The Way God Works

Since we humans were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), there are many parallels between us and God. One such parallel is how God and humans work. When work has to be done, we humans either do the work ourselves or instruct another person to do the work. God is no different. When God wants something to happen, he can do the work directly through miracles (Ex 24:12) or he can instruct his creation (angels, saints, and humans on earth) to do the work (Ex 3:2 for angels, Phil 2: 12-13 for humans). This truth has a few implications for Catholics.

When asking for help from God in our prayers, don’t be surprised if help comes in a different way than expected. Here the Catholic has some need they want God to address. Maybe they prayed for healing but no healing came. It’s possible God is going to work through a doctor, so God’s answer to the prayer is to see a doctor. Maybe another time they need comfort after a death in the family. It’s possible God is seeking to help them through their friends and family. In these moments it can feel like God is not helping, like he doesn’t care about our problems. God is actually helping; he is just choosing to help through our fellow humans.

Another case is when asking for guidance of what to do with our gifts. A Catholic might pray and pray for choosing how to serve in their community or which of their skills to foster and grow in. God could, of course, give them a straight answer in their heart or mind, but many times he will work through our fellow humans. Maybe the person sees an ad in the parish bulletin for a service opportunity, or maybe someone they’re talking to happens to mention a need they can help with. God has answered their prayer through one of his children.

The unfortunate side of the way God works is that it is hard to tell how God is working in our lives. We can get the feeling that humans are the ones doing everything, and God is not present. This is dangerous thinking. Satan has lured many Catholics away by encouraging doubt in their minds (CCC 215). Whenever you feel discouraged, always remember that the source of all love is God. Whether your prayers are answered directly by God or by someone here on this earth, it ultimately came from God. In this way, you can attribute everything to God and always maintain strength in your faith.

One last point is that God does not have to work. He could answer a prayer request with a simple “no”. Sometimes it is best if we find our own solution to a problem. He has given humans great intellect (CCC 286, 1955), with the ability to learn new things, precisely for this purpose. In these times we might feel all alone, but there is a very good reason that God sometimes decides to just watch from afar. We will not become saints automatically. Our faith must be continually tested to grow in holiness and open the path to sainthood (Jas 1:2-4).

If God solved all our problems, we would never have to face difficulty, never grow in holiness, never become saints, and worst of all, never be with God in heaven. For heaven to be an option, we must face obstacles and overcome them. Each time you make it through a tough situation, you become stronger in the faith. After enough struggles, you will have reached the point where you salvation is secured (2 Tim 4:6-8). God has won you over for all eternity. Having this on your mind during the struggles in life will provide continual relief. No matter how bad this time is, keep up the good work because you are inching toward eternal paradise.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

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The Challenge of Tough Times

As Catholics, we live our lives doing our best to follow the laws God and the Church have given us (CCC 2342). This is a hard enough challenge in itself, but it’s even harder when times are tough. It could be the death of a loved one, a good job lost, or a devastating injury. Whatever the case may be, these tough times shatter the peace in our lives. We may have felt like we were finally getting somewhere with holiness, but then some big obstacle appears that throws out all we have learned. We are like a baby learning how to walk again. These are the times when God sees what we’re made of (CCC 164, 272).

In most cases, there is no running away or ignoring tough times. No matter how much we resist, they will change us. The choice we have is how they will change us: in a negative way or a positive way. In the negative outcome, a person asks “Why me?” and becomes angry. When they eventually get through the tough time they remain bitter at what happened, complaining to everyone they come across about how the world wronged them. In other cases, sadness takes hold and when they get through that period, they end up depressed, forever scarred by the experience. I’m sure everyone has had an experience where you ended up angry or depressed, but that’s not how God wants us to be feeling.

In the positive outcome, the person realizes they don’t know everything, the world is more complex than they initially thought. They are not God. They thought they were nearing perfection in holiness, but they are actually still infants compared to God and still need him very much. With this new perspective on life, they gain new appreciation for all their blessings. Their life might not be going the way they wanted, but at least it still has a few good things. In doing this, they are able to be grateful to God even in the tough times.

In one outcome, the person loses ground in their battle for holiness. In the other outcome, the person ends up stronger and happier than where they started, gaining more holiness along the way. It can be very tempting to choose the negative path because that’s always the thought whenever something goes wrong. Maybe we want to blame someone for the bad things happening. Other times, we might want other people to feel our pain by throwing anger everywhere we go. God has told us how to act throughout life though.

The one commandment from which all others come from is to love (CCC 1823). Half of love is giving, but the other half is receiving. That means when times are tough, lean on God, your friends, and your family. Continue doing your best to serve others, but this is the time to reach out and ask for help in return for all the sacrifices you have made for your loved ones. Not everyone will understand what you are going through, but God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes without understanding they may help exactly the way you needed, a loving act inspired by the grace of God.

Besides remaining positive during tough times, the other big challenge is remaining holy. When life is tough, a person might feel so bad, they just want some quick relief. The problem is this can lead to bad decisions. In their struggle with suffering they might start up an old alcohol habit again or take out their suffering on friends. These things might feel better in the short term but leave deep regret in the long run. Then even when the tough times are over, they have lost all the progress they made against the alcohol or worse, permanently lost a good friend. Even worse, they could trigger another tough time. Maybe the alcohol habit becomes an addiction and now a job is lost, a continuing cycle of negative events. We are most susceptible during the tough times, so this is when we must be extra careful about everything we do.

Overall, the challenge of tough times is turning a potentially bad period in our life into a very good period. If we can do this, we are well on our way to sainthood. The goal of all Catholics is to go to heaven (the beatific vision, CCC 163), which requires becoming a saint. Tough times can be some of the greatest growth periods in our life, but we have to work extra hard. Otherwise, we will be worse off than where we started. I encourage you to slow down during tough times, so you have time to make good decisions before every action. There is no rushing holiness. Be patient every day, doing your best in every moment. Look at tough times in this positive way: the path to sainthood, through perfection in holiness.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

What Being Catholic Means to Me

I was born into a Catholic family, but I really just went through the motions when it came to practicing the faith. I learned about religion in school, and my regular family activities involved going to church and receiving the Sacraments. I liked to please everyone, so I did what my teachers and parents wanted. Entertainment was what drove me though. Early on, it was toys like action figures and Legos, later it was movies and video games. I didn’t really care about anything but having fun. This remained the same until I graduated from college.

By this time video games had become my favorite source of fun. There was an endless amount of new games coming out, and I wanted to play them all. All my plans and goals were centered around games. I had lists of what I had done in existing games and what I wanted to do in the future with those games. I also had lists of all the future games I wanted to get and the things I wanted to do in them. In short, all I cared about was short term pleasure. When I got bored with one game, I always had another lined up to keep me entertained. This kept me busy in the moment, but one day I just felt like I needed to be doing more.

Since the only other thing I did regularly besides video games was go to church, I decided to focus on the Catholic faith. I immediately saw many ways to improve myself. While working on improvement goals, I became aware of the power of prayer. I also discovered that there was an endless amount of studying I could do about the faith. In addition to the Bible, there were countless writings by the Popes, Church Fathers, Saints, and fellow lay Catholics I could read and think about.

Just like there was always another video game to play, there was always another way to improve myself, another prayer to say, or another Catholic work to study. Unlike video games, which was just about short term pleasure, these activities were about the long term. These things would contribute to my salvation or the salvation of others. Going to heaven is a big deal, so these activities were all important. That made me really happy. I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I started focusing on the Catholic faith, but I found it. I was looking for purpose in my life.

Being Catholic means being part of something bigger than myself. This purpose drives all of my actions. I do have free time, where I just do what I want, but a lot of times I am thinking about how I can help myself or others get to heaven. I realize my actions can have a huge impact, mostly on myself but also on the few other people I am able to interact with during my life. I can’t be Jesus and help everyone, but I can help just a few people. All of my actions contribute to Jesus’ overall mission of saving souls.

Being Catholic means being part of a family. At the local level, I have my parish family that continually prays for all the needs in our community. At the national level, I have the U.S. clergy that are all working towards improving the sanctity of the country. At the global level, I have the Church in Rome directing the world towards holiness. Finally, there is the Communion of Saints at the spiritual level that encompasses everything. All of God’s children have a unique connection to each other, especially during prayer. I have all these people pulling for me to get to heaven. I am never alone. In addition, I always have a good friend to talk to in God.

Being Catholic means losing a lot of worries. I don’t have to wonder what I should be doing. I still have free will to decide how I will seek holiness for myself or others, but I always know right from wrong. I know what will lead me to holiness and what will hold me back. The faith allows me to ignore many useless short term things and focus on the things that have meaning in the long run. I don’t have to worry about death because I believe in eternal life. Just as a child goes through puberty to become mature, a person must go through death to go to heaven. I don’t have to worry too much about the future. I only have to make sure I am doing good in the present. The future will work itself out.

Being Catholic means understanding what true love is. It’s not about what I am getting out of the situation. It’s what I can do for others. I might not get anything in return during this life, but it will all be rewarded in heaven. God will give me something for my good actions. True love is sacrifice. That doesn’t mean I have to kill myself to help others, but I do need to be regularly expending energy for others in some way. It means always being able to love others even in the worst of times.

Being Catholic also means having high standards. The way of Jesus is very hard. I can’t just go through life doing whatever I want. I constantly work to avoid sin. Until I die I will never be able to truly rest. There are times when avoiding sin is easy, which can function as a time of rest, but avoiding sin is mostly a constant battle. In addition to avoiding sin, I also have to find opportunities to serve others. I can’t just keep to myself. I have to give back in some way. I push myself as much as I can with these things. Sometimes I work too hard on these things and have to force myself take breaks. This always reminds me of my human weakness, which I look forward to overcoming when I am purified in purgatory.

Despite how hard it is being Catholic, I absolutely love the faith. In good times and bad, it always keeps me going. I might not know exactly what God wants me to be doing, but I know what actions are good. I know the possible choices. Life is a lot easier without the pressure to make all these decisions alone. God and the Church are there helping me. Some days I’m more interested in the faith than others, but I never get truly bored. A lot of times I will be having a lot of fun with some entertainment, but it eventually ends. I become bored with it. That doesn’t happen with the faith. There is always something meaningful to do related to my Catholic faith.

No matter how secular the world becomes, I will never leave the faith. I love it too much. As long as I live, I will be doing my best to become a saint and help the people around me to do the same. Some of those efforts will be through this website, and some will be in other areas of my life, but I will always be participating in Jesus’ mission to save souls.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared