Just a few days ago, I heard about the death of a brother, a Dominican priest, Fr. Joachim Li, OP who on June 27th, died at the young age of 32. While enjoying his day off at the seaside in Rome, he lost his life successfully rescuing and saving two swimmers from drowning. Fr. Joachim’s heroic death reminded me of the story of his patron saint, St. Joachim Royo, OP, a Dominican missionary martyr in China. As Fr. Joachim gave up his life to save the two swimmers, St. Joachim gave up his life to save the souls of many.
St. Joachim Royo, OP was born around 1691 in Spain. In 1708, he joined the Dominican Order in Valencia. Filled with the zeal to preach the Gospel to the end of the world, he arrived in Manila in 1713. There he finished his studies and was ordained as a priest. St. Joachim arrived in China in the spring of 1715. In the missionary territories of southeastern China, he not only baptized many, but he formed the newly baptized converts into Dominican tertiaries and lay catechists. During the persecution of the early Qing Dynasty, he went into hiding in the wilderness and caves. Only in the cover of the night, was he able to administer sacraments for the faithful. While in prison, he continued his penitential practices, even going as far as asking the prison guards to whiplash him! He finally gave the ultimate witness of faith in Fujian, China in 1748. St. Joachim’s heroic life is just one story out of those of the 108 martyrs in China (33 of which were missionaries), whom we commemorate on July 9.
Even now, there are countless missionaries making all kinds of sacrifices, even risking their lives, so that people may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can you help? First of all, you can pray for them. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote in 1896, to Fr. Adolphe Roulland, MEP, who was about to be sent to Sichuan, China,
“Distance can never separate our souls, even death will only make our union closer. If I go to Heaven soon, I shall ask Jesus’ permission to visit you in Sichuan, and we shall continue our apostolate together. Meanwhile I shall always be united to you by prayer…”
If you hear the Lord’s call to be a missionary yourself and go to Asia, please do not hesitate to contact us!
If not for a hockey game, I wouldn’t be a Legionary of Christ priest today. As a good Minnesotan, I naturally considered hockey as divinely inspired, a sign of God’s love for us. But it’s what happened after the game that took me by surprise and lead me to know my priestly vocation.
During my first year at college, I often went to the rink at the University of Minnesota with my friends. After one such event —ending in a double overtime victory for the Golden Gophers, and a long celebration— I returned home in the wee hours of the morning, too tired to get out of bed until Sunday afternoon.
Stumbling upstairs for something to eat, I found my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Opening the fridge, I heard from over my shoulder: “Jason, did you go to Mass this morning?” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t. Quickly I tried to think up the perfect excuse. None came. Trying to hide behind the refrigerator door, I quipped “No, I didn’t go”. Without looking up Dad replied solemnly, “Go tomorrow then.”
It was my first Monday morning Mass ever. I was struck by how quiet the Church was, and how empty. I sat about halfway up and waited. Little by little people began to filter in. Then an attractive girl sat down a few pews behind me. How is it I find a girl like this now and not last Saturday evening? It must be God’s providence! I decided the sign of peace was the perfect time to introduce myself. When the moment came I turned around and, to my surprise, she passed me a note. I put it in my pocket pretending it happened all the time.
When I got home I opened the note. It read something like this: “It’s good to see someone young attending daily Mass. You must really love your faith! I want to let you know about a group of young people who pray and study scripture Wednesday evenings. If you would like to come, here is my number.” I decided I could find time in my packed schedule to go. That’s when it occurred to me I hadn’t seriously looked into my Catholic faith since Confirmation. What would I say? What would I pray? Where was my Rosary? I found it stuffed in the bottom dresser drawer along with a pamphlet of prayers.
As to what I would say, I went to my Dad’s study and checked out his library. It had books on music, history, politics —but the largest section was religion. I found one book called True Devotion to Mary. It seemed like a good place to start since it was short. The book changed my life. It explained how St. Louis de Montfort, a priest who tirelessly preached the Gospel and underwent extraordinary trials, spread devotion to Mary throughout France. It was my first encounter with the life of a saint. I marveled how someone could dedicate himself entirely to Christ, even to the point of heroism. It inspired me to truly seek God and sincerely live my faith.
A few months later I went on a retreat with the youth group. It was the first time the priesthood entered my mind. During the consecration, as I gazed at the elevated host, I thought to myself —in words that were my own, but which carried a remarkable resonance I will never forget: If there is one thing I should do, it’s that. It was the defining moment of my life and it came entirely by surprise. I knew I had to look into the priesthood, but I didn’t know how or where. To make a long story short, the same girl who gave me the note in church then gave me a brochure on the Legionaries of Christ. It had testimonies of the young men who entered the year before. I read it and was convinced. I called and asked for an application. A Legionary came to visit. I went to candidacy. I joined. My younger brother followed the next year.
Since then 25 years have passed by like a whirlwind. There is much more I could write, but the essential is simple: Christ crossed my path, called, and by His grace —definitely not my own strength— I found the courage to drop everything and follow him. I have never looked back. Our Lord’s presence and the needs of the Church have captivated my attention ever since.
I began my discernment journey 11 years ago with these two words that kept coming up in prayer, but I wasn’t sure what it really meant.
Months later, I attended a Vocation Discernment Retreat, hoping for God to give me an affirmation that I wasn’t called to the priesthood, so that I could get a confirmation on marrying the girl of my dreams then. But God instead revealed a path that immediately gripped my heart with excitement and joy, even amidst the pain of knowing I would have to leave the one I love with all my heart. I then realized: God was asking me to sell my dreams of marriage, for a higher calling to the priesthood.
Many years later while in my 6th year of seminary formation, I went through a vocation crisis. I was experiencing desolation in prayer, unworthiness in sin, and even an attraction towards someone. I thought God changed His mind, and I was close to calling it quits. That’s when I learnt that just as love is more than a feeling, but a choice, so too is my vocation dependent not just on my feelings, but on a choice to remain faithful regardless of how I was feeling. At this stage, I was asked to sell my need for spiritual consolations.
Recently, after having completed my seminary formation and waiting for my ordination, I went through another round of crisis, feeling frustrated and disappointed with things that seemed to obstruct what I wanted to do in my eventual priesthood. It wasn’t till someone challenged me if I had fully given up my life to Christ that I realize I had placed so much emphasis on my priesthood as the pearl of great price, that I hadn’t really fully given my life to Him who ought to be my pearl of great price. This time, God was asking me to sell my attachment to the vocation of priesthood in order to more fully give my life to Him and really do whatever He tells me. And when I did, all desolation was removed, and I felt immense peace once again.
For now I’ve learnt, that seeking one’s vocation is not about the WHAT, but about WHO am I giving my life entirely to, so that I do whatever He tells me to, even if it means SELLING EVERYTHING.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus talks about Divorce.
Growing up I never thought much about the sacredness of married life. My family was pretty much dysfunctional (this MIGHT be an understatement) and I never thought much about the importance of family — in fact I detested it.
I (shamefully) remember asking my mom one birthday — it was my 7th — for her to divorce my dad as my birthday gift. I did not think it would be a problem — after all, when someone is aggressive to you daily, you leave him… right?
To that she gave a response I’ll never forget for the rest of my life: “This is a cross I must carry.”
Honestly, I thought she was mad for wanting to endure this hardship.
On hindsight, that was her living out her vows of marriage and that planted in me a seed of perseverance and faithfulness to God. It was the wisest thing anyone ever said to me.
The Pharisees quoted the mosaic law and questioned why Moses allowed for divorce. But Jesus explained that God’s intention for our state in life — whether married or single — was to be saints.
Being a saint entails that we rely on the power of God to overcome hardship before we rely on the power of man.
Moses had only permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts.
Male and female are indissolubly united in one flesh in marriage — a sacred and binding union — until death.
Marriage vows are so sacred, and such exemplars of what it means to love truly — you vow to love unconditionally every single moment of every single day, you vow to give yourself totally for the good of the other person. THAT is true love.
After all, from a Theology of the Body (TOB) lens, our entire faith is based on the idea of God wanting to marry us! He — in the person of Jesus Christ — is the groom and we the Church are His bride; the cross the “nuptial bed”. Just like how Jesus was humble to death on the cross, couples must learn to adjust in humility for the marriage to grow and experience success. Many failures in marriages are due to:
– lack of humility
– lack of prayer life
Back to my mom: she may not be educated in theology or the doctrines of the Church. But she is (sure as sure can be) in possession of the Truth and I believe that she is the epitome of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus.
Prayers for all my married friends, that you realize that God has called you to be saints in your vocation as married people, and may God grant you the graces to be faithful to the end.
Back in March, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation all about the call to be holy, Gaudete et Exsultate. Within just a few days, the online world was discussing (and debating) the document. As often happens in our world of constant news and digital engagement, a few weeks went by and conversations about this exhortation died down. People began arguing about other topics. The release of this apostolic exhortation seems like a distant memory, and if you haven’t read it yet, you may be reluctant to do so. We often like to read and discuss whatever is trending in the world, so if the world has seemingly moved on, what good can come from perusing these words of Pope Francis?
1. Gaudete et Exsultate is a loving note of encouragement from our Holy Father.
As an apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate does not seek to define dogma or lay out a detailed analysis of the Church’s teachings about one particular topic. Instead, it is an apostolic exhortation that seeks to encourage us in our mission as Christians. In this document, Pope Francis clearly states that his aim “is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (#2). Pope Francis did not write this document for a few scholarly people to pull apart and debate; he wrote it for all of us to read and learn from.
2. This exhortation takes us back to the basics of holiness.
In five pithy chapters, Pope Francis’s words remind us to stop over-complicating things and just be holy. As someone who tremendously enjoys learning about the intricacies of our Faith – especially as manifested in the liturgy – I sometimes face the temptation of forgetting the heart of Christ’s message. Like a Pharisee, I grow overly legalistic and proud, and let this overshadow the message of transformative love that floods the Gospels. In Chapter Three of this document, Pope Francis walks us through the Beatitudes, reflecting on how – looking at the Scriptures and the lives of the saints – we can embrace our call to holiness through this path that Christ lays before us. Pope Francis notes that:
“The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives” (#63).
3. There are some beautiful and profound one-liners.
I can always appreciate a succinct, thought-provoking statement that I can ponder for a while. To my delight, I found that Gaudete et Exsultate is full of these! No matter if he’s talking about the universal call to holiness (“To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious”), the importance of cultivating peace in our world (“We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill”), or the command Christ gave us to forgive others (“We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven”), Pope Francis bluntly calls us forth to be holier men and women.
If you’ve been hesitant to pick up this document because it seems like “old news,” read it anyway – the reflection Pope Francis presents about holiness is needed in our modern world.
If you haven’t read this document because you think that it’s just for theologians and scholars, read it anyway – Pope Francis wrote it for us. In the conclusion, he states: “It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness” (#177). He wants to help the whole Church, not just a privileged few.
If you’ve neglected to pick up this document because (based on opinion articles, headlines, and social media posts you’ve seen) you think it is chock-full of faulty teachings, read it anyway – the pope is not laying out incorrect teachings or false doctrine; he is encouraging us to be holy. While yes, there are some passages that seem a little vague and could be twisted in a variety of ways, I invite you to reflect on the pope’s words as you examine how you can practice sanctity in your own life.
“When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. ‘Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wager and the money given to the poor.’ They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.'” (Mk 14:3-9)
The gift of the woman at Bethany was not small. She came to Jesus with repentance and sincerity of heart; with her broken jar she anointed Him with the best that she had, holding nothing back. She gave to Christ from her heart.
Such sincere gift left her vulnerable in the eyes of others. They were irritated and criticized her gift. Why wasn’t she following convention? Why wasn’t she displaying kindness in the popular way?
Perhaps this woman knew what their reaction would be beforehand. Her actions were somewhat radical… but at the same time, they weren’t. Would one who truly loves hold anything back from the beloved? Nothing is wasted on Christ.
Amid the scoffing of the bystanders, Christ read the woman’s heart. “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me…She has done what she could.” These words must have been a wealth of consolation for the woman. She had the guts to run to Christ and now He was hiding her in His bosom, acknowledging that her actions were beautiful and pleasing.
The woman cared little for human respect and public opinion. She gave glory to God in the best way she knew how, and let the others think what they wanted.
The bystanders thought that she should love God through charity to the poor. But the woman went far beyond mere external actions- she gave God her heart. This woman gave all that was most precious to her to Christ, without bothering about people’s opinions and envious thoughts.
What is in my alabaster jar? What is my gift of priceless worth that I am holding back from God for fear of the opinions of others? Dear Lord, help me to break my alabaster jar and give my heart to You.
My outraged Jesus, / by the weakness You suffered in going to Calvary, / give me enough strength to overcome all human respect / and all my evil passions which have led me to despise Your friendship. / I love You, Jesus my Love, with all my heart; / I am sorry for ever having offended You. / Never permit me to offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will. (The Way of the Cross according to St. Alphonsus Liguori)
Today, January 2, is the 1,978th anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. James the Greater at the pillar in Zaragoza, Spain in the year A.D. 40.
I never have been particularly devoted to St. James the Greater, but for some reason, he seems to be devoted to me.
I heard somewhere that the desire to do the Camino de Santiago – the Way of Saint James, which ends at the church at Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St. James the Greater are kept — is actually a call from the apostle himself. Around ten years ago, I read about the Camino de Santiago in a book about hiking. Since then, I became obsessed with it, researching about it on the Internet and dreaming about being able to walk it someday. At that time, walking the Camino de Santiago was a wild dream which I never thought would come true. Back then, I did not know if I could fit it in with my other big plan at that time, which was to take further studies in either the United States or the United Kingdom.
However, my priest-uncle-spiritual-director – who happens to be named “Father Jim” – convinced me to go to Spain instead for further studies, which I did. The university he recommended happened to be along the route of the Camino de Santiago. During my studies, I got excited every time I saw pilgrims – with their identifying scallop-shell pendants – crossing the campus.
Unfortunately, while I was able to hike some legs of the Camino de Santiago, I was not able to trek the last 100 kilometers required to qualify one to receive a compostela certificate. This was because I could not find a willing and available companion. Although women have been known to walk the Camino de Santiago alone safely, I did not want to take any chances.
Still, the opportunity to visit Santiago de Compostela came. I realized that flying to the place instead of walking did not make me less of a pilgrim. (In fact, flying proved to be more penitential, as I would have enjoyed a hike through the Spanish countryside more than an interminable wait for a delayed flight at the airport.)
While praying in the church, I realized that I owe to St. James a lot more than I thought.
I am a Catholic because most Filipinos are cradle Catholics. The Philippines – and many other countries — got the Catholic faith from Spain where, according to tradition, St. James preached the Gospel. This means that I am a direct spiritual heir to St. James, who preached the Catholic faith that he received from Christ Himself.
Very little is known about St. James the Greater, but from what is known about him from the Gospels, he was certainly suited to his special mission of preaching in Spain. He and his brother, St. John the Evangelist, were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” for their fiery spirit that made them ask Jesus to bid fire to come down from heaven to consume the Samaritan towns that did not want to receive Him. They had drive, ambition, and a can-do attitude that made them give an affirmative response to Jesus when He asked them if they could drink from the cup from which He was to drink.
As energetic and driven as he was, St. James the Greater was not immune to temptations to give up.
According to tradition, on January 2, in the year A.D. 40, while he was preaching the Gospel in Caesaragusta (now Zaragoza) in the Roman province of Hispania (now Spain), he felt discouraged because very few of those to whom he preached accepted the Gospel. While he was praying by the banks of the Ebro River, the Blessed Virgin Mary miraculously appeared to him atop a pillar. (Miraculously, because at that time the Blessed Virgin Mary was still living in either Ephesus or Jerusalem; thus, she appeared through bilocation.) The Blessed Virgin Mary assured him that the people he was preaching to would eventually embrace the Gospel, and their faith would be as strong as the pillar she was standing on. She gave him the pillar and a wooden image of herself, and instructed him to build a chapel on the spot where she left the pillar.
St. James thus built the chapel, which is now the Basilica of Our Lady of Del Pilar. He continued preaching, with better results. Then, he and some of his disciples returned to Jerusalem, where they were martyred under Herod Agrippa. His disciples, however, brought his body back to Spain.
I like this story of St. James and Our Lady of Del Pilar. It shows that God chooses each of us for special missions suited to our individual traits and aptitudes. At the same time, it shows that our natural aptitudes are not enough, for us to become effective instruments of God. Christ had to correct and purify St. James’ fiery temperament before St. James could channel his energy to preaching the Gospel. Then, in the course of his preaching, his natural energy proved insufficient to sustain his motivation.
But he did the right thing and prayed, and the Blessed Virgin Mary encouraged him. He allowed her to encourage him, and his preaching bore fruit.
The story of St. James and Our Lady of Del Pilar teaches us to exert all our efforts to fulfil the mission God gave us, using the best of our skills and abilities, while relying on the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She will encourage us when our strengths fail us, and with her help, we will do a lot of good. Our encounters with her will pave the way for more encounters between Christ and others – just as the encounter between her and St. James paved the way for my own encounter with Christ.
Torch begins by describing his attitude to dating right after his conversion – it was legalistic, rule-bound, and ultimately illogical and stifling. While trying his best to live by the words of Scripture, Torch applied Holy Writ and friendly advice to his relationship in a strict, over-literal manner, and this caused him and his girlfriend no end of grief.
He writes: “Too often, things are over-complicated and made unnecessarily difficult, with the guise of being godly… [there is] the danger of putting a weight on your relationship that God never meant for it to bear.”
Torch begins with the story of redemption, going right back to Adam and Eve. He points out that Scripture presents marriage as a ministry of redemption (Ephesians 5:32), mirroring God’s love for us. Torch emphasizes the covenants of the Old Testament, culminating in the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ.
I would have liked Torch to have mentioned the ancient definition of a covenant, being an exchange of persons, so that the other is received permanently into one’s family. Torch refers to the contractual understanding of an agreement, which does not capture the depth of a covenant, and lends itself more to the acceptance of divorce. Happily, Torch points out that the New Covenant demonstrates God’s unconditional love for us, and that divorce is not an option.
Torch then goes through three myths about dating, regarding soulmates, God’s will, and holding the other to a mental checklist of Biblical perfection. He emphasizes the need to look at the other through the eyes of grace, lest we crush them under the weight of our expectations.
He then address the question of compatibility in faith, the importance of true friendship with the other, the purpose of dating, and each person’s vision of the future and “what [their] relationship can offer the world”. He makes it easy to grasp each issue by outlining various hypothetical situations and posing relevant questions to ponder over.
Finally, Torch stresses the need for a supportive community to help your relationship develop into a fruitful, life-bearing witness to Christ.
As someone who has struggled through incompatible, unhealthy and Puritanical relationships, and has recently embarked on a delightful new one with a fresh convert who is doing his best to live a holy life and demonstrate his love in virtuous ways, Torch’s book really resonates with me. I recommend it for anyone who feels overwhelmed by conflicting advice about dating and relationships, and would like a simple, reassuring and frank analysis of how to date in a loving manner.
One of the most insidious and harmful ideas that mothers labor under is the idea that we can raise flawless children. Rationally we know this isn’t true, but emotionally we throw ourselves into this impossible task. It is honorable and understandable to try to always do best by and for your children. But this can become an idol unto itself, an untenable goal, the impossibility of which serves to demoralize us as we pursue our vocation.
In some ways our mothers had it easier. No blogs, no parenting websites, no constant stream of opinion and advice, citing research and various studies. Everyone has an opinion and no qualms about sharing with maximum certitude the absolute correctness of their ideas. With constant, often contradictory messages, frustration and angst build. Did I birth correctly? Should I have breastfed longer? Co-slept? Worn my baby more? Tandem nurse? Did I fail my children; did I harm them by not doing this? By doing that?
Worry and stress are not tools of the Lord. Self-doubt and angst are not part of His call for us. Nothing changes the reality that we are flawed human beings raising flawed human beings. All of our efforts, all of our study, all of our desire to find the perfect method, the path that gives us children with no heartbreak, none of these can eliminate baggage and hurt from our children’s lives.
I used to be much more certain about how I was raising my children. I never thought I had all the answers, but I certainly knew which ways were better. I unabashedly announced my opinion on a certain parenting style, only to discover that a mother I respected actually practiced this particular parenting method. Despite my strongly-held opinions, her children were happy and delightful and loved her fiercely. Maybe, just maybe, this mother knew better how to raise the children God gave her than I did. Maybe what I felt so strongly about simply wasn’t right for my children. Didn’t fit with my personality.
We can try to do everything right. We can try to be the most educated, the most empowered parents out there. We can everything we can to avoid the mistakes our parents made, but it won’t change the fact that we are making our own. The failure in parenting doesn’t come from mistakes made, but the refusal to learn from them. If we learn, improve and grow from our struggles in parenting, then we are doing right by our children. There is no perfect parent, but there is the parent who is perfecting. And this side of Heaven, that’s as good as we can do.
And just as we cannot avoid mistakes along the way, neither can our children. As they grow and mature into the people God has called them to be, they will have struggles. They won’t always make the right choices, despite our best efforts to teach and guide them. We can give them all the “right” tools, all the answers we know, but they won’t always listen. This isn’t necessarily an indication of a failure in parenting. How do I know? Look at the Original Parent. Look at Our Father.
God actually gave His children the world. He gave them everything they could ever want. And He still had to send them to the world’s worst time out. They still ignored Him, still disobeyed, still brought pain and suffering upon themselves. God is both firm and just. He dispenses justice and consequences for sins. But He merciful and quick to forgive. He wants nothing more than His children to be happy, but truly happy not momentarily indulged. So He does deny, when it is appropriate, He does say no, but He always acts in complete love. What better role model can there be? God certainly doesn’t have a universal; one size fits all, approach to care for His children. Rather, He meets them where they are, challenges them individually and wills the best for them always.
Motherhood is one long learning curve. From the different personalities that burst into your life to the different stages that each child grows through, children keep you on your toes. Yesterday’s game plan doesn’t always meet today’s needs. And yet there is one immutable reality, love. Passionate, motivating love. The one consistent factor in our lives is love, whether it is God’s love for us or our love for our children.
That’s what our vocation is. That’s what the calling of motherhood is. To be a mirror of God’s love. To show our children how much He loves us, for them to begin to experience and recognize that love in their daily lives. It’s not about forming them into the people we think they should be. It’s about forming them into the persons God created them to be. It’s not about raising people who won’t make mistakes, who won’t make choices that we don’t understand. It’s about making sure that through the fog of error they know they are never alone. Never without that love. And that love will always be calling them home.
No man is born into the world whose work is not born with him. – James Russell Lowell, poet
Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life. – J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address
Work is often seen as a miserable burden. It can be stressful, soul-destroying and, at worst, suicide-inducing. When I was admitted to court as a solicitor, the presiding judge spent half her welcome speech advising us not to become so consumed by work as to neglect simple things like walking the dog, breaks from work which can preserve mental health. However, the sad thing is that in the modern workplace, humans are often treated as machines and pressured to keep producing more and more. The thing is, machines too need breaks before they break down. Even God took a rest after His splendid work of creation! In Israel, the ultra-orthodox Jews are careful not to do even a smidgen of work on the Sabbath Day, for fear of placing themselves above God. They hire Gentiles to work the elevator buttons.
Work is in fact a gift from God, a loving invitation to participate in His ongoing work of creation and salvation. The word “salvation” comes from the Latin salus, meaning “health”. When work is performed well, it contributes to the health of the individual and of society. It gives us purpose and joy when we are able to create useful and beautiful things, establish order in the world around us, serve others, and provide for those who depend on us. As a child gains confidence and matures when entrusted with responsibility for housework, so do we mature as persons when granted opportunities for productive work, growing in likeness to God our Father and building His kingdom.
Yet, in today’s post-industrial society, work is rife with pitfalls. Some jobs are stressful because they now demand so much multi-tasking as to obscure the original point of the job – one thinks of teaching, where in some places teachers are now expected to perform as social workers and substitute parents, while taking on more administrative tasks as well. Others are disheartening because they involve a single repetitive, mundane task, as in factory work. A friend of mine who works in a carrot factory during summer breaks shared how he yearns for meaningful work which employs his intellectual gifts, not deadening tasks which make him feel like a mere cog in a machine.
Some people shy away from work, while others idolize work and its proceeds, seeing work or the acquisition of money as their sole purpose in life. As Australia has a welfare system, some people subsist on the dole, turning down jobs – this is borne out by a factory-owner I know, who often has people asking him for work, only to make excuses and disappear after a day or two, having fulfilled their quota of job applications. My boyfriend just started work picking strawberries at a farm, which wants to employ Australians, but is manned mainly by Asian workers because the Australians tend to vanish after a few weeks. At the other extreme, my carrot-picking friend related how a Taiwanese worker griped about having Sundays off, because he wanted to make more money to spend on gambling. Both extremes demonstrate a lack of virtue, succumbing to either sloth or greed. Virtue is found in a healthy appreciation of honest work, while not mistaking it as one’s entire reason for existence.
Work is an essential part of human life, building character, bringing us into connection with others, and keeping our societies functioning. At a disability support training workshop which I attended yesterday, the presenter noted that we usually identify people with their occupations, because their work shapes who they are. As a mother of a disabled son, she knew how important work is for the human being, and helped her non-verbal son start a fruit and veg distribution business. Now when he goes out for walks, his customers greet him, and he feels a sense of pride in his work, besides having gained a certain status in society.
When one has worked well and is then able to disengage from work, one is better able to appreciate periods of rest and leisure. I have found that while searching for full-time employment, it is difficult for me to simply relax and enjoy a good book, because of the worry that comes with having something important undone. However, whether one is employed or not, all circumstances are opportunities to trust in God, offering Him the uncertainty of this transient life, at peace in knowing that whatever state one is in, one finds true rest and purpose in Him Who is Love, the source and end of our being.
Our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live. – Frederick Buechner
We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. It is never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. But God, being Almighty, sees everything great. Therefore, even if you write a letter for a blind man or you just go sit and listen, or you take the mail for him, or you visit somebody or bring a flower to somebody—small things—or wash clothes for somebody, or clean the house. Very humble work, that is where you and I must be. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things. – Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Love: A Fruit Always in Season
Let those who think their work has no value recognise that by fulfilling their insignificant tasks out of love for God, those tasks assume supernatural worth. The aged who bear the taunts of the young, the sick crucified to their beds, the street cleaner and the garbage collector, the chorus girl who never had a line, the unemployed carpenter – all these will be enthroned above dictators, presidents, kings, and Cardinals if a greater love of God inspires their humbler tasks than inspires those who play nobler roles with less love. – Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen
I wonder what you are doing at this moment. Are you studying for finals? Maybe you’re chatting with friends, or are laughingly lost in a field of dandelions. Are you sitting in Adoration? Or are you thinking of me? I have thought of you often over the years, and not a day goes by that I don’t pray for you. Sometimes this makes you feel so close, even though I don’t know you yet.
I wonder what you’re like. Are you a sugar-and-cream person, or do you like your coffee tall, dark, and black like I do? Or would you prefer tea? Do you enjoy long car rides with the windows down and the wind in your face? Are you sci-fi or action, a comedy or a musical? Do you make cloud-pictures, and have you ever caught fireflies in a mason jar? Do you like to dance in the rain or watch a lightening storm? What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Are you sweet or savory? I can hardly wait to discover all the little things that are part of who you are.
Dear sir, I hope you are the man who would help his children build a treehouse wear a baby-pack to keep track of the toddler on daytrips. I hope that you will find a bouquet of sunflowers as beautiful and romantic as I do… or almost as much. I’d find it wonderful if you enjoy all sorts of literature and the writings of St. Augustine, but have a special spot in your heart for Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. I hope that you will understand that sometimes I need to step away from everyone and relish the silence. I hope that our children will have many memories of your voice singing loudly around a campfire or softly as they drift to sleep. Please remember to remember that the value of a dollar isn’t as much as a single Hail Mary or the laugh of a child.
I pray that someday I will see in your eyes the same love that I’ve always seen shining from my parents’ from across the room. But most of all, I pray that you are a man of God who puts Him as his first criteria in choosing a career or buying a house. In our life together, let’s always put the spiritual well-being of the souls entrusted to our care as our highest priority in making decisions.
I know that all of this is years in the future, but I can’t help thinking about it and I can’t stop praying for you. Dearest, I pray that you are not waiting for me. I pray that you are not watching the clock tick away and the calendar roll past the years. Please, don’t wait for me. Rather, actively prepare for me. Use the time you have now to make yourself the man God created you to be. Learn, grow, and deepen your relationship with Christ. Don’t wait. Prepare in joyful expectation for the advent of our love. Prepare for the family we will have together.
Dear one, I have a song in my heart. Now and then I catch an echo of it, but it has never been played loudly enough for me to hear. Or maybe I haven’t been quiet enough to hear it. Dearest, one day- maybe when we meet in the Confession line, or in some small café, or when you ask me to dance the next slow song- maybe our song will be played. The melody of the deepest echoes of our hearts will begin our score. And we will know it is right. We will know it is time. Until then, please- don’t wait. Begin your life. Prepare for me; for us; for God. Run to him as fast as you can. I will run, too. And there we will meet.
I cannot yet say that I love you, as I do not yet know you. But I will be here praying for you and preparing to see your face for the first time. Because the time will be right.
It has been a crazy past few months here. I have been facing the usual high school senior dilemmas regarding the “afterlife”, so to speak, of high school — whether to go to college or not, whether I should go immediately or postpone it, what I would do in the meantime, and to which colleges I should apply to and visit. All of this on top of my normal activities: finishing up my schoolwork so I DO have a joyful afterlife, working, taking guitar lessons, and the million-other household tasks which are forever regenerating themselves. Ugh. Never before have I been so stressed out about the calendar and fast-approaching deadlines!
A few weeks ago my dad and I drove to a college here in the Southeast. It was an eight-hour drive, but a comparatively uneventful one. We were attending Scholarship Day at the college. I was excited to be interviewed for a prestigious scholarship, tour campus, attend seminars, and meet students. My dad and I were very impressed with the college. As we were leaving campus I knew that it was the school I hope to attend.
Over the next couple weeks, I feverishly worked on applications for some outside scholarships. I wrote essays, tracked down signatures, and received letters of recommendation. Yesterday I was informed that I hadn’t received my much sought-for scholarship from the college, although I was eligible for some minor scholarships.
At the end of all this, I just want to laugh the laugh of a treasure-seeker who has searched the world for years for a priceless treasure, beautiful beyond imagination. When he finally finds the treasure, in his exultation he slips on the damp floor of the cave. The treasure slips out of his hands and into the mouth of the volcano. There are only two possible reactions: to weep or to laugh. He begins to laugh.
Perhaps my problem is I am too anxious to discover God’s plan for my life. I stress out too much about what it could be, and the fastest way of obtaining it. Hence, I will run in all directions hoping that I will find a billboard screaming “THIS IS IT”. But of course that is not how God works. I need to remember how God spoke to Elias: not in the wind; not in the earthquake; not in the fire; rather, in the whistling of a gentle air.
Let’s Hear It For The Church!
While I was thinking about all this, it dawned on me. I already know what God’s plan for me in this life is. As a matter of fact, it is what the Church has been telling me my entire life!!
Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.
—Baltimore Catechism (Lesson 1, Question 6)
That is exactly what I have been looking for, right in front of me the entire time! As long as I truly know God, love Him, and wish to serve Him, everything else will fall into place!! I don’t need to worry about the college I go to, or whether I am to be married or enter a convent. God will tell me in a whisper when I can no longer serve Him in my current situation. He will lead me on the path to Him. All I need to do is to follow. If I know Him, love Him, and serve Him in every “now”, I will forever be living His plan for my life.
I am still looking at my options for this coming year. I don’t know where I’ll be six months from now. It might very well be that I’ll be working overtime at some job trying to save up for college. But right now I am surprisingly unstressed about it; I know that God has a perfect plan for me, and for right now He wants me to swing along behind Him until He can trust me with knowledge. Until then, if anyone wants to hand me $68,000, that would be all right, too. You’ll know where to find me: just follow the trail of empty coffee mugs, chocolate crumbs, Rosary beads, and Divine Intervention.
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