You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world . . . Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Mt 5:13, 14, 16) When Jesus addressed these words to His disciples, He made it clear that He expected them to make a difference in the world. And so it is with us. If our faith is real, it touches every aspect of our life. And if our faith is real, we should share it with our family, friends and neighbors; we should live it to the hilt, in our homes, in our schools, in the places we work and recreate. Question: Do other people know you are a Catholic? Do they recognize you as a follower of Christ?
I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear . . . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. (Mt 7:25, 34) So often in our daily lives we’re a lot like Martha of New Testament fame, “anxious and worried about many things,” when really only a few things are of great and lasting importance. If only we could believe the words of our Lord in which He tells us not to worry, we’d have so much more peace of mind and spiritual freedom. The saying doesn’t mean that we should abdicate all personal responsibility in our lives; nor that we should neglect our spiritual and material well-being. It does mean, however, that we should trust God and that after we’ve worked hard and done our best, place all our cares in His strong and gentle hands.
Do whatever He tells you. (Jn 2:5) These, of course, are the words of our Blessed Mother Mary to the servants at the Wedding Feast in Cana and they set the stage for the first miracle of Jesus when He changed water into wine. They also remind us of Mary’s special relationship with Jesus, that she was His disciple as well as His mother. Pope John Paul taught us that in learning about Christ we could have no better teacher than Mary who gazed upon the face of Christ with special tenderness and love. Mary always leads us to Christ. She wants us to listen to Him, and to follow Him in obedience and faith. “Do whatever He tells you.”
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. (Jn 15:5) These words of Jesus at the Last Supper again point to one of the principal truths of the Christian Faith, namely, that we depend on God for everything that is good and holy in our lives. It’s also a reality that we bump into at critical moments in our lives. It’s a truth discovered by clergy, religious and laity; by spouses and parents, teachers and students; by people in every walk of life. We do our best, but we need God’s help. Without God we quickly wither and die. That’s why we’ve got to nourish our friendship with the Lord in constant prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you. (Jn 15:16) On more than one occasion I’ve prayerfully pondered questions such as, “How did I get here?” “How did I end up being a priest and bishop, especially when God knows my sins and imperfections?” “What quirk of fate (or of God’s master scheme) has led me from Pittsburgh to Youngstown to Providence?” Although I asked and studied to be a priest, I never intended, wanted or asked to be a bishop. And yet here I am. I find the clear answer to my questions, and a source of great comfort in the words of Christ to His disciples: “You did not choose me, I chose you.”
The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit but rather one that makes us strong, loving and wise. (II Tim 1:7) You knew I’d write about this verse eventually, right, especially since it serves as the motto for my episcopal coat-of-arms? You see, when a priest becomes a bishop, one of the things he’s expected to do, at least by tradition, is to choose a motto and a coat-of-arms. I chose the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “strong, loving and wise” certainly not because that’s what I am but rather because it’s what I would like to be. But it’s also what you and every Christian should strive to be – strong enough to do what’s right; loving towards others, even those who disagree with us; and wise enough to be simultaneously strong and loving. It’s hard to do, but as St. Paul reminds us, it’s the Holy Spirit who helps us achieve our goal.
Let us rid ourselves of every burden of 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 our faith. (Heb 12:1, 2) For a long time now I’ve been inspired by that exhortation, “to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” It’s such a simple but effective key to the spiritual life. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will grow to love Him, to be like Him. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will always strive to do the right thing. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will have the strength we need to complete our mission on earth. And if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we’ll never be afraid or anxious because we know that nothing can ever separate us from His love.
So, dear reader . . . That’s some of my favorite Bible verses. What are yours?
(This column originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)