The Key to Discipleship

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”    -Matthew 9:9-13

I’ve been sitting with this passage for the past few days and it’s had such an impact on me. Even though I’ve probably heard the principle beneath the surface several times before, this passage has taught me the key to discipleship. It’s a principle that could almost certainly be found other places in the Scriptures, especially anytime Jesus calls someone to follow him. Let’s take a closer look.

Up to this point, Matthew has been a tax collector. At the time of Jesus, tax collectors are known to be among the worst kind of people. They make their living by taxing people more than they ought. They either steal money from the poor or they make people poor. It’s gross. Anyways, that’s not the main point.

Jesus came to Matthew in his sinfulness and called him to be his disciple. Matthew got up and followed him. He left his entire livelihood behind at the sound of Jesus’ voice, the voice which can penetrate even the hardest of hearts. Powerful! What happened next is the main point I’m trying to get at. What did Matthew do when he began to follow Jesus? He ate with him and reclined with him. In other words, Matthew first rested with Jesus before doing anything else.

In our relationship with Jesus, we so easily get caught in the trap of thinking, “How can I serve you, Jesus? What do you want me to do for you? I’ll do anything if you just tell me to do it. What’s my vocation in life, anyways? What’s the mission you want to give me?” We’re so focused on serving the Lord that we forget discipleship begins with simply learning how to be with the Lord. Too many Christians have bought into the idea that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about working for him. If that’s all it’s about, then we’re nothing more than high-level servants of Jesus, but he wants so much more. He wants us to be his friends!

Discipleship begins with simply being, with spending quality time with Jesus. Once I learn my identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ, then I can go out and share in his mission. What is his mission? His mission is making more disciples, which means inviting more people to the table of Jesus! It means showing others how powerful it is to simply rest with Jesus!

The message of this passage is clear: disciples of Jesus Christ need to rest with their master, their friend, before they can do anything for him. Once they have rested, the work isn’t even done for Jesus, but it’s done with Jesus. Resting with Jesus can make a world of difference.

Prayer Workshop: Spiritual Rest

Silent Prayer

For an explanation of the Prayer Workshop, click here.

(I’ve mentioned this topic before, as you can see here, but I’ll mention it again because it is very important.)

Read what our teacher has to say about this:

This is a matter…to which I am very anxious to win your attention, for in it lies one of the surest means of spiritual progress.

At various points during the day, stop what you are doing and place yourself in the Presence of God. Of course, he is always with you and you with him, but we so easily forget this fact. Our lives are so busy with work, chores, technology, family, friends, etc. and our minds are too easily distracted from recalling our resolutions made during our Morning Prayer. That is why this phase of the Prayer Workshop is so important. We must strive always to remember the Ultimate goal, which is eternal life in Heaven.

When you stop what you are doing and recall the Lord’s Presence, recall also that he breathes life into you and looks upon you with incomparable love at every moment. Close your eyes and rest in his embrace. Perhaps you may go to Calvary and see him looking with love upon you from the Cross as he dies for your salvation. Or perhaps you may go to the stable in Bethlehem and behold the Baby who has come to save you from eternal damnation. Or perhaps still you may see him ascending into Heaven so that he may send the Holy Spirit to dwell in your soul.

Find rest in these places, even while you are in the middle of your most busy day, or while you are in such a huge crowd that no rest seems possible. Pray these words (or something like them):

You, Lord, are my refuge, my castle, my stay, my shelter in the storm and in the heat of the day. Let me remain in your presence this entire day. Give me grace to recall your love for me and for all of your people. Give me unfailing rest.

Prayer Workshop: Evening Prayer and Examination of Conscience

Silent Prayer

(For an explanation of the Spiritual Workshop, click here.)

Set aside a few minutes in the evening, perhaps after the evening meal or sometime before going to bed. Go to your prayer space and recollect yourself in the Presence of Christ. Renew the warmth of your Morning Prayer by recalling the points of meditation which helped you the mostRecommit yourself to serving the Lord in every moment of the day, especially as the evening draws to an end and fatigue sets in.

Examine your conscience and reflect on the entire day up to this point:

Thank God for the day.

Consider all that happened during the day: Where have you been? With whom did you interact? What did you do? Did you serve God as you resolved to do?

Thank God for all the good things that occurred. Consider what thoughts, words, or actions have offended God and ask forgiveness of him. Resolve to do better tomorrow.

Offer everything – your body and soul, friends and family, all your relations – to God. Ask the saints and angels to intercede for you to God.

Finally, go to rest, knowing that God himself has commanded you to do so.

Neither this practice nor that of the morning should ever be omitted; by your morning prayer you open your soul’s windows to the sunshine of Righteousness, and by your evening devotions you close them against the shades of hell.

Build the Fire [SERMON]

Listen to Deacon Bryan’s sermon from Sunday, August 3rd. Check out some important readings from Mass:

Romans 8:35, 37-39

Brothers and sisters:
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.

Psalm Response (Ps. 145: 16):

The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

The Great Commission Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

There is something hidden in this passage that the modern day reader doesn’t grasp at first glance, or perhaps even at second or third glances. Of course, there is the obvious mission given from Jesus to the disciples to go out and make more disciples, but that is right there in the text. No, this hidden message requires the reader to place this passage within the entire context of the Gospel.

The passage is comprised of the final five verses of the Gospel of Matthew. After it, there is nothing more written by this Gospel author. Before it, though, is where the hidden message is revealed: Before this passage, Jesus is dead. This isn’t a figurative death, no. Before this passage, the disciples watched as their leader was arrested, scourged, mocked, forced to carry his own cross to his place of death, crucified, and lifted up for the all the world to see his final breath. Finally, his dead body was placed in a tomb and a huge stone was placed in front of the entrance so no one could get in or out.

We can try to imagine what was going through the minds and hearts of the disciples when they saw their King for the first time after his resurrection, but one thing is certain: they finally understood everything. They witnessed their King give everything for their sake, and now he was asking them to go and tell people about it. The hidden message from Jesus is this: Your King has given everything for your sake; now you must give everything for the sake of his Kingdom. This radical new way of life they were to proclaim to the nations was sure to lead to further persecution, mockery, beatings, and martyrdom. They were to imitate Jesus in giving everything they had so that more people might come to know the Good News.

The hidden message in this passage wasn’t meant only for those eleven disciples. It was meant for all disciples of Jesus Christ, even those of us who live in the world 2000 years later. We, too, are meant to give everything for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. We, too, are meant to pour ourselves out just as Jesus poured himself out on the cross. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). St. Paul was a martyr for Jesus Christ. He gave everything for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps we won’t be killed for our faith, but our lives ought to be filled with little “deaths” sprinkled throughout the day. Above all, it means keeping a mentality which seeks to give myself to others rather than to take things for myself, and to do this as a way to love as Jesus loved. Many probably know what this looks like – staying up late with the sick child, patiently working through miscommunications with the spouse, waking up earlier so everyone in the house has time to get themselves for school, work, etc., acknowledging a wrong and seeking forgiveness when pride would rather stick to stubbornness, missing the big game on TV for the sake of spending time with friends or going to Mass, the list can go on and on.

“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.”

Giving everything is hard and tiring. It can be easy to throw in the proverbial towel and give up on the fight. After all, a person can only give so much. Well, fortunately for us, Jesus also gives us a great blueprint for sustaining a life of self-sacrifice: check out the first part of Matthew 14:23 (the quote above). Jesus knew that prayer would help sustain his life of self-sacrifice. St. Paul knew the same thing. Countless other saints – all of the saints, in fact – knew the same thing and would often spend significant amounts of time in prayer. “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” St. John Paul II had a great line:

“If the path becomes difficult at times and you are overcome by fatigue, rest in the shade of prayer.”

Make disciples. Give everything. Imitate the saints. Rest in the shade of prayer.

What is Simplicity?

FocusOnJesus-470x260

I’ve written in previous posts about simplicity and how it can assist us in remembering our mission to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, but I didn’t really offer a definition of simplicity. It’s a tough word to define, especially when seeking to satisfy the masses. I’ve had several conversations with the EvangelicalDisciple concerning the topic and we have yet to nail down a good definition of it. Well, I have good news for everyone: I think I have found a good definition!

St. Francis de Sales (whom I quoted last week) offers this:

Well, simplicity is nothing else than an act of pure and simple charity, having only one end, which is to acquire the love of God; and our soul is simple when we have no other aim in all that we do or desire.

To break open his definition, he brings into the discussion the example of Martha and Mary as they welcomed the Lord into their home. Mary was the one who understood simplicity, for she looked straight to God, without ever allowing any self-interest to creep into her motives for sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha, meanwhile, was so focused on herself that she became anxious and weighed down by her work. Her life had become so self-interested that she lost all freedom to rest with Jesus.

rest

Consider the ramifications of what life might look like for one devoted to living a life solely founded on the virtue of simplicity: no more little indulgences after consuming enough food and drink, no more excessive TV watching, spending, hoarding… no more excess at all. What else might it entail? Well, resting on Sundays, spending more time in the peace and quiet of prayer, striving for holiness and inviting others to do the same, encountering great joy in detachment from self, realizing you don’t have to defeat Satan because Jesus already did it, calmness of spirit and freedom from anxiety. The pros outweigh the cons.

If you’re interested in living a life of true simplicity, ask yourself:

Do I want serve this person because I want to look good in the eyes of others, or because I want to show him/her God’s love?

Do I want to buy this car because it looks a certain way, or because it will help me glorify God?

Do I want to grow a good garden so I can show it off to my friends, or because a good garden will nourish me and remind me to thank God for my health, and beautiful flowers will remind me of all that God created?

Do I exercise only because it makes me look better to other people, or because I can serve God better with a healthy body?

Do I want to fast today because my friends might notice and think I’m a holy person, or because it will remind me of my soul’s hunger for God’s grace?

Am I focused on myself, or on God and his glory?

Do I think only of myself and how I look in the eyes of others, or do I think only of God and his love for his people?

Do I pray only because it makes me feel good, or because God deserves my worship, reverence, and love? Do I stop praying when the good feelings vanish, or do I persevere even through the times when I can’t feel God’s presence?

Ask yourself these questions – and similar questions about things that better relate to your life – frequently. Live a reflected life so you don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Be simple.

Work on Sunday [SERMON]

 

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Here’s a message as we begin the weekend. Read this Gospel passage first.

Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to the them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

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