Wednesday, February 11, 2009
"I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can only love one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Jesus said, 'Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.' So you begin...I begin. I picked up one person - maybe if I didn't pick up that one person I wouldn't have picked up the others. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if we don't put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less. Same thing for you. Same thing in the church where you go. Just begin... one, one, one."
I have used portions of this quote twice in formal ways to thank people for their presence in my life. The first time I spoke to a group of over 300 Catholic campus ministers at their national convention and told them that I was there to represent just one of the college students whose lives they touched. Then, I wrote an article thanking our homeschooling group for taking the time to make my family feel so welcome, trying to demonstrate that our family is just one of the many families embraced by the community.
This weekend, however, the Lord brought this quote to my mind when I was struggling. I have been dwelling on how my prayers and sacrifices on behalf of others could be worth anything. I thought about how weak and unimportant I am and how much conversion the world needs. In my journal I wrote, "My efforts are nothing."
The Lord then reminded me of the single drop in the ocean and how important that drop is, that He holds that drop in existence for a singular purpose. For the first time, I was the person adding a drop to the ocean. I felt like satan was trying to make me feel like my efforts are useless, so that I would stop trying. He wanted to discourage me from continuing my feeble efforts to pray and sacrifice for sinners and for priests. The focus on my failings was taking me away from the tiny acts of faith I was able to muster but which had infinite value.
In fact, as I prayed, I could see how the ocean could be, in fact, the ocean of Christ's blood shed for the redemption of all and that indeed my drop of "blood" was powerless without being united to that of Christ. Truly, the Lord does not need my offerings to save souls, but if I unite my meager sacrifices to His Ultimate Sacrifice on the Cross, then He will be able to heal more people because He is God.
If you think that the prayers and sacrifices you offer as a mother in the hidden monastery of your home are not worth enough to save the world, think again. Each one is a single drop added to the vast ocean of God's mercy. Each diaper changed, each hour of fasting, each biting of the tongue - these do have worth when offered to the Lord.
Thank you, Jesus, for reminding me of how much you love me and value me. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
Note: These Sunday & Holy Day Gospel Reflections are written so that mothers may prepare for Holy Mass in advance either as a small group or individually (especially since we are so often necessarily distracted during Mass itself).
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
"If you wish, you can make me clean."
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
"I do will it. Be made clean."
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them."
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
The point that strikes me most about this Gospel is how the leper is healed and then disobeys our Lord, which then prevents Jesus from coming into the towns and possibly from curing some who need Him. The healing is wonderful, and the man is praising God for being healed. So, this seems like a "good thing," when it is in fact not what Jesus asked of him. (To all Martha fans, I do not mean a "good thing" in the sense that Ms. Stewart does; please keep reading!) He was told, "See that you tell no one anything."
When I was in college, at our campus ministry, a military chaplain once visited to speak to young men about joining the Military Archdiocese as priests. I will never forget him because of one sermon he preached that was vivid and a real explanation of how satan's deception can work.
He said that often the devil puts two "good things" in our path, so we feel that either choice is acceptable when in truth, one of those things is better than the other. Father urged us to keep this in mind when making decisions. Are we choosing a "good thing" or "the best thing?" Often, especially when pushed for a quick decision, we say yes to "good things" that contribute in a lesser way to our holiness than what God intended for us.
To me, this is the subtle lesson demonstrated in this Sunday's Gospel. (Yes, there is also an excellent lesson on obedience, but I will have to save that for a later post.) The healed leper is doing a "good thing" by singing the praises of the Lord, but it would have been "the best thing" for him to obey Jesus's instructions. Then, perhaps, Jesus would have been free to walk into the towns and heal people in their homes rather than have them turn into mobs that followed him to deserted locations to be healed.
In our lives, we are often presented with two options or ideas. They both are "good things," not morally objectionable, not sinful. We must not prevent God's work from being most perfectly fulfilled by our interference in it. Any decision that comes to us should be discerned with this in mind.
An example for mothers of young children is ministry outside the home. When I was a new mother, I tried not to be involved in any volunteer ministry where I could not bring my daughter. Taking her to a sitter's or even leaving her with my husband seemed, to me, to be contrary to my God-given vocation as a mother. Even now, if I am spending too much time planning for Little Flowers while my children are awake, I recognize that it can take away from the time we should be spending together.
Now, I am not saying the above examples include any rules set in stone for mothers to follow. Every family is different. Every woman has different gifts. We are all called to some form of ministry in our lives. If God has given you a very specific gift of outreach, you have an obligation to use it in some way. We must, however, give every opportunity the test --- are we choosing what is "the best thing?"
Here is an example of how I have tried to be creative in using my gifts lately. I have enjoyed for many years leading small groups of women in prayer and study of various books. I always tried to do this either when our children could be with us or when they were asleep. When I moved here, I realized that there were already groups of women from whom I could actually learn, and I go twice a month to two different evening meetings when the children are in bed (one is spiritual, one is a homeschooling idea share).
Nevertheless, I feel this blog, in a way, fulfills my desire and talent for outreach to other mothers. I write this, in part, for those of you who came to our prayer and study groups and benefited. I hope that by sharing my personal journey in this way, you might be fed just as I am now being fed by the women here who are leading me. Usually, this does not take time away from my vocation as a wife and mother (Currently, for example, the children are watching a video.), but I do have to be careful not to blog when my attention should be on them.
So, I share this lesson on decision-making I learned almost ten years ago to encourage you to evaluate the state of affairs in your life! Are we choosing what is "the best thing" more often, or do we jump to quick decisions in saying yes to those "good things" that may actually stand in God's way of leading us to greater holiness? Now if I just had a pause button for life, so I could always take the time to make these decisions with a clear head...think how holy I could be! :)