"And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."
- 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
I am a Franciscan Friar with the Province of the Immaculate Conception, currently ministering in New England.
I've been called all sorts of things: Lumen ad revelationem gentium in obscuritatis, Restorer of the Breach, Ha-Loruhamah Ruhami, Bone Collector, but one of my favorite nicknames is my trail-name Pilgrim Padre.
This summer was a pretty bad summer for tomatoes in this area. No matter how well we tried to take care of them, no matter how much we made sure they had all the sun and water and nutrients they needed, the tomatoes just died. They had a blight that killed them. There was nothing the best gardener among us could do to get a good crop, and we all complained about it.
Well, in the readings today we see another gardener complaining about the failure of his crop. His vineyard just doesn't produce good fruit. That gardener is God, the vineyard represents us His people, and the good fruit that God is looking for from us are faith-filled lives of holiness that puts love into action.
We know very well that God has already shown us an abundance of charity. He has created us, called us into an intimate relationship with Him, sent His Son Jesus to share our humanity and to redeem us from sin by suffering a cruel passion, and given us His Holy Spirit to help us and guide us in our call to grow in holiness. He has given us so much love and yet we fail again and again to love Him and our neighbor in return. Like with our tomatoes this summer, there must be some kind of blight that stops all the good things God has done for us from having any effect on our hearts and from helping us bear good fruit.
Saint Paul names some possible blights in today's second reading; such as anxiety or loosing one's focus. Anxiety causes us to be afraid, to not trust that we can receive what we need from God. It causes us to close our hearts, shutting off the valve which allows God to communicate His grace to us. No longer looking to God, anxiety can discourage us from our goal and have us turn to ourselves and to any means necessary to obtain what we think we need most instead of trusting in God and focusing on holiness no matter the cost.
The remedy that Paul prescribes for us today is prayer. But Paul does not just recommend any kind of prayer. Rather Paul invites us to be sure to thank God for his many blessings in the past. This way we will recall how God has already blessed us. We will remember the ways in which God has heard our prayers in the past, and we can then confidently approach God, sure that s he heard us in the past, he shall surely hear us in our present needs. Paul also recommends that this prayer present all our needs to God. This is important for us because at times we go to pray but don't actually turn over to God the things we are worried about. By inviting us to make our requests known to God, St. Paul is reminding us to open our hearts to God, to truly hand over to Him all that concerns us, not being afraid to ask for what we need. And the characteristic that perhaps we may have overlooked is that St. Paul does not recommend that we only open our hearts with firm faith and trust in God's help only in the important things in our lives, like when a friend or loved one is facing a serious illness, but he invites us to pray in this way in everything. What Paul is encouraging us to do is to begin to entrust our daily lives to God in such a way that we will not worry excessively about whatever we may be facing, be it big or small. This does not mean we will not have concerns, but it means we will not be anxiously concerned over our daily lives. This we can do by taking five minutes when we get up to entrust our day and our tasks ahead of us to God and five minutes at the end of the day to thank God for His blessings.
But besides recommending that we ask God to take care of our needs, Paul also encourages us to meditate on the kind of Christian life we want to live. He tells us to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent. He does not want us to get discouraged and settle for a mediocre Christian life, but to keep our minds on the goal of holiness, of a life of love of God and neighbor lived out in our actions by our living out the beatitudes and the ten commandments. By keeping this goal in mind, we can examine our lives to see where we fall short and then ask from God the graces we need to better respond to the kind of life to which He is calling us. To help us in this regard we can look into the practice of examining our consciences before going to bed. A small book or other devotional aid can help us in that regard.
Another aid that Paul recommends is that we look to the saints as examples to imitate. We can do this by reading the lives of those who have been recognized as saints or even by placing before ourselves the good example of someone who we see living out their faith in a way we would like to imitate. It could be someone like John Paul II or Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan or even a friend, acquaintance or relative that inspires us to be better Catholics. This we can do by taking ten minutes out of our lunch hour to read a biography of our favorite saints or heros of the faith or even by making time to speak about the spiritual life with the person we know who inspires us.
By prayer that knows to trust completely in God for all things and meditation with good examples of holiness that spurn us onto becoming more like Christ, we can overcome whatever blight might affect our souls, be it anxiety or loss of focus, and we can truly learn to bear good fruit that will last, faith-filled lives that strive for holiness by loving God and neighbor.