"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans." (Proverbs 16:3)
I am currently a graduate student in my master’s program at Indiana Wesleyan University. Through the university each week, we are asked to complete reflections based on that week’s subject topic. Recently I completed a devotional where the focus of questions was based on: Why is it so difficult to keep God at the front of your plans, whether it be business ventures, career moves, or financial expenditures? What keeps you from committing your plans to God?
"How might you work towards keeping God's will at the forefront of all of your planning?"
Below is my reflection on those questions:
I find that there are so many distractions and obligations in daily life. When we feel we must complete task after task, fill our lives with busyness, in areas of business ventures, career moves, and financial expenditures, we often lose sight of the most important thing: keeping God first in all that we do. We become so consumed with being successful and achieving our goals through our careers that we tend to forget, at times, what is most important. I have personally experienced that myself. When I worked as a case manager, I became so engrossed in working on completing all of the job tasks that I lost sight of keeping God first in each move I made. That absence of placing God first caused so many downfalls. My work suffered, my health suffered, and even at times, my faith. When I was able to refocus and place God at the center and first and foremost of my life, it helped me to see that I needed to change career paths to one where I was able to focus on placing God first, even though that can be quite challenging at times. This helped me to choose IWU as my college for my master’s degree.
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
Many obligations, distractions, and temptations in life can all keep us from committing our plans to God. We are often distracted by what appeals to us and/or distracts us that we forget in life what is most important. We see large homes, extravagant vacations, beautiful clothes, and items to fill our homes that we become fixated on achieving those things when we should be committing our time and devotion to the Lord. We feel that we become obligated through our careers to advance in the workplace by impressing our superiors that we forget that our first commitment should be to God. It can also be challenging to commit your plans to God because not all may share that faith, especially within the workplace. This can cause you to feel conflicted and isolated, how do we balance our commitment to God and be successful in other areas of our lives as well? How can we continue to discern our plans with the Lord even when others around us may ridicule us for doing so? These are but a few of the questions that you may ask yourself (and questions that I often entertain) that can make it so overwhelming to place your trust and future in God.
"Can we continue to trust God when life does not always move in the direction we would prefer?"
You can keep God at the forefront of your planning by making ways to remind yourself that He comes first in all that you do. You can start doing this through something as small as keeping a Bible app on your phone that gives you a daily Bible verse or following a daily devotional book. When I first felt that I was straying from God, I went out and found a devotional book that has a daily bible verse and an area where I can reflect on what that verse means to me and how I can apply it to my life. I also believe that taking small amounts of time out of your day to pray can help you to re-center and refocus your attention, goals, and plans to the Lord. I work to keep a schedule with me each day to ensure time to take a break, breathe, and pray. This time helps to keep in mind what is most important in life and what should remain at the center of everything we do, the Lord. Also, working to surround yourself with people who look to place God first in their lives can help you to do the same. Finding others that love and serve God in every environment can be difficult, especially in the workplace. But, having even a few close individuals that help to remind you to Break, Breathe, and Pray can help you see that God should always be at the center of your life. These small opportunities for prayer, reflection, and discernment each day can help us to keep our minds and focus on committing ourselves to God and ensure he is at the forefront of our minds.
Father Daniel Bedel
Priest and Pastor
St. Margaret Mary and St. Patrick Parishes
Exhaustion. I feel it in my bones as I sit to type this reflection. It was a long day. “A long day.” Such an odd phrase. But my experience in ministry is that most people I encounter have “long days.” Long…yes. But apparently not long enough! Oh, how I wish there were 26 hours in the day, but then I’d wish for 28! So much time and so little to do. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.
For a long time now, I thought I was alone in this sentiment.
"I thought it was the life of the priest that I was feeling — the constant grind of meeting an infinite need with finite resources. But I’m not alone..."
So many feel this weight. So many are exhausted at the end of “long days.” Exhausted with school. Exhausted with work. Exhausted with family, friends, annoyances, boredom, anxiety, worry, doubt, depression, etc. etc. etc. Exhausted with Life.
But exhaustion is not what I’m here to talk about (thankfully). I’m here to talk about the Theme of 2020. Many years have dedicated themes. 2010 was the Year of Priests. 2013 was the Year of Faith. 2016 was the Year of Mercy. But as far as I know, 2020 has remained conveniently un-themed.
Sure, it’s a bit late, (being mid-February as I pen this encyclical), but I am officially making 2020 the Year of Quiet Joy.
Now you may be asking yourself: why a theme? Great question. I have found in my short time upon this globe that every year when I make New Year’s resolutions for myself, I inevitably fail. Usually, because my goals are far too specific and unreasonably difficult. So, rather than resign myself to failure, I’m taking a cue from the Church. When you pick a theme, you’re really saying: “This is something important that I want to be aware of this year. This is something that when given a choice of how to spend my time/energy/life, and I’m going to choose whatever best goes with my theme.”
For example: When I find myself waiting patiently in the car as a train rolls leisurely by, I can either;
A) Get out my phone a scroll through something mind-numbing and pointless;
B) Yell at said train about how late I am and how horribly unfair life is and Dear God why would you allow this to happen to your faithful servant!
C) I can think, “Yes! This is the year of Quiet Joy! I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to find joy in this silent moment.”
I didn’t plan for that moment. I didn’t take time out of my schedule for that moment. I simply followed my theme.
Second question: why Quiet Joy? Oh, for lots of reasons. I suppose at some level it was inspired by Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence or the movie Into Great Silence about the lives of Carthusian monks. At another level, I find Quiet Joy fascinating.
"What is Quiet Joy? It’s knowing the secret that God is ultimately in control when all the world seems to be in chaos..."
For me, its smiling at the inherent comedy of life. It’s taking time to notice how amazingly beautiful the color red is. It’s listening to the silence of snowfall and how soft the world can become. It’s simply being in the presence of friends without any expectation of being anything but yourself. It’s being a kid again, and all the noise and horror of life disappears as you wonder at the beauty of God’s Creation. And if His Creation is so beautiful—full of wonder—then what does that say of God?
But simply being Quiet isn’t good enough. “Mindfulness” isn’t good enough. Not on its own. I’ve tried that. You’ve got to go deeper. You have to feel out the ancient things. The things from before time. You have to intuit what is absolutely right. The way things were supposed to be.
Do you ever wonder what it is about the sound of a baby laughing that is so contagious? It’s pure. It’s not motivated by anything except pure joy. Because for that baby, nothing else matters at that moment. All the basic functions of life have been fulfilled (food, water, warmth, shelter, etc.). All that remains is to enjoy the wonder and spontaneity of life. They don’t know why they laugh. Neither do scientists. No one seems to understand why babies laugh. But they do. Because at the very core of our being, we were meant to be joyful. We were meant to smile. We were meant to laugh.
As an adult, we quickly lose that. We become exhausted. We can allow our joy to be taken from us. Quiet is not exhausting. Neither is Joy. Neither is God. These things give life. And I want 2020 to be a year of life! The year of God’s Life flowing through me and into those I serve!
Now it’s your turn. Pick a theme. As I said, 2020 is conveniently un-themed. Will this be the Year of Marian Devotion? The Year of St. Joseph the Worker. The Year of Little Ways. The Year of Wholesomeness. The Year of the Poor. The Year of Standing Up. The Year of Learning.
The Year of Holiness.
God—for some unknown reason—has granted you this year to live. He didn’t have to. But He did. And He did it on purpose. And I am eternally grateful He did.
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This morning, as I was mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds and reading the day’s headlines, I was confronted with a certain detachment and ambivalence that has now become routine. It’s nothing new; as far as I know, it has been the job of news personalities and politicians to stoke panic and exploit the public’s anxieties since time immemorial. Even so, I have noticed recently a trend in the way that I and many of those around me now respond to what we see happening in the world. It’s not fear, but something far more pernicious: despair. It all starts to stack up after a while.
"When it seems like all that the world has to offer is bad news, it can be easy to feel helpless".
Turn on the news and you are guaranteed to be confronted with global poverty, the impending threat of climate change, and religious persecution around the world, just to name a few of the horrors one will hear about daily. How can anybody be aware of the myriad disasters facing humanity and also stay hopeful? For years my faith was overshadowed by what I used to believe was a natural response to these realities. I still believed, but every aspect of how I practiced my religion was imbued with a sort of tension. This tension, as I was only partially aware of at the time, was the result of my refusal to truly trust God. My doubt, my hesitance to put all of my faith in God’s benevolence slowly began to weigh on me. I took this to be some sort of personal failing, or perhaps I just assumed that this was what it meant to be a Christian in the 21st century. The world gets worse and worse, and we all have to deal with it and move on. After all, we are never truly at home here on this Earth. Plus, those who proceeded us had it far worse.
"What right have I to feel despair, with so many material comforts at my disposal, and with the loving support of friends and family available to console me?".
During my early college years, I accepted this outlook without much question. But as time went on, I allowed whatever silver linings I had originally recognized to become obscured by a casual pessimism. My relationship with the Divine became devoid of that theological virtue that St. Paul exhorts us to keep: hope. My belief lacked the aspiration for happiness that God has placed in all of our hearts. My prayers and devotions were becoming empty gestures, exercises in futility, separated as they were from earnest belief in the possibility of salvation. I had not stopped believing in the promises of Christ, but I had become sufficiently apathetic toward the world around me so as to lose any sense of what lay beyond it. I was not practicing the Catholic faith out of love, but out of a begrudging sense of duty. I cynically accepted it as the Truth, but failed to recognize it for its own beauty. This was all compounded by an overall sense of guilt, a feeling that I was not grateful enough for all of the blessings in my own life. Once I recontextualized my own petty grievances within the scope of the larger problems I saw all around me, things did not seem so bad after all. Instead of providing consolation, however, these realizations only led to more guilt for my own selfishness. Such continued this cycle until it became normalized, and I did not know any other way to process my grief.
"When we stop believing that God is in control, that things are unfolding as they should, we quickly realize that the only alternative is chaos".
I’ve been very vague in my recounting of this period in my life, but that is only because it is hard to describe. To try to define hopelessness is a difficult task. How does one describe the lack of something? This, in my opinion, is why despair is such an easy sin to fall into. When we stop believing that God is in control, that things are unfolding as they should, we quickly realize that the only alternative is chaos. Despair is incredibly disorienting, it completely throws off our understanding of how the universe is ordered. It is in the midst of this chaos that I came to understand why hope is important enough to be mentioned in between faith and love during that letter to the Corinthians. It is the anchor, it grounds us and provides direction and clarity of purpose. How can we have faith and love if we do not know for what purpose we are living? So I reject the cynicism that is so characteristic of the modern age, and which once defined my faith. It is hope that will save the world, and indeed all of mankind, at least those who choose to accept it. It is easy to give up, as I had.
"The true challenge lies in believing in a better future, a beatific reality that God has called each of us to pursue".
To this day, I still have to guard myself against that insidious temptation to lose hope. Through prayer, regular reception of the Sacraments, and involvement in the community of believers, I have found solace and peace that I previously did not know. It is not always easy. I find myself particularly vulnerable whenever I experience disappointments in professional and private life, or find that my plans have been disrupted or reoriented. Now, however, I feel better equipped to offer that suffering to God, and take comfort in His promise to all of us:
"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope". (Jeremiah 29:11)
Quinton Steward Son of God, Lover of all things Good, True and Beautiful
In the ministry there is a specific vernacular. It is comprised of words that are simultaneously direct yet full of ambiguity and nonetheless fundamental to describe the inexplicable qualities of spirituality. Of such words that are frequently spoken is the term “to love God.” As is common, the word love can imply a variety of denotations depending on an individual’s personal experience and universal experience. However, it is interesting that there seems to be an underlying thoughts and actions that could be universally applied when attempt “to love God”. I find myself often searching for a golden standard or practice. Whether this is a recent reflection or one that has lingered dormant in the back of my mind until now, I am unsure. But, one aspect is certain. I have a fervent desire to reflect and describe our faith’s tradition on this topic for the sake of clarity.
“Our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works” (CCC 198).
Within the capacity to love God, there is an indication to love the world and everything that must and will occur in that world. For it is common knowledge in the Christian faith that in the beginning God created all life, the heavens and the Earth. Although it is easy to love what is good, beautiful and righteous, this is only half of life. The other half we encounter has been traditionally described as evil; not beautiful, not righteous, and to be avoided. Where does evil come from? "I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution", said St. Augustine (CCC 385). It then becomes crucial for the Christian to comprehend what makes an action morally wrong, which will help us to avoid evil objects, intentions, or circumstances.
The morality of human acts depends on:
- the object chosen; We must use reason to recognize and judge person, place or thing to be or not to be in conformity with the true good.
- the end in view or the intention; Intention is concerned with the “good” goal of the activity. - the circumstances of the action. The circumstances contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts. (CCC 1750-1754).
It is equally important that we recognize that evil people were not mentioned when describing morally evil objects, intentions, or circumstances. I often wonder whether it is also honorable to love those who have chosen to adopt immoral objects, intentions, or circumstances. If it is not honorable to love the person evil has touched then the scales of life seem to be unbalanced. It should only follow that the word “love” should include loving those who have been broken or incapacitated by evil thought, word, or deed.
After all, the psalmist wrote, "The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made." (Psalm 145:9).
As I mentioned briefly earlier, I have recently found it important to acknowledge the capacity to love all that is good, and those affected by evil, as I understand, both are ruled or at least overseen by God. As unnatural as it may sound, the individual often has great difficulty loving neighbor until they have entirely experienced these failures, sins, when they “failed” to chose the morally-good objects,intentions, or circumstances themselves. The consequences of original sin and of all men's personal sins put the world as a whole in the sinful condition aptly described in St. John's expression, "the sin of the world", which we hear that Christ has conquered, for our sake, each time we celebrate the Eucharist (CCC 408).
It is certainly inevitable that as a part of each individual’s life is: DEATH. To many, death is the final stage of life and worldly experience. For the statements that follow I will choose my words carefully in fear of being misinterpreted, but I often think that one cannot fully experience life and the world without eventually overcoming the fear of death. In other words, to love the world and all life God created, this must certainly mean we are to love. We do this by the act of continuously giving the “gift” of our lives back to God the “giver of Life”. We “die” to self and personal sin, as we give ourselves more and more daily to Christ by choosing good objects, good intentions, and placing ourselves in good circumstances.