Therefore, the moment slips away and you are required to go home and return to your ordinary life.
According to this week’s Gospel, Matthew 17:1-9, the desire to freeze time is not exclusive to the modern day. Peter felt similarly when he went up the mountain with Jesus, James, and John. At the top of the mountain, Jesus “was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:2) This outward manifestation of Jesus’ glory was affirmed when the apostles heard a voice say: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5)
At this point in the Gospel of Matthew, the apostles have witnessed Jesus’ miracles of healing and even some of his supernatural abilities, like walking on water. With that being said, this miracle was like no other the apostles had witnessed so far.
At first, the apostles fell to the ground in wonder and awe at witnessing the glory and divinity of Jesus. But after a moment, Peter told Jesus he could make three tents on the mountain – one for Jesus himself, the second for Moses, and the last for Elijah. Though Peter’s offer does not seem like a wish to freeze time so much as a desire to have a weekend camping trip with the boys, his offer is significant. Peter and the apostles were in such joy, awe, and admiration of Christ that he was looking to freeze time and remain on the mountain with the splendorous Jesus.
It makes sense that Peter would want to set up camp and stay in the place forever. He had never seen Jesus in such a beautiful and radiant form, and Peter probably feared that returning back to the routine of life in community would lessen the impact of that moment. Nonetheless, Jesus tells Peter that the tents are not needed because they need to descend the mountain and return to their community.
Though their return home is not elaborated on in this Gospel passage, it is still important. Experiencing something so grand comes with the temptation of not changing anything about your life afterward. If you let other people in or change your environment, there is a fear, much like Peter’s, that the experience will become less special and that the joy will dissipate after some time.
Even if you have not experienced an encounter with Jesus or God before, a time will come where you can truly appreciate this feeling of wanting to forever remain in a transformative experience with God. When that moment comes, try to recall the consoling words Jesus offers the apostles after Peter suggests setting up camp. Jesus says: “Rise, and do not be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7) This short phrase is a great consolation from Jesus. It is his promise to you that just because encounters with God only last in the world for a moment, they will last in your heart forever.
Sharing your faith with your heart ablaze will enable you to spread the love and truth that Jesus revealed to all humans in his Transfiguration and later his resurrection. Not only will sharing your experience help others encounter God, but sharing your faith journey will bestow you with graces and new insights that will lead you closer to God. You will gain more knowledge and understanding of God’s glory, divinity, and power that was revealed to the apostles at the Transfiguration. With this growth of knowledge will come the growth of your faith, and ultimately your own transfiguration in the Lord.
Everyone thinks that receiving presents for your birthday is the best part about turning a year older. However, the unsung hero of birthdays is the birthday cake. This is not because you get a sweet treat, but rather because you get to make a wish as you blow out the candles. This part of the birthday party is always exciting unless you discover a few days later that your wish hasn’t come true. Although a few of your birthday wishes have probably come true, it is likely that at least one wish hasn’t.
There is a story of a man who ran into a similar predicament. Though it was not his birthday, he did make a wish that didn’t come to fruition. This man lived in a small town that was prone to poor weather. A storm was passing through town, and after several hours of heavy rain, it became clear that it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. The man, starting to get nervous, turned to prayer and asked God to keep him safe amidst the storm and resulting floods. During this prayer, the man experienced a vision of God reaching down from heaven to rescue him. Amazed, the man rejoiced and praised God.
The man’s prayer and rejoicing was interrupted when he heard the doorbell ring. His neighbor was at the door and offered him a ride to safety in the neighboring town. Although appreciative of his neighbor’s generous offer, the man declined, explaining he was waiting for God to come save him.
After wishing his neighbor well, the man decided to wait for God on the roof. As the man waited, the flooding continued. The water was so high that it almost reached his roof. The streets were filled with water, and people were paddling to safety in kayaks and rafts. When someone passed in a boat that had an extra seat, the sailor called to him and offered a ride to safety. Although the man was appreciative of the stranger’s generosity, he respectfully declined, explaining he was waiting for God to come save him.
Time was passing as quickly as the water was rising when a helicopter flew overhead. Noticing the man standing on his roof with water up to his knees, the pilot threw a ladder out of the helicopter and beckoned the man to climb up to safety. Despite the pilot’s persistence, the man’s resolve was final and he refused the offer, explaining he was waiting for God to come save him.
Once the helicopter flew away, the rain fell even harder than before and the flooding continued. Eventually the water rose too high, swept the man away, and caused him to drown.
When the man reached heaven, he was perplexed that God did not save him. He marched over to God and said, “I believed with all of my heart that you would save me and you let me drown. Why didn’t you save me, God?”
God replied, “My son, I sent you your neighbor’s car, a stranger’s boat, and a pilot’s helicopter, and you refused them all. What else could I have done for you?”
Even if the situation isn’t as drastic as this story’s, every human has asked for the wrong thing or has disregarded the messages God sent through others at one point or another. The man from this story missed the opportunities God gave him to be saved because he was looking for the wrong signs. He had the best of intentions looking for God, but because he expected something different than appeared, the man was completely wrong.
Although God’s signs in the form of the neighbor, stranger, and pilot may have seemed obvious to you, it wasn’t obvious to the man because he had his own vision of how God would save him. Just like the man, your expectations do not always match God’s vision for you. This is understandable in many ways, as you are not as wise as God and can’t see his plan. However, since you know that your expectation will not be the same as God’s, it is important to pray and ask for the vision to see God’s will for you. Praying for this sight is important, as it will help you recognize God in all things rather than blindly ignoring the signs like the man in the story.
This is easier said than done, but the first reading from the Book of Kings offers a lesson in this trust and sight of God:
“The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." Solomon answered: "O Lord, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?" The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: "Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right—I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.”” (1Kings 3:5,7-12)
Instead of asking for something tangible and of the earthly world, Solomon had the wisdom and humility to ask for God’s help. He could have asked for fame or power or riches, but instead he asked for God’s insight. In other words, Solomon asked God to bestow on him and his people the ability to know right from wrong and to seek out and understand the Lord above and before all else. Because Solomon essentially asked God for the strength and ability to live life according to God’s will rather than his own, God was delighted to grant such a request.
Even though it is challenging to act humbly like Solomon, you are called to trust in God as steadfastly as he did. However, you must also heed the lesson from the story of the man in the flood. When looking for God’s saving grace, it is essential to keep your eyes open to everything and learn that God sometimes acts in mysterious and unexpected ways. When you strike this balance and ask for God’s help in following the right and holy path, you too will find yourself with “a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you, there will come no one to equal you.” (1 Kings 3:12)
Being summertime, your brain has probably slowed down and has maybe even shrunken a bit. Although your brain doesn’t need to start working again until September, combat this summer cognitive crawl for a moment with some image recall. First, call to mind what a house looks like. A clear image should appear in your mind. Details like the color of the house, the shape of the windows, and the size of the front lawn is easy to imagine.
Now think about the inside of one of your dresser drawers. You can likely picture it generally, but may not be able to exactly remember how your clothes are laid.
These two examples demonstrate how some images are easier to imagine and recall than others. To fully explore this idea, imagine one more thing: the Holy Spirit. Out of the three things asked to imagine – a house, a dresser drawer, and the Holy Spirit – the Spirit is the head scratcher. It’s simple to imagine a house and a drawer because you are familiar with it. However, the Holy Spirit is more challenging to picture.
The Bible certainly describes the Spirit, but does not give much imagery to accompany it. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is described as a dove, sometimes as flames, and other times not even given a form. The lack of consistency makes it difficult to put a finger on what the Spirit really is or even what the Spirit really does.
Though the second reading for this upcoming Sunday does not describe the physicality of the Spirit, the reading does offer a glimpse into the role of the Holy Spirit in your life. Take a moment to read the passage from Romans 8:26-27:
“Brothers and sisters: The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will.” (Romans 8:26-27)
Although the look of the Spirit remains unclear, this reading describes the role of the Holy Spirit in simple, but great detail. The Holy Spirit is known for bestowing seven different types of gifts onto people in need. These seven gifts are fear of the Lord, wisdom, knowledge, piety, understanding, counsel, and fortitude. Of these seven gifts, this reading describes fortitude.
Just like your imagination fails you when trying to think about the exact form of an object or being, your capabilities and decisions can fail you at times too. Especially when faced with difficult situations, you may not know what to do or how to act. This is normal, as all humans are constantly learning how to live a better life and may not make the right choices along the way.
However, the reading from Romans assures all that the Holy Spirit is a guide in these types of situations, and can help you make better decisions. If you call on the Spirit in times of need, the Holy Spirit will offer you fortitude, which is the strength to do what one knows is right. In situations that are complicated or leave you unsure of how to proceed, the Holy Spirit can help you turn inward and search for the moral and right path to take.
This path may not always be clear, but as you continue turning to the Holy Spirit and praying to it for help and guidance, the right choices will become clearer and easier to determine. Much like being able to picture a house in your mind’s eye because you see homes every day, the Spirit’s guidance and intercession will be visible to you if you learn to rely on the Spirit’s gifts.
Therefore, next time you are facing a tough choice, turn to the Spirit and ask for help. It may take some time to learn to notice the Spirit’s advice, but you will learn to look for signs of the Spirit in your heart and life.
Have you ever read a really good book? Not simply the kind of book that after reading the last sentence you smile and think to yourself: “that was really good.” The kind of book that follows this particular definition of a “really good” is the kind where you reach the last page and are baffled there aren’t any words left. The book was so enthralling that you are devastated to find it finished. You may even be so upset that you march downstairs to complain about it to a family member or grab your phone and send a long rant-text to your friend.
These types of really good books are difficult to find. Even though it would be pretty amazing if every book was that interesting and appealing, it’s sort of a good thing that all books aren’t like this. If every book you read had such an impactful and enticing ending, you may get really frustrated (and ultimately disappointed) every time a book ended. Moreover, you may even wonder why authors finish their books with seemingly premature endings.
Even though you may question an author’s skill if he or she always ends a book with such an unexpected ending, he or she doesn’t write this way to frustrate or disappoint you. Rather, the author writes in that style because he or she is leaving you with just the right amount of information to complete the story. Although it’s maddening in the moment that you can’t discover more about the characters and their lives, taking a step back to reflect on the book will help you discover that all of the pieces of the literary puzzle were given. This is because a really good author ensures that no pieces were missing, and more importantly, that no extra pieces were added.
Authors with this much discipline and editing ability are few and far between. Luckily as a Christian, you do not have to look very far at all to find an amazing author like this, as God is the ultimate author of every human’s life. The first reading from Isaiah speaks to God’s brilliance and wisdom as life’s author:
“Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
This reading is a reminder that God has a plan for each and every being created. God’s great plan for you is called a vocation, or a perfect plan for a holy and service-filled life. All of God’s human creations are bestowed a vocation and must live a life of prayerful searching and contemplation to find how to best nourish the world and those who reside in it.
Knowing God has an amazing plan for you can be overwhelming to actualize. God puts a lot of faith in you when you are given the responsibility of finding and executing your vocation. Imagining the process to find God’s special plan for you is daunting, especially when you have free will and so many choices to make throughout life. However, God is with you during this process and will guide and support you.
Having God’s help and guidance during the search for your vocation is an immense relief, but God’s plans will not always align with your expectations and vision for life. Sometimes you will plan on taking one path, but other obstacles are placed in your way, which will lead you down a completely different road. This can be challenging and frustrating, similar to the frustration of reaching the end of that really good book.
When your path veers from your expectation, it is not only flustering, but also confusing. This confusion does not only apply when your life path changes. Witnessing others’ roads change can be equally distressing and confusing. The most pertinent example of this idea is when someone passes away unexpectedly at a young age.
Losing a loved one earlier than you expect is heartbreaking. Just like the ending of a really good book, it may feel like God, the ultimate author, ended a person’s story too soon. However, as the reading from Isaiah says, the rains will not return to the heavens from before they water the earth. In other words, God does not summon anyone back from earth to heaven until they have fulfilled God’s plan. You may believe your loved one’s life should continue because he or she had more left to give and experience. However, you must realize God is the greatest author of all, and ensures that every person’s life is completed with purpose.
Whether challenges arise in the form of the passing of a loved one, the redirection of a life path, or something else unforeseen, God’s hand is in it all. God created humans with more intentionality and tenderness than any of the other creatures or things on the earth. Regardless of the challenges or unexpected events that arise in life, they all have a purpose. That purpose may not always be clear to you, but it is purposeful nonetheless.
Especially in those moments of uncertainty, you may want the story to be extended just a little so you can find out more information or see what comes next. However, God is like the author of that really good book except much better. God knows when all of the pieces have been laid and has the patience for us to take the time to put it all together. It is in trying to place those pieces correctly that you are drawn closer to God and thus drawn to fulfilling your vocation. After you do this, you will find you have a beautiful and imperfectly perfect life story.
There is a story of a man who was carrying a terrible and heavy burden. Feeling he could no longer bear it on his own, he turned to prayer, asking God to help him with his hurt and take it away from him. After praying for a long time, the man didn’t feel any different so he decided to make use of his day and run his errands.
The man drove into town and went to a few shops for the items he needed. Just as he was about to enter the local coffee shop – a reward for completing all of his errands – a small shop with a humble storefront caught his eye. The store intrigued him, as he had never noticed it before, but he was feeling exhausted both physically and emotionally; the thought of sitting down with a fresh cup of coffee made a warm feeling rush through his body. This sensation overtook him for a moment, but his curiosity was greater and he headed toward the mystery shop.
As he opened the door, a small bell rang at the frame and he shut the door behind him. He lifted his eyes to examine the shop and was amazing to see that the entire store was lined with crosses of all different sizes. There were so many crosses that the man wondered for a moment if the shop even had walls, but he knew the crosses couldn’t be floating in midair. He was so transfixed on the décor that he didn’t notice that the shop owner had appeared from the backroom. The man snapped out of his trance when the owner asked, “Can I help you with something, my son?”
The man stood in awe of the shop owner. Something about the owner instilled the man with an immediate sense of peace. Without exchanging words, the man knew that this shop owner was the answer to his prayer from earlier that day. Before the man could open his mouth to say something, the owner prompted the man: “I heard you had something you were looking to trade.”
At first, the man almost replied “no.” He thought, “I just came in here to look around. What does this owner know about me?” But the man took a breath before he responded and for the first time, seemed to understand the type of shop he was in. Instead of saying “no,” the man said, “yes, I do have something I’d like to give away.” He grabbed his largest and heaviest bag and pulled out a huge cross.
“Ah yes,” remarked the owner, “I’ve been waiting for this exact cross to come in. Let me take that from you.” The man was shocked that the owner took his cross so effortlessly and without hesitation. The only thing that surprised the man more was that he didn’t feel any different when the owner took the cross.
As if the owner knew how the man was feeling, the owner said, “Let me find a spot to hang this. Look around and pick out the cross you’d like to leave with and you’ll feel much better once you make your choice.”
Believing this to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, the man decided he would not pass over any of the crosses in the shop in order to find the smallest one possible. For what felt like an hour or even two, the man carefully evaluated each and every cross. Some were enormous wooden crosses that looked like they would give you a splinter if you looked at one for too long let alone if you had to carry one around all day. Others were more modestly sized and crafted from fine metals and encrusted with precious jewels.
Finally the man found the cross he wanted to trade for his old one. It was tiny – only about one inch tall – and made of weaved yarn. He took it off the wall and felt a warm, familiar sensation rush through him palm where the cross was laid. Turning to the shop owner, the man said, “this is the one.”
The owner replied, “I thought you’d like that one. Are you sure that’s the one you want?”
“I’m positive,” said the man. After verifying this choice, an incredible peace and calm poured into the man’s heart and flooded his entire being. He felt as though the burden that was weighing down his soul was lifted and that he was so light that he would float all the way up to the heavens.
Seeing the man’s reaction, a soft, gentle smile appeared on the shop owner’s face. The man knew the owner had something to say, but was taking the time to arrange the words so they would come out perfectly. Although the smile never diminished, the silence did and the owner told the man, “My child, you have chosen your own cross – the very one you came in with. It is the burden you already carry. But go now, and remember I am always here to make it lighter and you will forever be at peace.”
This week’s Gospel, Matthew 11:25-30, is just like this story. Jesus says that you (and all people) can place your burdens on him and he will offer you rest. Once you are ready to carry on, the cross Jesus returns will feel lighter even if it is the same exact burden you had given him.
If it’s the same exact cross that you’re given back, there is some mystery in why it feels lighter upon return. Jesus says, “Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest in me.” (Matthew 11:29) The answer to that mystery lies within that Gospel verse.
When you offer your struggles to God, God helps with your burden and makes it more manageable even if your situation does not change. Part of that relief comes from gaining perspective through prayer. Jesus says it himself: he is meek, gentle, and humble in spirit. Every time you turn to God, you are acknowledging that you need help and cannot fully bear the responsibilities of life without guidance and support. God offers grace and strength to those who turn to prayer.
So next time you are feeling overwhelmed, do not think you need to carry that load yourself. Turn to prayer, just like that man from the story did, and you too will be reminded that Jesus is always here to make your load lighter and will forever keep you at peace.