A Commitment to Courage and Love in the New Year

I would like you to join me in a different kind of commitment for next year.  This is the kind of commitment that will cost us something for sure, but the reward is great.  In the coming year let’s make every effort to acknowledge Christ before others and defend (as well as follow!) in a loving way the teachings of His Church.  Let us no longer be silent and passive.  The instinctive response to this challenge may be “it’s not that easy.”  Actually, it is that easy if we choose to think and act differently and place His will before our own.

Somewhere along our faith journeys, we all may struggle to place God first in our lives.  We allow fear, lukewarmness, greed, pride and a host of other negative influences to affect how we think and act regarding our Faith and our relationship with Jesus.  The opinions of others often mean more to us than our relationship with Him.  It is ironic that for the sake of political correctness and a desire to not offend anyone with overtly Christian acts or statements, we wind up offending our Lord Jesus Christ!   We have been given crystal clear direction from Jesus and also the consequences if we fail to follow His instructions.  Read carefully the words of our Lord in Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

In America today, we are faced with a battle that doesn’t involve tanks or airplanes.  It is more insidious and subtle.  It involves the twisting of words and intended meaning coupled with hidden agendas (the pro-choice movement, Freedom of Choice Act/FOCA and substituting Happy Holidays for Merry Christmas are a few examples that come to mind).  This battle is about political correctness, culture clashes and moral courage.  Families are under attack, our children are at risk, the rights of the unborn are ignored and atheists are one of the fastest growing groups in the country.  We are often so concerned about offending people with our Christian views that we some times lose sight of the need to stand up for what is right, share our Christ inspired joy and run the necessary risk of being criticized if we take unpopular stands.

The recent presidential election is a good example.  When speaking to others outside of your immediate circle of like-minded friends or fellow parishioners, did you feel marginalized or uncomfortable for defending Pro-Life views, traditional marriage or in letting others know your faith was influencing your voting decision?  Sadly, many of us (myself included) did often feel uncomfortable in these situations and remained quiet when we should have been vocal and unambiguous about our Christ inspired views.  What was the problem?  Perhaps we didn’t want to offend or appear judgmental.  Maybe we were afraid of being criticized or ostracized.  In these critical moments, I suggest to you that we may have lacked the courage to take a stand and valued the opinions of others over finding favor with Christ.  Our silence in the face of anti-Christian views may often be perceived as agreement.  Think about that.

Test Yourself

If you are one of the few who always acknowledge Christ in public and defend the teachings of the Church, I salute you and thank you for your example.  For the rest of us who need to make significant, heart-felt changes immediately, I have a simple test for you.  Please answer these questions honestly and candidly:

◊  Do I make the Sign of the Cross and say a blessing over all my meals, regardless of my companions?
◊  Over the last few weeks, did I wish people Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays/Seasons Greetings?
◊  Can people clearly see Christ at work in me?
◊  Do I look for Christ in others?
◊  Am I willing to be unpopular for taking stands in defense of Christ’s teachings?
◊  Do I share the beauty and truth of my Catholic faith with others?
◊  Am I a good steward of my time, talent and treasure?
◊  Do I help the less fortunate with love and compassion?
◊  Do I set a good example for others in how I practice my Catholic faith?
◊  Do I truly place God first in all things or is He merely contending for a piece of my time each day?

I don’t know how you answered these questions, but it was convicting for me to go through this list and remind myself of where I fall short every day.  The results of this test and the discernment that will inevitably follow are between you and Christ in prayer.

Resolution and Commitment for the New Year

   Yes, people can change!   With God’s help, personal commitment and courage we can alter the course of our life journey and make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others.  Here are the commitments I am focused on for the new year (and beyond) and I would prayerfully ask you to consider making a list for yourselves:

Start With Me

I humbly suggest to you that the best way to acknowledge Christ is to start with our own soul’s conversion.  We have to begin with our own surrender and faith journey before we can ever positively influence others.  Too often, we speak and act from our heads and not our hearts.  Sincere and daily surrender to Christ’s will is a necessary first step for others to see Him in us.  Consider the words of Pope Paul VI’s 1971 Letter, Octogesima adveniens:  “It is not enough to cite general principles, make resolutions, condemn grave injustices or make denunciations with a certain prophetic daring.  None of this will carry any weight unless accompanied in each person by a more lively realization of his own responsibility and by effective action.  It is too easy to make other people responsible for today’s injustices, if, at the same time, we don’t realize that we too are responsible and that a personal conversion is therefore the first necessity.”

Find My Voice

I can’t always let others carry on the good fight against the Culture of Death, gay marriage or helping the neglected/hungry/homeless in our community.  I want to start right now with a few words about the pro-choice movement.  I am for different choices like adoption, raising the child or maybe old fashioned celibacy before marriage-not killing over 40 million innocent children since Roe v. Wade became legal. 

I must hand it to the masters of doublespeak in the pc movement as they have completely diverted the debate away from murdering innocent children to “protecting a woman’s right to choose.” Choose is an interesting word because the choice often being made here is the death of a child. 

Tell me, who is standing up for the unborn if not those of us who say that all life is sacred?  There are two human beings that need support and love-the unborn child and the pregnant mother.  We have an obligation, not only to the defenseless unborn, but in showing compassion to the mother in helping her understand the various options other than abortion.  One more thing-you can’t have it both ways and say you are pro-choice and against abortion.  Let’s get off the fence and either defend the unborn or accept the moral consequences of defending the charade that is the pro-choice movement.

Act With More Love

My family, friends, colleagues and everyone else deserves my selfless, charitable love.  I like to think that I am always willing to help others, but I can do more.  Per my earlier questions in the “test” above, I have to let people see Christ’s love at work in me and I must learn to always see Christ in them.  Luke 13:34-35, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  By the way, I must also be willing to act in a loving way towards those whose views I oppose.  I must speak up, but in a respectful and compassionate way even if I am not being given the same courtesy.

Pray More/Listen More

I always know how much better I feel after I pray.  Praying the Rosary in the morning on the way to work, the Jesuit Daily Examen during the day, Eucharistic Adoration weekly, prayer time with my children-these are my prayer efforts, but they are not enough.  I want to listen more in the future and not ramble on about what I need.  I want to let Him speak to me and I need to be still and ready to listen.  As I learned a few years ago, prayer is every time you turn your thoughts to God and away from yourself and often the best form of prayer is simply offering sincere gratitude to Him for the blessings in your life.

What I am advocating is not easy, but it is necessary.  Christianity is under attack and we need to fight back with a loving attitude and a clear voice.  There will be challenging times ahead, but is it not worth it?  Don’t we want to hear our Lord say “well done, good and faithful servant?”  Consider Christ’s words in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

I have shared and committed to these four important, life-altering commitments for the New Year.  How about you?  What will your list look like? As added encouragement, I recently read this relevant passage from In Conversation With God by Francis Fernandez, “The best way of promoting justice and peace in the world is the commitment to live like true children of God.  If we Christians really decide to practice the demands of the Gospel in our personal lives, in our families, at work and in our social life, we will change society, making it more just and more human.”  I am also reminded of an old quote: “If being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict us?”  I sincerely pray that there will be enough evidence.

I would like to conclude with a passage St. Augustine wrote in his Commentaries on the Psalms, 39:1, “In former times, Christians were incited to renounce Christ; now they are taught to deny Christ.  Then they were forced, now they are taught; then violence was used, now it is deception; then one heard the shouts of the Enemy; now, when he prowls around, gentle and insinuating, it is difficult to recognize him.  Everyone knows how he tried to force Christians to deny Christ: he tried to attract them to himself so that they would renounce him; but they confessed Christ and were crowned by him.  Now they are taught to deny Christ by trickery, because he doesn’t want them to realize that he is drawing them away from Christ.”

Augustine is talking about our times and yet he wrote this over 1600 years ago.  By the way, I just thought of a 5th commitment. I will make a 100% on that test some day.

Thank you and God bless.