Stamp It With Works That Show Friendship With Christ
VATICAN CITY, AUG. 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Heaven is an equal-opportunity destination, but to gain entry one needs a "passport" stamped with virtues such as humility, mercy and truth, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope said this today in a reflection he gave on the "narrow gate," before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in the courtyard of the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.
The Pontiff asked: "What is meant by this 'narrow gate'? Why is it that many people do not succeed in entering through it? Is it perhaps a passage that is reserved only for a few elect?"
The Holy Father said that the message of Christ is that everybody has an equal chance of entering through the narrow gate, "but it is 'narrow' because it is demanding, it requires commitment, self-denial and mortification of one's own egoism."
Christ invites all to heaven, he said, "but with one and the same condition: that of making the effort to follow him and imitate him, taking up one's cross, as he did, and dedicating one's life to the service of our brothers."
Benedict XVI makes the point that "we will not be judged on the basis of presumed privileges, but by our works."
"True friendship with Christ," he added, "is expressed by one's way of life: it is expressed by goodness of heart, with humility, meekness and mercy, love of justice and truth, sincere and honest commitment to peace and reconciliation."
The Pope adds, "This, we might say, is the 'I.D. card' that qualifies us as authentic 'friends'; this is the 'passport' that permits us to enter into eternal life."
Before I begin a rather indepth commentary, I wish to provide a disclaimer. I am single and don't have children. Some of this comes from how I was raised and in seeing the sacrifices my mom and dad made in their lives. I see some of those same values in Grotto families and wish to expand on them more here because Pope Benedict has opened the door for the topic.
Mortification? Didn't Vatican II do away with that?
The very points the Holy Father makes in this article on yesterday's Gospel reading are points which have me glued to Assumption Grotto. I can't recall hearing about things like mortification and self-denial in the many years I spent outside of this fine parish and I credit the priests for having the courage to discuss what has become undiscussible. No. Vatican II never did away with concepts of mortification, self-denial, and sacrifice, but it is terminology missing from many puplits today. Yet, are these not the very things needed to serve brother and sister? And, such service is a fruit of our relationship with God, Whom is Love.
IT ALL STARTS AT HOME
When we think of service, we often think of serving those on the streets or the homeless - a very noble thing to be involved with. However, something I noticed as an "outsider" when I first discovered Assumption Grotto in 2005 is the charity visible in many families - the first place we should mirror the love of Christ. When I observed many families who are visibly open to every life that God sends them - whether just one, or 8 or 17, I could see the self-denial of mothers caring for their brood with joy. These mothers don't belong to bowling leagues, they don't get a day to spend a chunk of money at the mall and they don't get to have a $3.00 capuccino on a daily basis.
The families themselves make sacrifices by accepting all that comes with stay-at-home moms, many of whom are well-educated or well-skilled professionals who happily give up the bigger house and material things for an opportunity to raise their own children. The children don't get all of the latest electronic gadgets, the designer clothes, and other vanity-building material goods, but they learn how to temper wants and to distinguish those wants from needs.
I remember as a child being jealous because the neighbors got to go to McDonald's more often. I didn't see the sacrifice my mother was making in putting hours into a much cheaper and much more wholesome homemade meal. Mom's who make sacrifices know that the family can eat for days on the same amount it costs to eat just once at a fast-food restaurant. And, they can be made with less fat, less sodium, and much more nutritious - something we should want for those we love.
In some cases, mom's must make the sacrifice of working because of debt not associated with too many material goods. My mother wanted very badly to be a stay-at-home mom, but had to go to work when medical bills exceeded what my dad's income could handle. He had been hospitalized for a year with pancreatic tumors and nearly died. When, by the grace of God he got better, mom had to go to work. But, I now see the graces associated with it by the slack me and my siblings had to pick up. We had to play a greater role in helping out around the house. The key difference is in why two spouses must work. Is it to support "wants", or "needs"?
Perhaps we need to do an examination of conscience on what "needs" really are before we can truly answer that question for ourselves.
Dad doesn't get to join an endless number of sports leagues or watch his favorite sports. Some of the best dads I know love to watch football, basketball, or baseball, but deny themselves this without complaining to spend precious Sunday time with the family and kids. They recognize the need for this, given how little time they see them while at work. My dad knew how to cook and wash clothes - something he learned to do out of love for my mother who needed an occasional break. In some cases, fathers are so busy with their first responsibility - providing for the family and spending time with them - that it is not even practical for them to participate in any of the fine apostolates we have at our parish. This itself is a sacrifice, which at times, is the right sacrifice, if it interferes with job-1: the family.
I have known people - men and women - who for the sake of involvement in a parish, allow their marriage to fall apart when they don't temper the time spent in those activities. This is not self-denial, but a misguided application of serving the Lord. In these cases, the sacrifice should have been made by spending less time at the parish. Spouses should also consider the sacrifice of allowing each other a little time away in activities that will build virtue and enhance the spiritual life so it is a sacrifice to "let go" of a spouse. For those who do have a little spare time, it becomes a sacrifice to join organizations like the Knights of Columbus where self-denial comes in the form of spending a Sunday afternoon or weekday evening helping at a parish function or charity event, rather than watching a football game. The Knights give up every Tuesday night to run a bingo at St. Sharbel's parish hall in Warren. Do we make the sacrifice when we can to go and support them in this fund-raiser for the parish, if we can spare the money?
Children need opportunities to make small sacrifices and I see this at Grotto too. Siblings care for siblings in order to give mom a break. They help with work around the house to lessen the load on mom and dad, while picking up useful skills and mortifying that endless appetite to be entertained and to just hang-out - a past time not without spiritual dangers. I've known parents who wash their children's clothes all the way up to and through college. I am amazed to see a young adult - male or female - who has no idea how to put on a load of clothes to wash. There is a temptation to do it all for the kids without realizing the greater sacrifice is in teaching them skills they will need for life, while occupying idle time. Kids as young as 10 or 11 are capable of learning to wash and fold a load of towels if properly taught. This enables them to share in making sacrifices and to learn how to mortify the apetite to serve only the "I", and no one else - a problem so visible in society today.
SECONDLY: THE EXTENDED FAMILY
Charity and self-denial don't end with immediate family. There are needy siblings, elderly parents and grandparents who provide all of us with opportunities to practice mortification. That is, the opportunity to do not what we want, but what God places in our path. I just heard on Catholic radio that nursing homes are overflowing with elderly people whom no one visits. Many of these are alzheimers patients who may not recognize us, but nonetheless still need t be loved. Whatever their favorite dish, they will undoubtedly still enjoy those old familiar tastes regardless of their ability to remember.
Visiting a relative with alzheimers or dementia provides us with a great opportunity to practice charity without getting nothing in return. Anything we may do for them may be forgotten only a few seconds later. In some cases, older people need to be in nursing homes if they are a danger to themselves or others, or if their needs are such that physically we cannot care for them. But, how many are willing to make the sacrifice of taking in an elderly parent or in-law who truly doesn't need a nursing home? What must we give up, but time to the service of others in such a case? This time could be spent watching TV, surfing the net, playing sports, or working excessively in order to keep up with the many non-essential material goods that have no role in our getting through the narrow gate.
THIRDLY: OUR LESS FORTUNATE BRETHREN
It's only by the grace of God that we have the work to sustain our lives, a roof over our heads, the food on our table and the clothes on our backs. All it takes is one event out of our control to all fade quickly. While God provides for the needs of the birds and the fish, he depends on us to be the instruments by which this gets done for our needy neighbors. God's love is manifest in the love we give to them in their time of need, while providing opportunities of self-denial and mortifcation for us.
If we have done our best to give up the non-essentials in life, then the children have a good start in witnessning what it means to die to self. But, it's not enough to start and end with the family. Rather, families need to spend some of that time to do no-cost activities in the form of service. It could be at a prayer vigil outside of an abortion clinic, or in taking used items to a crisis pregnancy center, such as Imago Dei. It could be in taking food and clothing to homeless shelters and food pantries. Taking the kids to the nursing home and hospital is also a must if they are to learn by example.
When we follow through with the kind of self-denial, mortification, humility and charity about which our Holy Father speaks, we have begun the trek through the narrow gate.
ST. MONICA - EXEMPLIFIES SACRIFICE
In closing, I would like to point to St. Monica as an example. She could have used her spare time to do so many other things, but she chose to make the sacrifice of using time to pray for her beloved son, St. Augustine.
While we can use some of our spare time to rest watching TV or doing other things, why not rest in prayer for at least 15 minutes daily for the benefit of our family members and friends.
May we learn from St. Monica how to work and hope for the salvation of all those we know and come into contact with, especially family members.