What follows is a men's 40-day devotional written to encourage men as they prepare for the October 21, 2017 Connecticut Catholic Men's Conference...
What does it mean to be a witness for Christ? Is it about spreading the Word of God to others so that they too may know the joy of belonging to the Body of Christ or living a holy life free from mistakes and sin? Is witnessing a task – something we do – or an integrated lifestyle? Is it both, or neither, or even something more? These are important questions.
For Catholic men, these questions take on even greater significance. We are called to be salt and light to the world, to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to serve one another in love. We are part of a Body of believers whose mission is to take the Good News of Jesus into the world. How we carry out our faith as men matters. It never seems to feel easy to follow Jesus; yet He has told us that His yoke is easy and his burden light (Matthew 11:30). The key is in understanding what it means to be a Catholic man of faith, what it means to have been called by God, redeemed by Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out that faith in a hostile world.
These days, the world has blurred the lines of what it means to be a man. Modern television programs present men as incompetent weaklings, while modern commercials present men as strong, beer-drinking, tool-carrying, fast-and-lose players. In truth, neither of these pictures is truly accurate. Real men – as least as far as Catholicism is concerned – are both strong and meek, courageous and in touch with their hearts, ready to face the challenges of life and ready to surrender to the will of the Father. Men who are truly followers of Jesus are sold out to the cause of Christianity, determined to stay the course, and dependent on Christ to supply the strength they need.
Living a life that integrates our faith into all we do presents a challenge, but it is not impossible when God is on our side and we have brothers who will stand by us to help us stay strong. We have the Living Word to sharpen us, the sacraments to sustain us, and our brothers in arms to lift us up and hold us accountable. But we must accept the challenge and run the race that has been laid out for us. This means, setting aside time for prayer and Bible reading, participating in the sacraments and the life of the Church, and seeking out other men to walk the road to heaven with us.
Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is both a promise and a command. God will provide the power to accomplish the work He calls us to do and He sends us forth into the world as witnesses – from our homes and communities to our country and beyond to places where there are souls longing to know the love of Christ. This we do not just with our words, but with our actions as well. A true witness is one who leads others to Jesus, and walks with those same people as they journey toward heaven. And a manly witness answers that call as God has gifted him to do so.
Over the next 40 days, this men’s devotional will offer Scripture and commentary to help you on this important journey of faith. I invite you to use this time to draw closer to Christ, to get real with who you are, and to make a deeper commitment to live out what it means to be a Catholic man. Share these devotionals with your brothers. Talk about them and how you can apply the words to your lives. Make this a time of deeper communion with your heavenly Father. Seek out the Son and embrace the cross and the power of His resurrection. And let the Holy Spirit continue to guide and strengthen you as you carry out God’s call to love the world as he has loved you.
Day 1: Man the Cultivator
The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The Lord God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die. (Genesis 2:15-17)
To be a man means many things. To be a Catholic man means even more. Our faith challenges us to be good husbands and fathers; wise stewards of our time, talent, and treasure; and spiritual leaders in our homes and our churches. In the beginning, we were called to be cultivators, to care for the world we had been given. Adam was placed in the Garden and given charge of it. He was to work the soil, to nurture the plants, and to be fruitful as a man as he made the Garden fruitful. He was to love and protect his wife and his children and live out the will of his heavenly Father. But Adam sinned by disobeying the Word of God concerning the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. His act of pride, selfishness, and rebellion led to sweat, sadness, and sinful living. It led to death and exclusion from the Kingdom of Heaven. Because of the Original Sin of the one man, the first Adam, our daily toil is difficult and we become weary doing it. Our original call to cultivate this world has been corrupted and our labor comes at the price of our sorrow and our sweat.
But because of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, we who believe have been raised to new life (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). Our labors upon this earth have been given a new purpose and we have received the promise of incorruptibility, knowing that one day, we will once again become true cultivators in the Kingdom of Heaven, where our burdens will be light and pleasurable once more. And because Jesus told us that the Kingdom of Heaven is among us now, living itself out in our very lives (Luke 17:21), we know that our efforts as men can indeed bear eternal fruit for the Kingdom of God.
So what does being a cultivator in today’s world look like? I would like to suggest a few ideas:
1) Being a cultivator means taking responsibility for our world. That world includes our wives and children and our extended families. It includes our church and workplace. And it includes our sphere of influence wherever we go. We need to nurture our relationships, work as unto the Lord, and build the Kingdom with our words and deeds. Our every action should share the truth of the Gospel and the love of Christ with a broken world. We cannot sit back and watch the world fall apart without acting on behalf of Jesus in witnessing to the power of the Gospel.
2) Being a cultivator means being a man of integrity. We need to be honest and fair in all our dealings with others, speak boldly about injustices we see, and look for solutions to problems that are centered on the faith to which we belong. What we experience on Sunday should be lived out every day of the week. There should not be a difference between our “faith lives” and our “everyday lives.” Integrity should be at the core of all we are and all we do. I should be so much a part of us that every word and action becomes a reflection of the perfect God we follow.
3) Being a cultivator means submitting in humility to God’s call on our lives. As we work the soil of humanity, looking for growth, we need to work the soil of our own hearts as well, yielding to the Law of Love, and living our Catholic faith knowing that we are sinners saved by grace who are members of the Body of Christ. Our own brokenness should shape our perspective on the broken world; our giftedness should lead us to right living and thanksgiving for all we have been given; and our need should connect us to the Church that Christ has established for our welfare.
4) Being a cultivator means being a sacramental man. We cannot become the men we are meant to be without our lifeline to Christ. We have been baptized into the Church, Confirmed in our faith, nourished by the Eucharist, and freed from sin in the Confessional. We live out the bonds of matrimony or priesthood, modeling our marriages and our ministry after the marriage of Christ to His Church. The sacraments should be our foundation, our strength, and our unity; and as we participate in them, we join with all men of faith, carrying out the will of Jesus Christ our head.
5) Being a cultivator means turning our gaze toward heaven. This world is full of beauty and purpose, but it is not all there is. By our Baptism we have been seated with Christ in the heavens, and all our living should be moving us along the path to Paradise. We should be spending time with our Savior in daily prayer, growing in our study of God’s Word and our rich traditions, spreading the Gospel to the nations, carrying out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and turning ourselves into saints – day by blessed day.
Today, take time to consider what it means to be a cultivator in God’s Kingdom. Determine to spend more time in prayer, study, and worship to grow in your faith. Look for opportunities to interact with your brothers, building one another up, carrying one another’s burdens, and holding one another accountable before God. Love your families and your communities with the same uncompromising love that Christ has poured out onto you. Look for ways to make this world a better place by being a man who represents Christ and His Church well. And look forward to all the blessings that are to come in God’s good time!
Connecting to the Theme: Discipleship is a journey. Begin today to see your life as an ever-unfolding walk along the path to perfection. Let every word, every action, every step along this journey be a shining witness of what it means to be a Catholic man who loves the Lord with all his heart, mind, and soul!
Question for Journaling: What are some ways I can connect with my faith, my family, and my brothers in order to become a better cultivator in God’s Kingdom?
God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1:28a)
Day 2: Loving the Word
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
As men, we cannot become true witnesses of the Gospel without growing in our knowledge of God’s Word. The Bible is God’s love letter to humanity, the inerrant, perfect, and powerful revelation of Himself to His children. The Scriptures are our guide, our strength, our power, and our peace. They are the foundation for all we believe, the rock upon which our Church teachings and traditions rest. The Catechism of the Church teaches us that in the Scriptures God reveals Himself completely, that God is the true author of the words we read, and that the Bible teaches us God’s truth without error.
God expresses the nature of His Word within the pages of Scripture. Consider the following verses:
1) The Word is our hope. For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
2) The Word nourishes us. He (Jesus) said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”(Matthew 4:4)
3) The Word cuts deep into our souls. Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
4) The Word is forever. The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
5) The Word lights our way. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Paul describes the Word as a sword, a weapon of righteousness (Ephesians 6:17). With it we take our stand against the enemy and bring healing to a lost world. We carry comfort, clarity, truth, and teaching to fellow believers. Armed with God’s Word, we become equipped for every good work, ready to give an answer to a weary world for the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Through the Church we have secure and solid teaching on how to interpret the Bible so that we may use it in our daily lives.
As Catholic men we are called to let the Word of God penetrate deep into the heart of who we are so that it may cut out the corruption of the world and bring healing to our souls. We should hunger for the Word and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with understanding and a desire to grow in wisdom as we grow in our knowledge of the Scriptures. This means taking time every day to sit in our places of prayer to read and meditate on the message within the passages of the Bible. We need to apply the Word of God to our lives. The Scriptures should guide our actions, fill us with hope, and inspire us to love others with the love of Christ. We should also read the Word with other Catholic men, so that we may grow as brothers and build up the Body of Christ. Each Sunday at Mass, we should cherish the Liturgy of the Word as it leads us to the Table of the Lord where the Eucharist may feed us and send us forth into the world to witness to the lost with our lives.
Connecting to the Theme: We need to develop a love of Scripture that becomes a passion burning within us. As we read the Bible, we should be digging deeply into the words, allowing the Spirit to speak to us, drawing strength from the Church’s wisdom, and allowing the Word to shape our actions that day. It should become so much a part of us, that the Scriptures should be ready at the tip of our tongues so that we may defend our faith. We must remember that the teachings of the Bible provide the power that moves our hands and feet in the service of Christ.
Question for Journaling: What kind of plan can I establish for daily Bible reading and ongoing Bible study; and how can I apply the truths I learn to my daily witness to others?
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word
that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4b)
Day 3 – A Question of Discipline
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5)
A real man is a disciplined man. Discipline is related to the word “disciple.” In order to be a true disciple of Jesus, we must be willing to follow the discipline of our Catholic faith. What this discipline entails is both intricately complex and surprisingly simple. It is a calling on our lives that we answer with the commitment of a trained soldier and the earnestness of an obedient child. It involves all areas of our lives: Christian morality, spiritual growth, physical conditioning, personal responsibility, and communal loyalty. It is woven into every fiber of our being. It cannot be compartmentalized into our Sunday best and our weekly weaknesses. In all we say and do, we must be disciples to the core.
What specifically does this discipline entail? Consider the following ideas:
1) Discipline is a lifestyle, not a task. We cannot force our faith; nor can we put it into little “to-do lists” of activities like church attendance, prayer, kind speech, and good works. Though we need to work at our Catholic faith, often times pushing ourselves to be consistent about our actions, true discipline integrates these activities so intimately into our lives that they become as natural as breathing and as necessary as a heartbeat. When others see us, they should see men filled with the Spirit of Christ.
2) Discipline understands our limitations. Far too often, we look at our manly endeavors and our clean living and think that it is something we have done on our own. The reality, however, is that without the grace of God empowering us toward perfection, we would never be able to be men after God’s own heart. Knowing who we are before God brings humility and allows God to be the author of our daily lives.
3) Discipline surrenders to the pain of God’s pruning. A skilled vine dresser knows that in order to promote the growth of the grape vine, he must prune away the deadwood and lift up the drooping branches toward the sun. The discipline of our faith often involves sacrifice and pain. We must be willing to allow the Divine Gardener to remove our sinful habits and cultivate new growth through the light of His love. Only in this way, can we bear fruit and pour ourselves out to the waiting world.
4) Discipline is ongoing and uncompromising. As men, we face temptations every day. We all too easily fall into the sins of selfishness and pride. Like a vine that wraps itself around a health tree, a small indiscretion or “harmless” sin can slowly and almost imperceptibly take hold of us until it begins to block the light of Christ and choke the life out of us. But by God’s grace, we can overcome these sins by resisting the devil’s temptations and fleeing the habits of the flesh the moment they manifest themselves in our lives. This commitment to stand firm against sin develops a habit that becomes stronger and more stable the more we continue it.
5) Discipline allows us to be ever ready to begin again. When we fall – and all of us fall – the more disciplined we have become, the more easily we are set back on the path of righteousness. Too many men take an all-or-nothing approach to their failures. They see any break with God through sin as canceling all that God has done in them, instead of understanding that our Christian walk is a series of stumbles and sturdy steps to the place where we lay down our lives for the Lord. If Jesus could stumble on the way to Calvary yet pick Himself up and continue the journey to the cross, we can do no better than to take up our cross and follow Him in faith.
Let us summarize what discipline is by considering the story of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. It tells of a young prince who was a faithful gardener on a tiny planet where seeds would blow in with the wind. Some were innocent and became beautiful roses, but others were dangerous and grew into giant baobabs. The prince knew that when a baobab first appeared, it would look as harmless as a rose; but if neglected for too long, it could grow so large that it would engulf and tear apart his tiny planet with its huge roots. “A baobab,” he said, “is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces.” In the words of the Little Prince, it is all a “question of discipline.” And so it is with our own daily Catholic walk. We need to remember to rid our lives of the roots of sin and cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our souls.
Connecting to the Theme: A disciplined life – a life of prayer, sacrament, accountability, and sacrificial living – is the most powerful witness a man can bring to the world. The spoken words of the Gospel are powerful, but it is our sold-out, deeply-committed, and holy lives that help to connect those words to the flesh-and-blood reality of what Jesus Christ can do in the heart of a real man.
Question for Journaling: What areas of my life need improvement and how can I develop a more disciplined approach to my Catholic Faith?
Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:7)
Day 4 – Fight the Good Fight
But you, man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge [you] before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen. (1Timothy 6:11-16)
Are we ready to take on the world as witnesses for Christ? Are we carrying out a regular, consistent, and comprehensive spiritual “training program” in order to fight the good fight – to compete in the sacred Olympics of the Christian life? While some may believe that a life with Christ should be easy, that is not what Jesus told us. He commanded us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-26), being prepared to lose one’s life in order to save it. He told us that He did not come to bring peace but rather a sword (Matthew 10:34). To the carnal ear, that can sound like a difficult and unpleasant road to travel.
But there is another way. Men of God see the Catholic life as a challenge to face with faith, a holy conditioning program that prepares us to contend with the struggles of life and meet them head on with an expectation that borders on ecstasy and inexpressible joy. The life lessons learned from the Scriptures, the strengthening power of the sacraments, and the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit which manifests in our everyday experiences, rather than defeating us, pushes us along that holy path up the mountain to victory and perfection. Like an athlete running his race, cheered on by a host of celestial witnesses, we are energized by our trials and tribulations because they train us up in the way of our faith.
What are the benefits of competing well for the faith? Consider the following:
1) We don’t sweat the little things. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, we are not to worry about what we are to eat or wear, but are to consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and yield to the perfect will of the Father (Matthew 6:25-34). God cares about every little detail of His world, and that includes the many things that cause us concern. Peace comes when we seek His Kingdom first.
2) We live the example of Christ in all we do. As we contend for our faith, we connect to the awesome truth that Jesus walked the road to the crucifixion perfectly, offering His live on our behalf. His words and deeds are the purest testimony of God’s love for sinful man. As we grasp this reality we are able to drop to our knees in awe and wonder, and yet rise up to walk the same road toward heaven, following in the steps of our blessed Savior.
3) We join with the Body and build one another up. This daily spiritual workout allows us to become more keenly aware of the part we play in the Body because it connects us to our brothers and sisters and the mission of the local, regional, and world-wide Church. We take great joy in our desire to participate in shaping the thing that has shaped us as we minister to those who share this walk of faith with us.
4) We endure, we build character, and we hope (Romans 5:3-5). Our trials condition us to persevere, and as we work through the trials, we form proven character and discover the hope that connects us to the realms of heaven. Our struggles strengthen our spiritual muscles until we become rock-solid faithful men who in turn offer to walk the road to perfection with others who are lost and seeking the Savior.
5) We look forward to a Kingdom of light and love. Because we become spiritually trained in our faith, we keep the commands of God and are free from the stain of sin as we wait for the Second Coming of the Lord. Our souls are being fashioned for the beauty and perfection of heaven, where we will stand before the pure light of Jesus, the One who brought us salvation and who deserves all the honor and glory.
Life is certainly a battle, a struggle, and a challenge; and yet, when we fight the good fight of faith we discover a joy that permeates all that we are and all that we do. Like soldiers who commit themselves totally to the cause for which they fight, we can become passionate about living a life of faithful service to the One who will one day end the striving and bring us eternal peace.
Connecting to the Theme: We are commanded to be perfect as Jesus is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Making the commitment to compete well, to fight the good fight, and to run the righteous race, makes us seasoned and solid witnesses to the world.
Question for Journaling: What specific and practical things can I do to step up my spiritual training so that I may compete well for my Catholic faith?
…for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. (1 Timothy 4:8)
Day 5 – Warrior Poets
O God, you are my God—it is you I seek! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, in a land parched, lifeless, and without water. I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory. For your love is better than life; my lips shall ever praise you! (Psalm 63:2-4)
In the final scene of the movie Braveheart, Robert the Bruce, ready to surrender to the English, decides instead to call out to his troops, “You have bled with Wallace…now bleed with me!” As the Scottish soldiers, starving and outnumbered, race across the open field to meet the enemy in one last battle, we hear the voice of William Wallace saying, “They fought like warrior poets…they fought like Scotsmen…and won their freedom!” The phrase, “warrior poet” describes so perfectly King David, the man after God’s own heart. It also describes what all Catholic men should strive to be.
Psalm 63 begins with, a psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. As Catholic men, we often find ourselves like David the warrior, wandering in the wilderness of our lives. We face the struggles of maintaining our integrity in the barren world of moral relativism. We work hard to provide for our families. We wrestle with what it means to be a man. We are often tempted, tired, and emotionally spent as we walk the lonely path of manhood. And yet, like David the poet, we can experience and express great joy along the journey, incredible moments of contentment, and deep relational insights as we grow in the knowledge of what it means to be free in the blood of Christ. We are warriors, contending with the world, fighting to succeed, and marching onward to win the prize of heaven. And yet we are poets, caught up in the sweet fragrance of our faith, learning the language of the Passion, and surrendering to the beauty of the cross and all that it means for those who believe.
So how do warrior poets grain strength and purpose, and how can we nourish our souls and learn to sing our own song as we travel the road of our Catholic faith? Consider the following:
1) Warrior Poets find satisfaction and work toward peace no matter what the circumstances. In every situation, waking or sleeping, we rest in the arms of the Almighty. We work to bring blessings into others’ lives and lift up our hearts in confident praise as we move through our days (v. 5-7).
2) Warrior Poets exist in the sanctuary of God. We live in the shadow of God’s wings. When we wander in the wilderness of dryness and doubt we draw from the life-giving power of the Spirit. We seek God’s wisdom, we cling to His promises, and we look with hope to the One who is our foundation and our strength (v. 2-3, 8-9).
3) Warrior Poets hunger for God and speak the language of love to a lost world. God’s love is our life, our food, our rest, and our peace. That longing for His love is not a weakness but a surrendering strength, for it fills us with His power and peace. As we experience God’s perfect care for our lives, His love spills out in our praise and our actions toward others (v. 4, 6, 8).
4) Warrior Poets stand firm in hope and strength. We understand the big picture, the true and final end of all those who defy the living God. We remain confident that our all-powerful and all-knowing Father will bring about our good and the good of His Church. In the end, we know we will share in His victory and experience His eternal peace (v.10-12).
This is the perfection of God’s plan – that His men can be both strong soldiers and gentle healers, fighting the battles of daily living while speaking peace into the lives of others. Like King David, we can rise every morning with hope and determination to guide our day and lay down each evening with trust and contentment to carry us off to sleep. Though we may stumble and fall, we are lifted up and carried to the place where hope springs anew from the soil of struggle. Our lives become our song of praise to the God who loves us, upholds us, and brings us the victory won for us by Jesus Christ.
The wonder of the Catholic faith is that it transforms lives and shares a hope that truly heals. Men who understand the dynamic interplay between strong, determined faith and gentle surrender to its beauty, witness to the character of Christ who lived as the perfect warrior poet. He fought against the hosts of hell and the hypocrisy of men, cast out demons and calmed stormy seas. And yet He could hold little children in His arms, offer His healing touch to the broken, and speak tenderly to the lowliest lost sinner. That perfect gentle strength opened His mouth to reveal the mysteries of salvation and led Him up the Hill of Calvary to offer His life on our behalf.
Connecting to the Theme: When we witness as strong men filled with passion, meekness, determination, and self-control, we bear the love of God to the world. We serve as we are called, never compromising our beliefs and always ready to bring healing wherever we go. We are warrior poets who witness to the greatest truth – the power of salvation!
Question for Journaling: Where am I strong and where am I gentle, and how can I work to bring both aspects of my Catholic faith to the world around me today?
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12:30)
Day 6 – Grains of Wheat
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
As men, we are willing to give up many things to achieve a goal, to sacrifice almost anything for those we love. We will throw ourselves in harm’s way to protect a friend or to fight to the end for a noble cause. But the one thing many of us are not willing to give up is our self!
That can be our greatest weakness. Every sin we commit, every wrong we do, and every failure we ever experience is tied to the love of self. We will give up time, talent, and treasure for our families and our Church, but if you ask us to surrender our self that becomes another story. We want to run our own show. We want to be the master of our own lives. If we choose to do the right thing it is because we choose. But if that is the limit of our lives, we will always remain as grains of wheat – full of potential, but never bearing real and lasting fruit.
The life of a Catholic man should be a resurrection life, a life that is lived for heaven and for the will of the One who sent His only begotten Son to save us from our sins. But that cannot happen until we learn to die to our egos, our selfish desires, and our need for ultimate control. We are not very good at doing that. On the one hand, it seems to be wired into us to take charge and get things done; but Jesus calls us to surrender our lives, take up our crosses, and follow to where He will lead. That is a frightening prospect, to put all our trust in something outside of ourselves. But unless we are willing to die to self, we can never realize our full potential as a man of God.
What is the meaning of Jesus’ saying about the grain of wheat? Here are a few things to consider:
1) The grain must die to produce fruit. It must be buried in the ground and die to being a seed in order for it to grow into the fruitful plant. As Catholics we have been buried in the waters of Baptism and raised to new life in Christ. We are capable of bearing much fruit in our lives.
2) The change is both within and without. God’s Spirit works within us to bring change in our lives while using the world and our circumstances to grow us into fruitful Christians.
3) What is sown in weakness is raised in strength. The resurrection life that is sown in us transforms what is corruptible into what is glorious. Every day of our lives we are growing into what it is that we will become at the resurrection. It is by Christ’s power that this takes place.
4) God has given us all we need to become all we can be. Just as the seed contains all that it needs to become the plant, so too do we have all that we need woven into every bit of our body and our soul. As we surrender the self, we are transformed into the one God has created us to be.
5) The seed and the plant represent the fullness of salvation. Salvation is a “been saved,” “being saved,” “will be saved,” experience. We have been regenerated in Baptism, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and we live in expectancy of our resurrected life to come.
God expects His men to be “man enough” to yield to His will, die to self, and be raised up to be fruitful, productive witnesses to the world. He wants us to cast off sin and selfishness in order to discover the beauty, the power, and the joy that comes when we live our lives completely sold out to Him. It is a struggle, but it is in the struggle that the husk of our pride is cracked open and the fruitful nature of our resurrected life is forced up through the rich soil of adversity until it yields the seeds of future harvests for the Church. It is a lifelong journey of overcoming, as we stretch up toward the light of God’s love and burst forth with the abundance of faith that will in turn satisfy the hunger of those who are searching for that same resurrected life that we have found in Christ.
Connecting to the Theme: The more we are caught up in this death-to-life journey of our Catholic faith and the more we yield to the growth that must take place, the more we become true witnesses of the Kingdom. As others experience our resurrection life, they will be nurtured and challenged to give themselves over to this growth as well.
Question for Journaling: What areas of my life do I still need to surrender to Christ and how can I die to them daily so that I may reach my full potential as a witness for the Kingdom of God?
…yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Day 7 – Who for the Joy Set Before Him…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
It is easy to think of Jesus as joyful when He was teaching the people, holding little children in His arms, healing the sick, or seeing men and women coming to faith in Him. It is a little more difficult to picture Him as joyful in the midst of His suffering, when He sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, when we was beaten and tortured by the Romans, and when He was nailed to the cruel cross for our sins. But the Bible tells us that it was the joy that was before Him that led Him to that cross. It caused Him to refuse the shame and humiliation of the crucifixion, to stand firm against the temptations of the enemy to withdraw from the cross, and to endure separation from His Father as He took all the world’s sins onto Himself. It is almost too much to comprehend!
In all that Jesus said and did, it was this joy that carried Him to the end of His journey. Though He wept at the tomb of Lazarus and shed tears over Jerusalem, though He experienced righteous anger at the money changers in the temple and the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, and though He was often distressed at the lack of faith and the outright sins of the people around Him, He never lost sight of the joy set before Him. Jesus knew that His mission would save us from sin and open once more the gates to Paradise. All the horror of humanity and the cruelty of the crucifixion could not diminish that perfect, blessed joy!
The question we as Catholic men must ask ourselves is this: Are we willing to endure whatever lies ahead of us in order to experience that wonderful, perfect joy that is ours in Christ? The answer for many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, is no. We avoid pain at all cost. We whine about the simplest of struggles and moan and groan when things do not go our way. We have moments of joy in our journeys, but they are broken so easily by the slightest breeze of adversity. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from the words from Hebrews. Consider the following:
1) We are joyless because we are burdened. The easy and safe life to which we cling is really a burden, a barrier to the joy that can be ours if we would set our eyes on the victory at the end of the road to the cross.
2) We are called to run the race with joyful strength. We are not called to walk the race, but to run with all our strength, as we anticipate the prize that awaits us in Christ. We are to persevere, to give it our all, and to never give up until we reach our goal.
3) We must fix our eyes on Jesus, the source and finisher of our faith. Jesus began the good work in us and He will complete it. We must keep our eyes the One who came among us as a man, died on the cross, and now reigns in heaven, knowing that resurrection waits for us as well.
4) As Jesus endured, so must we, so as not to lose heart. Jesus triumphed because the joy within Him overcame the opposition of sinners. We have that same strength within us, and we too can persevere until the end, if we do not lose heart.
5) There is a cloud of witnesses cheering us on. So many have gone before us, saints who endured the trials and scorned the shame of the cross to take hold of the joy that Christ had set before them. Their prayers and their example will help to carry us across the finish line.
The next time we feel like giving up, we can fix our eyes on the One who never took His eyes off the joy of completing the salvation of humanity through the cross. Let us never stop contemplating the incredible truth that Jesus endured the cruelty of men, the agony of separation from His Father, and the burden of all our sins so that He could set us free and bring us home to heaven.
Connecting to the Theme: The greatest witness to the Gospel is a joyful Christian. As Catholic men, let us look for that joy in every moment of our lives. Let us run the joyful race to heaven and let our enthusiasm, our love, and our happiness in Christ come shining through as we share the incredible story of salvation with all we meet.
Question for Journaling: What are the things that bring us the greatest joy and how can we discover more and more joy in knowing we are running the race for Jesus?
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction
produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character,
hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out
into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Day 8 – Frail…
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
The reality of the Incarnation is something so beyond our understanding, and yet it touches our hearts in a place that nothing else – no other “way” of salvation – ever could. The idea that God became a human being, subject to our human struggles, is overwhelming. That He walked the dusty roads of Palestine, sat down to sup with the outcasts of the world, spoke words of healing to the sick, cast out demons, touched the leprous, wept with compassion for our frailties – and ultimately died the ignominious death on the cross – is a testimony of the greatness of His love for those who believe. Yet, for the unbeliever, this is all madness:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-25).
Perhaps this holy truth is hardest to bear on men. The idea of being “frail” is not something we enjoy. We would rather “tough it out” and at least give the appearance that we are strong, capable individuals who know how to take care of things. Yet the cross and salvation have absolutely no meaning in our lives if we are not willing to be frail. Being frail, at least in comparison to the “weakness” of the Son of God, means understanding our need to have a Savior who gave up the throne of Heaven to spend time on earth with His creation. It means knowing that we are like sheep who have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6), bleating meaninglessly in the wilderness of the world, in desperate need of a Shepherd to lead us home.
What does it really mean to be frail? Consider the following ideas:
1) Being frail means accepting our weaknesses. We are children of Adam, fallen and weak, and incapable of saving ourselves. Original sin has corrupted our nature and rendered us weakened and in need of a Savior.
2) Being frail means we are not good enough. No matter how much modern society tells us that we are basically good and can achieve anything we want if we work hard enough, the truth is we do not deserve heaven and we cannot do anything to convince God otherwise.
3) Being frail means all we have comes from God. Our possessions, our strength, our intellect, and our achievements are all gifts from the Almighty. On our own, we could never acquire any of them. It is only through the goodness of a generous God that we even take our next breath.
4) Being frail means we can stop worrying. We can stop trying to make it on our own. We can let go and let God do the heavy lifting in our lives. We can accept the fact that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:30) and He loves us enough to take care of our needs.
5) Being frail means we become more powerful in our witness. Like Paul, we can boast in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) because it is the power of God that turns it into strength. When others see us, they can see the power of God that has transformed our lives.
There is a song by Jars of Clay called, “Frail” that speaks of one who appears too afraid to yield to the truth that Christ became a human being to save us from our sins. At one point in the song the musicians sings:
Exposed beyond the shadows
You take the cup from me
Your dirt removes my blindness
Your pain becomes my peace
If I was not so weak
If I was not so cold
If I was not so scared of being broken
I would be...
I would be...
I would be...
As Catholic men, let us never be afraid of being frail, for Christ turns our weakness into witness, our stumbling into strength.
Connecting to the Theme: Those we meet along the road of life need to hear the Good News that Jesus became like us, so that we could become like Him. He has taken our frail human lives and put His life into us, so that we are not scared of our brokenness and forever young and powerful in spirit. Let us witness through our frailty, letting our weakness point to the One who has made it possible for frail men like us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Question for Journaling: What are my weaknesses and how can Jesus turn them into strengths so that I may lead others closer to Him?
He gives power to the faint,
abundant strength to the weak. (Isaiah 40:29)
Day 9 – Comfort for My People…
Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service has ended, that her guilt is expiated, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 40:1-5)
As men, our Catholic walk is not always a smooth one, at least from a worldly standpoint. We experience trials along the road of life, obstacles to our spiritual growth and happiness, and confusion and sadness in times of trouble. We stumble and fall as we go, picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and sometimes wondering if this life of faith is even worth the effort we make. We just want a little comfort, a break, a respite from the weary way. We may question how we can offer comfort to others when we are in need of comfort ourselves.
Where can we find our rest from the woes of the world? How can we find the strength for living our Catholic faith and sharing it with others? The answer lies in the words of Isaiah. Consider these ideas:
1) God wants to speak comfort into our lives. God is a tender Father who longs to forgive us our wrongs and bring us His comforting words to sooth our weary souls. His love for us is perfect and His plan is that we discover and embrace His glorious and eternal care.
2) Though God disciplines us, He leads us to a better way. God corrects us with His gentle hand, showing us our sins and guiding us back to the righteous road. He wants us to experience the joy of reconciliation and the power of salvation in Christ.
3) We are commanded to make the way straight. When great leaders came to a city, men would clear the way, making the roads straight and smooth. We must prepare the way for the coming of Christ into the lives of others, by removing the obstacles to faith and offering God’s comfort.
4) Comfort comes when God’s glory is revealed. Our comfort is in experiencing God’s mercy and majesty as it manifests itself in our broken lives. We often think of our purpose in terms of saving souls, but the greatest comfort comes in giving glory and honor to God.
5) Jesus came to give us the comfort with which we comfort others. We receive God’s encouragement and comfort and we offer that same comfort to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). The saving power of Jesus comforts us and allows us to pass on that comfort to those who are lost.
It is our mission as Catholic men to offer the comfort of Christ to others. As we walk the narrow way, gladdened by the grace given us by our baptism, we become a beacon of God’s light to others lost at sea, being tossed about by the waves of adversity. Through the Church, our rock and our refuge, we become a place of rest for the lost souls who do not know the Lord and our brothers and sisters who may grow weary along the way. The Word, the sacraments, the teachings and traditions of our faith become the anchor that holds us and the instruments of righteousness that we use to share this comforting Gospel story with all those around us.
Connecting to the Theme: Just as we have received the peace of salvation, so too are we called to be witnesses of the grace of God to others. So many outside the Church see Catholicism as burdensome, while in reality it is the way of the world that drags humanity down. The power and presence of Christ in His Church and in our individual lives is a soothing balm of healing to others. Jesus calls us to offer His comfort to those inside and outside the Church so that we may build up the Body of Christ.
Question for Journaling: What are some practical ways you can offer the comfort of the Gospel to someone hurting today?
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
Day 10 – Examination of Conscience
Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach. Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast. If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light”—darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one. You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the sands; when I complete them, still you are with me. When you would destroy the wicked, O God, the bloodthirsty depart from me! Your foes who conspire a plot against you are exalted in vain. Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you? Those who rise against you, do I not loathe? With fierce hatred I hate them, enemies I count as my own. Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts. See if there is a wicked path in me; lead me along an ancient path. (Psalm 139)
If we are to be men of integrity, who stand before the world as witnesses to the Son of God who redeemed us from hell by His death on the cross, we must be willing to examine ourselves in order to right the wrongs we have done. We must seek out the sacrament that reconciles us to our Father and to one another as Church. Only then can we carry the message of the Gospel to others. In fact, finding forgiveness in Christ through the Church is the Gospel message! The Confessional is the place where the glorious Good News of salvation is experienced in a deeply personal and communal way. As we come before the throne of grace, we are called to an Examination of Conscience.
The Catholic Church has a number of ways for us to do an Examination of Conscience. We can read through at the 10 Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or the letters of Saint Paul. We can consider how we have lived out Christ’s spiritual and corporal works of mercy. We can ponder how we have hurt ourselves, our families and friends, our Church community, and our world. For Catholic men, getting real with our sin is so important, especially since we so often try to deny or explain away our sin in order to save face. One of the most powerful passages about self-examination comes from Psalm 139. Let us consider what this beautiful and majestic Scripture has to teach us about sacramental self-discernment:
1) God’s probing love penetrates deep into our souls, revealing everything about us. God is the one who has knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He longs for familiarity and intimacy so that He may heal us of our sins.
2) God’s knowledge and discernment are everywhere and yet beyond our reach. Whether we rise or rest God is there. Though He knows us in the most intimate way, we cannot fully grasp His greatness. We must surrender to His discerning gaze in order to find forgiveness and renewal.
3) We cannot hide from God’s mercy. So often we run from the light of God, afraid that we will face His judgment and be overwhelmed by it. But the truth is, when we examine ourselves through His radiance, we find mercy and discover the Father’s gentle disciplining hand.
4) God’s plans for us are an intricate part of the process of forgiveness. Reconciliation reconnects us to the design that God has for our lives. As we consider our failings, we must also contemplate what God has in store for us and how our lives will serve to further His holy plans.
5) In the end, our examination must lead to a deep hatred of sin. Too many often turn temptation into an enticing game. We play with sin like children play with fire. But in the end, we must be willing to turn a hateful eye toward our sin and forsake our failures so that God can work in us.
The closing lines of Psalm 139 should be our ongoing cry. Daily we should ask God to test us, to search our wayward hearts and reveal to us our wicked ways so that He may lead us along the ancient path of salvation. God’s Spirit will show us the depths of our souls, diving deep into the heart of who we are until we come to terms with our sin, so that He may display His forgiving love and perfect plan for our lives. As we become caught up in that discerning discipline, we can purge our lives of selfishness and sin and walk in the way of salvation as members of the Mystical Body.
Connecting to the Theme: True disciples are unafraid to face the light of God’s cleansing love. As we examine our lives and surrender to God’s healing, we become transparent, transformed witnesses who can walk faithfully with others along the path of salvation.
Question for Journaling: What are the sins I have been hiding from God and how do I see God’s plan unfolding in my life as I seek His mercy and discerning light?
Examine me, Lord, and test me; search my heart and mind. Your mercy is before my eyes;
I walk guided by your faithfulness. (Psalm 26:2-3)