"Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." (Mt. 13:8-9)
Last week, my family and I attended a church where we are relatively new. As we sat in the pew, waiting for Mass to begin, an older couple who were in their seventies, sat down behind us. They were clearly annoyed because unknown to us, we had "taken their pew." Expressing her displeasure in an extremely loud voice so that we could hear, the woman lamented that she couldn't understand why we were sitting there when everyone knew that that was where she and her husband always sat. As the minutes ticked by, and we were still waiting for Mass to begin, my daughter turned around to see if the priest and the altar servers were getting ready to process into the sanctuary. When she turned around, she looked at the elderly woman, and their eyes locked. While my daughter was looking at her, and while the woman was looking at my daughter, she said to her husband, "She just can't sit still, can she?" The statement was made directly to my daughter, even though it was addressed to the husband, for when she made the statement, she did so looking directly into my daughter's eyes.
I was not aware that this had taken place, for if I had been aware of it, I surely would have confronted the woman right then and there. I did notice, however, that my daughter shrunk in the pew and had to fight back tears all throughout the Mass, but I didn't know why. During the Mass, the priest happened to preach on the subject of love. With his sermon on love still echoing in our hearts, eventually it was time to give to each other the Sign of Christ's peace. When my husband turned to the woman in order to shake her hand, she simply looked at him and would not offer her hand. We had transgressed by taking her pew, and for this, there would be no offer of Christ's peace. Upon leaving the church, my daughter announced that she did not want to go to that church anymore because "the people there are mean."
I took this incident to the Lord and sat before Him for 3 hours each night until His Word came to my heart. Once this took place, I turned on my computer and rolled up my sleeves, for now, it was time to write.
On July 1, 1962, Pope John XXIII wrote an encyclical entitled Paenitentiam Agere, which addressed the need for the daily practice of prayer and penance on the part of Catholics. In this encyclical, he expressed his desire for Catholics all over the world to give themselves to prayer, penance, and fasting so that God's will, and not the will of men, would be carried out at the soon to come Second Vatican Council. As the day for the opening of the Second Vatican Council drew near, he wanted the hearts of every Catholic to be prepared and ready to receive the seed of God's Word and will that would be cast forth from the Council. The pope pleaded with the bishops to explore every avenue that was open to them and to have no hesitation whatsoever in mustering all of their authority and available resources in an effort to persuade Catholics in their dioceses to purify their souls by daily penance and prayer so that the Spirit of Christ would enkindle them with the fervor of devotion to God. He was utterly convinced that if the people did not give themselves over to daily prayer, penance, and other voluntary forms of self-denial, then the "good seed" which would be scattered at the upcoming Ecumenical Council would simply go to waste, for it would land on the poor and unprepared soil of men's hearts and go absolutely nowhere.
As I meditated on the spiritual richness of this particular encyclical, and as I sat before the Lord for many hours each night, the Spirit of God opened up my eyes to the truth behind the carnality, hardness, and overall lack of love that is plaguing too many of our Catholic churches today. He showed me exactly why a man and woman could listen attentively to a sermon on love and then do what they did to my family in the very next moment.
Every week, the seed of God's Word is cast forth through the readings at Mass, as well as the homilies that are preached. But if people are not cultivating and giving themselves over to an intimate prayer life with the Lord Jesus Christ, if they are not nurturing their souls within them through spiritual reading, if they are not giving themselves over to daily repentance from thoughts and acts that are displeasing to God, and if they are not subjecting themselves to voluntary acts of self-denial so that their flesh will be suppressed and God's Spirit will retain the upper hand in their lives, the seed of God's Word will go absolutely nowhere.
Too many Catholics have allowed themselves to become so immersed in the affairs of this world that they have completely neglected every duty toward God save that of going to Mass, and millions don't even give Him this. They live for the world and pursue its deceitfulness all week long and then come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in order to give God His Sunday morning "due." They sow to their flesh, and not to their spirit all week long, and then we wonder why the fruit of carnality, instead of the Spirit, is so prevalent in Christ's Church.
It is not possible for a man to seek God on a daily basis through prayer and the reading of His Word and to remain unchanged. It is not possible for a woman to be filled with God's Spirit day in and day out and then come to church with a hardened, sour look on her face. It is not possible for a person to give himself or herself over to an intimate prayer life with the Son of the Living God and not be yielded to His Spirit in every area of their lives. If these things are not taking place, it is because that individual is not giving himself or herself over to God and spiritual things in the way that He demands.
Too many Catholics have lost sight of Jesus' sobering warning in St. Luke's Gospel, in which he declared that: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father, his mother, his wife, his children – yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Lk 14:26).
When Jesus spoke these words, He was not teaching that God wants us to literally hate our loved ones and our own lives, for He commands us to love, not to hate. What He was saying was this: "If you put anything or anyone before Me and your relationship with Me, whether it be your mother, father, spouse, or children, you cannot be My disciple. If you love your own life more than you love Me, you cannot be My disciple. You are not worthy of Me."
Brothers and sisters, are we listening to what the Spirit of God is saying to us through these sobering words? If a man who puts his mother, father, spouse, or children before His relationship with Christ will never be considered a disciple of Christ, how much more does this truth apply to those who put television, computer games, golf, entertainment, recreation, and the other things of this world before Him? How can a man who prefers his mystery novel or his television show to time with Christ consider himself a true disciple of His? How can he say that he loves Christ more than his own life if he refuses to crucify that life minute by minute in order to live by the power of God's Spirit?
Many have been deceived into believing that because they call themselves Catholics and sit in church pews week in and week out, they are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. But Jesus made it very clear that if we put anything or anyone before our relationship and service to Him, in His eyes, we are not His disciples.
When God created us, He created us because He desired to have a relationship with us – and not just any relationship, but an intimate one. God wants to be first in our lives – so much so that when we give ourselves over to anything or anyone other than Him, His jealousy is aroused and provoked. If we are truly giving ourselves over to this intimate relationship, the fruit of transformation will be present in our lives. We will radiate Jesus and extend His love to others as well. Jesus said, "By love, all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." Going to Mass does not prove one's discipleship in Christ, for Satan himself sits in our pews week in and week out. It is love, first for God and for one another, that will prove His ownership of our lives.
Those who do not love Jesus as He demands will not be able to give out that same love to those whom He sends into their lives. It's as simple as that. You show me a person who never goes out of his way to help another, never smiles at anyone in church or shows them the love of Christ, never reaches out to newcomers in the sweet name of Our Lord, gossips and makes unkind remarks about others, gets territorial over church pews, and refuses to shake hands with others because they are annoyed, and I will show you someone who sows to the world all week long and not to the Spirit of God. And if that individual gives himself over to the world all week long, and not to Christ, how can he think that he is saved? Church attendance means nothing to God if He doesn't have our heart, mind, and soul, all week long.
I arise at 5:00 A.M. every morning in order to seek the Lord. I spend 4 hours every morning studying the Bible and other spiritual writings. At night, I spend another 3 hours before Him in prayer, and I'm nothing but a lowly housewife. If I can give myself to my Lord in this fashion, then so can others. If everything you love and live for is seated with God at His right hand, then, you, too, will be willing to give everything up in order to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. The things of the world will no longer have any hold on your life, for all you will desire is Him. I haven't had cable television in my home for five years now. I might watch a movie two or three times a year, and if I do, it must be a movie about God. If I read a book, it must contain material that will spur me on in my faith. The same goes for music. If it doesn't profit me spiritually, I cut it out of my life, as I do not have the time to waste. I cannot give myself over to things that can be used by Satan to ensnare me and keep me attached to this world, for Christ has called us to become detached to it in every way.
If everyone who professes to be Catholic practiced a similar devotion to God, then what happened to me and my family last week in church would not have occurred, we would not be hurting for priests and religious, churches would not be shutting down, our Catholic schools would be brimming over with young boys and girls, the fruit of the Spirit would be manifested in our midst, priests would love their people, people would love their priests and not make their work a burden, sin would be abhorred, and a world that is plunged in darkness would be catapulted by the power of Heaven into the light and truth of Christ.
Let us listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to us, brothers and sisters, and by His grace may we never lose sight of the truth…
… that we are what we seek.
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