Don’t I Just Feel Like a Camel?

Last weekend, I went to a baby shower for my oldest friend. We’ve known each other since kindergarten, and it’s so wonderful that she’s having a baby girl next month! We don’t get to see each other very often, and I hadn’t seen the house she and her husband bought before.

It was nice.

I loved how the kitchen had two entries, one from the hall and the other from the dining room, which was roomy and cozy all at the same time. I loved the bathroom with the big jet tub. And the walk-in closet that was bigger than my bathroom, and had room enough for a vanity. I wasn’t fond of the tile in the bathroom, but whatever. I like color and no one else does. That kitchen was just perfect, though.

I immediately started looking at houses online, and thinking about how horrible our house is. Granted, if I would just take a few days to do the touch-up painting, it would be much improved, but why settle for improved when we could buy something nicer.

Covet, covet, covet. And what’s worse, I thought nothing of it. “It’s just what people my age do,” I told myself. What? It’s what people my age do? What does that even mean?!?!?!? Despite the nonsensical nature of my quest, I continued exploring more expensive houses

My reality call came a few days later as I was reading Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthot on my lunch break. The first few chapters have gone by at a break-neck pace, running down the societal conditions, the philosophers, the publications,  everything that created American-style Christianity. As we move into the rise of the prosperity theology, Douthot points to (naturally) the story of the rich young man we also read about in Sunday’s gospel this week. I suppose God knew I needed a double dose of this story this week.

And when he was gone forth into the way, a certain man running up and kneeling before him, asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may receive life everlasting? And Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God. Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, bear not false witness, do no fraud, honour thy father and mother. But he answering, said to him: Master, all these things I have observed from my youth. And Jesus looking on him, loved him, and said to him: One thing is wanting unto thee: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Who being struck sad at that saying, went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.  Mark 10:17-22

It’s one of the pillars of Christ’s message here on earth. Sell what you have to benefit the poor. When the disciples don’t get the picture, Jesus gives one of His most famous (and famously misinterpreted) analogies:

Picture courtesy of my mother-in-law. No seriously.

And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus again answering, saith to them: Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches, to enter into the kingdom of God? It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. –Mark 10:24-25

I read a few years ago, that Jesus most likely actually said “rope” instead of “camel” just then. Makes a heck of a lot more sense. In Bad Religion, however, Douthot points something out about this story that I hadn’t thought of before..

 Who wondered the more, saying among themselves: Who then can be saved? –Mark 10:26

This message wasn’t something they smugly accepted, given their lack of riches. These guys walked away from what little fortunes they had. They walked away from comfort to follow Christ in poverty and yet when they heard this, they got worried. Whether it was a rope or a camel or a piano, they heard Jesus talking about them, not some rich guy. Why were they worried about it? Because they understood the message. It’s not about having money, it’s about desiring it.

For the desire of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows. –1Timothy 6:10

Once again, it is not having wealth that stains our souls, it is seeking it. I could be doing something worthwhile. Reading a book, watching a mass, cleaning the house–Scott would love that! Instead, I’m sitting at the computer, looking at houses, slowly increasing our maximum price range, because I want what everyone else has. What I have isn’t poisoning me, it’s what I’m chasing after.

I keep banging my head up against this wall. One minute I’m not concerned with material things, the next, I want to burn every possession I have and replace it with something “nicer.” For every time I push these desires aside, they rise up again 100 times. Sometimes I think I just can’t get my head straight.

And Jesus looking on them, saith: With men it is impossible; but not with God: for all things are possible with God. –Mark 10:27

Here I am, big clumsy camel, trying to work my way through the eye of the needle. Not because of what I have but because of what I want. God’s love is stronger than that. We forget that. We may say it and say we believe it, but at the end of the day, we let ourselves believe that our weaknesses are stronger than God. Every time we say, “I can’t help it. There’s no getting around it,” we are disbelieving the promises of grace.

Pope Benedict reminds us that God’s love is stronger. 

Jesus, however, understands the deep desire that exists in this person and, the Evangelist notes, turns a loving gaze on him: the gaze of God (cf. v. 21). However, Jesus also realizes what the weak point of that man is: his very attachment to his many possessions; and so he proposes that the man give it all to the poor in order that his treasure — and hence his heart — will no longer be on earth but in heaven, and he adds: “Come, follow me” (v. 21). But, instead of accepting Jesus’ invitation joyfully, the man went away sorrowfully (cf. v. 22) because he can not break away from his riches, that will never give him happiness and eternal life….. The history of the Church is full of examples of rich people who used their possessions in an evangelical way, even attaining holiness. Let us only think of St Francis, St Elizabeth of Hungary or St Charles Borromeo. May the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, help us to accept Jesus’ invitation joyfully, in order to enter the fullness of life. –Pope Benedict XVI

Aren’t we fortunate, that despite our many temptations, we are given, not only the fullness of grace, the very spirit of God to guide us, but also such a multitude of examples, of people who lived the gospel. They walked in the footsteps of Jesus to make it easier for us to see those footsteps and follow after.

With the election approaching and everyone talking about the economy and what’s in it for their checking account, let’s all pray that we may be invested in what really matters and not distracted by material wealth. Once again, I’m renewing my commitment to love and share what I have, and to truly be thankful for what God has given me, rather than being envious of what God has given someone else.

And I will try to remember that too many accessories clutter a camel.

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Meditating on the Beatitudes: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

This is the third in a series of meditations on each of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. –Matthew 11:29

Tell ye the daughter of Sion: Behold thy king cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of her that is used to the yoke. –Matthew 21:5

But the hidden man of the heart in the incorruptibility of a quiet and a meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3:4

“I’m going to make sure they know they can’t treat me like this!”

“They aren’t going to push me around like this anymore!”

“I’m going to tell them that this is how it’s going to have to be….or else!”

Such are the inner ramblings of Rebecca. That’s how our society trains us to be, isn’t it? Assert yourself, stand up for yourself, and don’t be submissive. That would make you a doormat. You don’t want to be a doormat, do you?

I get so frustrated at work. Sometimes I think that if you come into work every day with diligence and dedication, you’re just setting yourself up to be taken advantage of. I took a vacation last month and was out of work for two weeks. When I came back, The CellPhone Store was a mess. The demo phones hadn’t been cleared or checked. Some of them weren’t even charged in the two weeks I was gone. The daily sales paperwork was a mess every day. All the little things I did every day hadn’t been done. So, right off the back, I’ve got lots of catching up to do. And yet there were employees at the store every day I was gone, getting paid, but not keeping things up around the store.

“You’re going to have to let everyone know that I’m not the only one getting paid around here!” I shouted at my boss. “I know exactly what they were thinking when they left all those messes–‘Whatever, Rebecca will clean it up.’ Well, not anymore!” I was determined to set things straight. I wasn’t some spineless wimp who was going to clean up after everyone.

Then, I remember, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”

What does it mean to be meek? It’s not just about submitting my will to others. It means to submit myself to God’s will. To know that whatever happens, His will will overcome. These little trifles don’t matter. In the moment, I get so upset, but even if I am picking up the slack for everyone else at work, what does it really hurt? I’m here to work, and to serve my bosses as if I were serving God. What impact does this have on eternity? Because that’s where my eyes should be, on the eternal. The impact will either be my co-workers seeing that I serve without complaint, that I place others first, or that I wear a crucifix on my neck and spew venom when I don’t get my way. What’s more important? Standing up for myself or putting others before myself as a tiny little sacrifice to show them God’s love?

Why do I want my way? We are so slow at work during the day that there’s plenty of time for me to take care of odds and ends around the store. Even if I take care of everything, I’ll still have time here and there to get online and goof off. When I stop and think about it, I’m not being dealt such an unfair hand. I have a job after all, and bring in money to keep us fed. Getting worked up and angry never helps. Forcing someone else to bend to my will never creates respect or love. When I let my hot temper get the better of me, I never look back and remember how it was the best solution possible, I think of how ashamed I am that I let anger dictate my actions. I’m just so hot-headed, I don’t have it in me to be meek and gentle when things get bad.

Once again, God demands something from me and I don’t have it in me. So I’ll have to ask for grace again.

Lord, help me to be meek, to place others before myself. Keep me from thinking so much of myself. Help me to serve.


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Pro-Life Meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary: The Luminous Mysteries

Pro-Life Meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary: The Luminous Mysteries

by Fr. Frank Pavone

First Luminous Mystery: Christ is Baptized in the Jordan

When Jesus is baptized, the Father’s voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son.” All are called to become adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism. We pray that children in the womb may be protected, so that they may be born and welcomed into the Christian community by baptism.

Second Luminous Mystery: Christ is made known at the Wedding of Cana

Jesus revealed His glory by the miracle at Cana. The new couple was blessed not only with wine, but with faith in Christ. Let us pray for strong marriages, rooted in the Lord, and open to the gift of new life.

Third Luminous Mystery: Christ proclaims the Kingdom and Calls All to Conversion

“Repent and believe the Good News.” Let us pray that these first words of Jesus’ public ministry may be heard by all who have committed abortion. May they know that the Lord calls them to conversion, and may they experience life-giving repentance.

Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration

Christ is transformed on the mountain, and the disciples see His glory. May the eyes of all people be transformed, that they may see each and every human life as a reflection of the glory of God Himself.

Fifth Luminous Mystery: Jesus gives us the Eucharist

“This is My Body, given up for you.” The Eucharist teaches us how to live and how to love. Let us pray that parents who sacrifice the babies for the sake of themselves may learn instead to put themselves aside for the sake of their babies.

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Meditating on the Beatitudes: Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.

This is the second in a series of meditations on each of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.

I’ve got to admit, I wanted to have this up two days ago. However, I ended up typing out the Beatitude, staring at it, and wondering: what’s so great about mourning? I kept thinking about Aunt Sarah’s funeral. We kept saying it was wonderful that she was finally with God, at rest. Why is mourning a blessing?

So, I took advantage of a great technological advancement (which I highly recommend). I pulled up the Bible online and searched for the word “mourn.” I think this is a great way to get more information on a topic because you can literally see every instance the word is mentioned in the Bible. I know that sometimes a particular word isn’t used, so it’s not a definitive topical resource, but it’s pretty awesome!

For the word “mourn,” the #3 result was quite enlightening…

And the Lord said to Samuel: How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, whom I have rejected from reigning over Israel? –1 Samuel 16:1a

Ah-ha! I kept thinking of mourning as being about death. However, what if mourning isn’t about death, but about loss and love?

Samuel didn’t mourn because Saul was dead (he wasn’t), he mourned because he loved Saul. He believed in Saul’s ability to lead Israel as God’s chosen King. However, because  Saul chose to defy God, Saul was lost to Samuel. Samuel saw someone he loved turn his back on God. He watched Saul’s life spiral out of control.

Sound familiar? I’ve watched people I love deny God, renounce their faith, turn to drugs, consume themselves with chasing after wealth and other pleasures. As we go down separate paths, my heart aches. I mourn.

To mourn a loss, you have to love. There are no two ways about it. I certainly don’t mourn the loss of the job I hated or the apartment that was too small. Not all loss is mourned. It’s only when we are attached to someone that we mourn their exit from our lives, in whatever form that exit takes. When we mourn, it means we opened ourselves up, loved someone, believed in their potential, wanted the very best for them. We mourn because we’ve lost someone we held close to our heart.

This is why those who mourn are blessed. Because they have loved and hoped and believed despite the fact that the one they held so dear could and would be lost. You can never really lose what you haven’t loved. For those who open their hearts up, dare to love, see the best and greatest in another, even though they know they could very possibly be cast aside; when the one they loved and believed in chooses to walk away, they will be comforted.

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Meditating on the Beatitudes: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

This is the first in a series of meditations on each of the Beatitudes. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? I’ve been thinking a lot about poverty and extravagance. Sts Clare and Francis seem to be helping me along in my journey. I hear a lot of churches preaching the gospel of “health and wealth” but I find it difficult to believe that God would have us so consumed with something as uninspired as money.

In the rosary meditation, The Rosary is a PlaceFr. Groschel reminds us during the 3rd Joyful Mystery that God chose for His Son to be born poor, and to remain poor for His entire life. Jesus was born with the barest of necessities on hand. Throughout His ministry, He carried nothing with Him. He had no great home or carriage. Jesus lived in the lowest poverty. When Jesus preformed great miracles to feed the multitudes, did He provide an extravagant feast? No, simple fish and loaves. The example we were given is a simple life without extravagance.

Most of us remember the parable of the sower:

The sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And other some fell upon a rock: and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And other some fell among thorns, and the thorns growing up with it, choked it. And other some fell upon good ground; and being sprung up, yielded fruit a hundredfold. –Luke 8:5-8a

Something remarkable about this passage is that there is no judgement made about the seed itself. There is no good seed, no bad seed. All of the seed is the same stock, out of the same bag. It’s where the seed lands that determines its fruitfulness. Bad seed? No such thing. The problem is bad soil.

The meaning of this parable isn’t left up to interpretation. Jesus spells out exactly what each fate represents. I want to draw your attention in particular to the seed that fell among thorns:

And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit. –Luke 8:14

The seed that fell among thorns is not merely distracted by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, they are choked. This is why we fast, to distance ourselves from excess and overindulgence so to we might breathe. It is not evil to be comfortable or to have money, but to make this the cornerstone of one’s life is, to use the words of our Savior, to plant yourself among thorns.

For they that will become rich, fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition. For the desire of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows.   –1 Timothy 6:9-10

I don’t know how so many of our flock have the notion that God wants nothing more than to stuff our checking accounts. Don’t get me wrong, God will provide for our every need, to be sure. However, it is the idea that God’s will for us is wealth that I take issue with. This idea is treacherous. It creates an idea that we should seek money instead of the Kingdom of God. This is a very grave lie. If our lives are caught up in seeking wealth, we are not seeking after God.

Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.  –St. Anthony of Padua  

Letting go of the things that seem to give us comfort, gives us no choice to to fly into the arms of Christ for our comfort. Giving up the things of this world reminds us of the things our souls truly long for. It’s so easy, so dreadfully easy to get caught up in chasing after things that pass away. Oh, I wish I had a nicer car, I wish I had a nicer house, I wish I had a newer wardrobe, I must have new shoes, I’ve got to get a bigger diamond, I want, I wish, I need, I must! These are the things that feed “self” but starve the soul.

And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.   –Luke 9:23

Today, rather than going to God with a list of what I must have here on earth, perhaps I can ask God to give me what I need for Heaven and nothing more. Today, rather than tying myself to the earth chasing after things that will rot and choke, I will spend time just being with God and not asking for anything but the grace to live with less.

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