Give Thanks and Restore All Things to God
“That night John told them he was going to his death at Herod’s hands. The men were startled and amazed at his courage, humility, faith, and fearless obedience. John said quietly, 'When principles of God are attacked we fear neither friend nor foe, and for God we die, that we may live again. Before coming here I had heard that several thousand of God’s former friends were following Herod’s views on divorce and adultery. It seems that he has set himself up as a maker of Divine laws, as well as a destroyer of them. The world will have many like him, and for this reason countless martyrs will gain glorious crowns in Heaven. It is only natural for good men to turn with loathing and repugnance from such persons, but when these good people realize how God loves everyone and that He will die for each one personally, they find themselves willing to become martyrs because of His way of redemption. Be saviors of men through Christ, not necessarily for men alone, but to restore all things to God.'" - Cora Evans
When principles of God are attacked we fear neither friend nor foe.
“I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34: 4)
I’ve spent most of my life fearing something: various phobias, the dark, the unknown, heights. Most of us internalize our fear, and I am no different. Unexpressed fear becomes anxiety, while expressed fear snowballs into frustration or even anger. The enemy preys upon our fears to weaken our faith, to distract us from the radical trust in God that is necessary to follow Him wherever He leads…even to martyrdom.
The martyred saints of long ago and in our modern age share one thing in common: they were not afraid of death related to their strong love for God. Can we really say the same? Truthfully, for those of us who live in western civilization, we are far too comfortable to really understand the horrific persecutions lurking for many Christians today. For those who have little to no material possessions, they do not have the distractions of peripheral things to lure them away from Jesus. In fact, they know that God is always by their side: in the fire, when the sword strikes or gun blasts, in the dungeons and cells.
Let us be so bold as to chase the shadows of these courageous men and women, to seek God wholeheartedly and know that He will deliver us from every fear, whether perceived or real.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:19 -21)
Last year I was newly pregnant with our third daughter, Veronica. Somewhere on the cusp of my second trimester, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and caught sight of a video someone took of Christians fleeing Syria. The one shot that captured both my eye and my heart was of a Syrian infant, covered in filth with only a very dirty diaper on. He was barely breathing. And in that moment, I sobbed uncontrollably. I wanted nothing more than to reach into that image so far from me and protect that baby, nurture him, clean him up and feed him. I wonder to this day if he made it or not, and the thought haunts me.
My treasure, my heart, is not always focused on the Lord. I get caught up in the mundane daily tasks of changing my own infant’s diapers, scrubbing toilets, mediating fights between the older girls, paying bills, and shuffling kids to doctor’s appointments. But I pass the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in my living room frequently. And when I do, I pray for that Syrian baby and all the other persecuted Christians in the Middle East. I know that one day I may be among them, and I want my heart to be steadfast, secure, vigilant.
We must pray for the persecuted and ask those who have already been martyred to pray for us, too, that we may face whatever battles lay ahead for us, whatever formidable enemies or tasks or persecutions we may face in our lifetime.
For God we die, that we may live again.
“Fear not, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43:5)
Most of us avoid thinking about our own death. Of course, it is somewhat macabre to ruminate over death on the other hand. But we should, at the very least, ponder our mortality from time to time. I think of this quite often, because I am a writer on the topic of grief. It is always lingering somewhere in my psyche: the losses and loves, the letting go, the abdication of control and acquisition of dependency on God. These, and the very thoughts of my ultimate destination (Heaven or Purgatory, I hope), are never far from my consciousness.
Should we think about how or when we will die? Certainly not. But we can, and should, determine here and now that irrespective of the death we will endure, we must die for God. We must belong to God. And how do we do this? It is not by chance, but choice. I must dissolve into His mercy with every miserable moment or joyful celebration that comprises my existence on earth.
“…there is a hostility towards [Jesus] today that there has never been before, except in the earliest days, when they crucified him and killed his martyrs…it is a generalized hostility…In this state of affairs, which would be the norm without God’s intervention, the initiative of Christ present continually makes his people live and renews it.” ~ Monsignor Luigi Giussani
Atheists tend to use recycled arguments against the existence of God, such as, why would a benevolent God allow suffering and evil to exist. But I think one of the most compelling cases for Christ and His Church is not so much the question of suffering as it is the fact that over two thousand millennia has passed, and Christians are still dying for their faith today. They will not apostasize, because they believe with certainty that Jesus is the Messiah.
Do I believe this enough to die for Jesus? Am I ready to face the “generalized hostility” from the world toward Christians like myself? We aren’t so far from the early Church after all, not in terms of persecution and certainly not in terms of the need for evangelization. I am called to evangelize, yes, but perhaps that will require more of me than what I’d like to imagine. Perhaps I am too comfortable with my expression of faith.
But God will ask me, “Do you love me more than these?” And I must give an accurate account of my belief in – even more, my love for – Him. Do I solidly live my faith in all facets of life, and am I ready to make a case for my belief when asked? These are questions we should be asking ourselves daily, especially as we face the albatross to our love for Jesus. The nemesis isn’t always blatant evil. Sometimes it is ignorance, but the hostility – however it is expressed – is an undercurrent that must not falter my faith.
Ask the questions. Be prepared to answer.
Be saviors of men through Christ, not necessarily for men alone.
“Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
It’s intriguing how our genuine efforts toward virtue never seem to make much of an impact. We overanalyze our mistakes and focus heavily on our flaws, perhaps even those only known to us and God, and we don’t really see clearly that the good we are striving for is fruitful. Of course, this is another ploy from the enemy. He wants us to turn away from doing good for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. He wants us to tire of it and be convinced that everything we’ve attempted is futile and empty.
Do not believe the enemy’s lies. Remember St. Paul’s words to the Galatians when you approach exhaustion or overwhelm, perhaps in your primary vocation or even in the volunteer work you do in a particular ministry. Sometimes you will feel drained in your relationships. But persist. St. Paul is telling us, too, that we should persevere through these trials, because the harvest will be abundant – even if it isn’t in our lifetime.
Make a habit of reading Scripture daily, and you will feast on the encouragement you unveil in the pages of your Bible.
“You do what you can, and God will do what you can’t. In any job, trust him.” ~Fr. Brennan Joseph, O.F.M. Conv.
I get discouraged easily. I’m acutely aware of the vices that I can’t seem to uproot, particularly anger and impatience. Life, to me, often feels like a job rather than a vocation. And it is honestly thankless in nearly every way. Perhaps you feel similarly. Do you go to work and feel spiritually depleted before you even begin? It seems as if we are swimming against the tide these days, and that can leave us feeling like we are fighting the good battle alone.
But we aren’t. God doesn’t ask us to be successful in this life. He only requires our fidelity to Him. And that means do what you can every day. Don’t look too far ahead, or you will lose sight of the steps He is asking you to take now. And He will be a light unto your path, revealing – one by one – those next steps. Do what you can, and God will do what seems impossible. He already is.
Restore all things to God.
“The harvest is abundant but laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)
Restoration implies renewal. It’s bringing something back to the order from which it came. And that doesn’t involve creating something out of nothing; rather, it means we revitalize what already exists – in us, in our families, in the Church, in the world.
God isn’t looking for followers who are going to start something new. He just wants us to take the messes of the world today and gingerly shape them in the fold of His Church. This is no small feat, of course. To bring souls to the Faith takes patience and an incredible amount of time.
I have a close friend who has been a Mennonite all her life. In fact, she can’t count how many generations of Mennonites are in her ancestry, because her lineage goes back hundreds of years in their church. We forged a friendship almost ten years ago, and it has slowly blossomed into one based on deep spiritual and religious conversations. These are not moments of proselytizing. They are genuine encounters with real questions.
We discover the answers together. I share with her my brokenness, and she has been drawn to Catholicism gradually because of it. I tell her what I know – when she asks – and she is attentively receptive, often absorbing the answers over the course of several weeks. And then another conversation ensues.
This is what God asks of us to bring souls to Him. We must first accompany the people He places in our lives, to reach them where they are, as they are. Once we do this and build bridges of trust, then friendship naturally evolves. Through your witness to a friend, you just might be instrumental – directly or indirectly – to their conversion.
“In all these changing circumstances the more uncertain we are of our salvation and the more we cooperate with him in great fear and trembling, so much the more certainly does he bring it about.” ~Blessed Guerric of Igny
If it seems to you that, as your interior life deepens, you become more uncertain of yourself, then you are in a sacred place. God leads us into the abyss of ourselves, and as confidence in ourselves wanes, so too does confidence in Him grow. We learn to surrender what no longer seems necessary, that is to say, clinging to our egos. And then we release certainty into His hands. He catches it and transforms it into holiness.
Strive for holiness every day, despite your self-doubt. The more you doubt yourself, cleave to God all the more, and He will bring about great things in you.