Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Be sober, be watchful.

Last year I went on a three-day silent retreat in Saint Louis, Missouri.   While I was there I happened upon a little booklet about chastity and addiction to pornography.   This is a serious problem in our country.  If we are honest, it is probably one that affects someone in our own lives.   After reading the book I began to look through the resources it mentioned online.   One of the things it talks about is a set of 'flash cards' that allow you to begin to memorize verses of the Bible.   Every time you memorize one you move to the next.   I decided to order a set of these cards and place them on the mirror in my bathroom.   That way when I shave, brush my teeth or check my hair to go out I repeat the scripture verse and slowly begin to learn them.  The idea is that by putting good things in my mind instead of bad, it will slowly begin to help me become more like Christ.

Today's first reading happened to contain one of those verses.  1 Peter 5:8-9.   "Be sober, be watchful.     Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.   Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world."   I've been working on that very verse for a few months.  It is chock full of things to remember but I think the most important is that we can resist!  Often we allow our sinful nature to become an excuse.   "I can't help it. I'm a sinner."   You're right, we are both sinners.   The thing is God doesn't allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able.  He always gives us the strength, some way to come out of temptation to the other side.   It doesn't mean we won't suffer!   It does mean if we choose to sin, it's not because grace wasn't present.

2848 "Lead us not into temptation" implies a decision of the heart: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. . . . No one can serve two masters." "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." In this assent to the Holy Spirit the Father gives us strength. "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, so that you may be able to endure it."

My youngest daughter is fascinated with the book of Job.  The other day she literally quoted it from her memory to the kids in her Sunday school room.   When one of the kids said, "How do you know all this!?"  She replied, "I was raised Catholic."  Being firm in our faith means knowing our faith.  That's part of what scripture memorization is about.  It's about knowing what God calls us to do and knowing right from wrong.   Yes, we should follow our conscience... but it must be a well-formed one.  We form that conscience by studying.  We form it through the Sacraments.  We form it through prayer.   We must be ready to give a reason for our faith when asked.

Today is the Feast day of St. Mark.   This is the John Mark we find talked about in the Bible.   He is also believed to be the one who fled from the garden of Gethsemane after ditching his clothing.  He was so scared that when they grabbed his tunic, he shrugged out of it and run off naked into the night.  Later we see him wearing just a sheet as he follows behind the crowd to see where Jesus will go.   This same man who once fled, later in his life was martyred for his faith in Christ.  He spent his time traveling with Paul and Barnabas and sitting at the feet of St. Peter to learn more about his faith.  That's what being firm in our faith means.  It means listening to the teaching of the Apostles, encountering Christ in the Sacraments, and leaving as a different person, a better person.  

2863 When we say "lead us not into temptation" we are asking God not to allow us to take the path that leads to sin. This petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength; it requests the grace of vigilance and final perseverance. 

"Be sober, be watchful."    The Catechism calls it the grace of vigilance.   We don't know when Jesus is coming back.   We do know that He gave us a Church, which the writer of 1 Timothy calls "the pillar and foundation of truth."   That Church has formed and then compiled the Sacred Scriptures that we now hold dear.   It is through those Scriptures, through those Sacraments, through that Church that we find the way of discernment and strength.  It is also where we find, as in the Gospel today, the call to evangelize.  We can't just stop with ourselves.   Like John Mark we must go forward into the world as missionaries, as people changed by our encounter with Christ, to share with them the Good News.   That they too might find the beauty of this gift we've been given... this gift none of us deserves... Holy Mother Church and all that she offers.

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Feast of St. Mark: April 25, 2017