Photograph Courtesy RGNodak
As Catholic-Christians the greatest treasure we have is hope. The hope we hold, however, is vastly different from the hope that the world offers. The hope the world offers entails buying a lottery ticket and hoping that our numbers come up; this is no more than wishful thinking. The hope we hold as Catholics is our desire for eternal life with our Lord. The two are polar opposites.
The wishful thinking of worldly hope takes our destiny out of our own hands. It requires the cooperation of others and a little bit of luck. Worldly hope has its eyes on worldly goods, its desire no greater than our ambitions.
On the other hand, our Catholic hope, our desire for eternal life, sets its sights firmly on God. We look beyond ourselves to the life that is to come – to bigger and better things. With our Catholic hope we take our destiny into our own hands; we can make it happen.
There are four integral things we can do to make our Catholic hope in eternal life with God happen: Prayer, Mass, Reconciliation, and Almsgiving. Like building blocks, one leads to another, with their combined support raising us towards heaven. These four actions that will bring our Catholic hope to fruition are intrinsic to the growth of any Catholic’s faith life, whether one is already a deeply devout Catholic looking to expand their spiritual life, or a lapsed Catholic or convert to the Catholic faith looking to reboot their life in Christ.
It’s difficult to be in a room with someone we don’t know. The conversation can be disjointed and the silences awkward. We don’t seem to know where to begin, how to break the ice; unfortunately sometimes we don’t even try. We need to build a relationship. How do we get beyond this awkward phase in a relationship? We do it through discussion, dialogue and conversation.
Prayer is the discussion, dialogue and conversation we use to develop our relationship with God.
Prayer can seem daunting, however, especially if one hasn’t been in the practice for some time. Not to worry, though, because prayer is much like the conversations we have with family and friends, changing to meet the circumstances we find ourselves in. Remember, God always loves us, we are the ones on a spiritual journey of hope and He will encourage us on every step of our journey; whispering to us gently with each prayer.
Our prayers can be quite simple. For those returning to the faith, it would be enough to say, “God, I am looking for You. Help me to find You.” As our relationship with God grows, so will our dialogue with Him. As our faith deepens our prayer life can become more complex, involving daily devotions such as the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours. Even for those who have developed a strong prayer life, there are times when a simple “Jesus, I trust in You!” is all that is needed.
In prayer, just like all conversations, however, we need to remember that it is a conversation and not a monologue. Samuel’s, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” needs to be on our lips in prayer. The Lord knows our prayers before we even speak them, if our relationship with God is to grow; we need to listen to His reply.
Once we are comfortable in our relationship with God through prayer, we will naturally want to nurture the love we have for Him. This is why we have the Mass. This is why all those who have realized our deep longing for eternal life with the Lord can’t seem to get to Mass enough.
Mass is the ultimate prayer.
In the Liturgy of the Word, we can come to know and understand God’s plan for us – Salvation History. Listening attentively, we can hear God speaking to us through Sacred Scripture; not only to the ancient Hebrews or the Jews of the Roman Empire, but to us personally. There may be times when the priest’s homily is necessary for us to connect the dots between the readings, there will be other times when the link to our lives is as plain as day, and there will be other times when, like Mary, we will need to ponder these things in our hearts. The important thing is to listen.
In the Liturgy of the Eucharist God comes to us – personally, tangibly, physically. With the words of consecration, Jesus comes into our midst – body, blood, soul and divinity. It has been said that if we truly understood what was happening in the Eucharist, firstly, we would not be able to stay away from Mass; and, secondly, we would drop dead from the sheer magnitude and majesty of what we have before us.
When we desire to grow our relationship with someone, we look for every opportunity to spend time with them. God offers us His presence in the Eucharist. If our Catholic hope is to spend eternity with our Lord, we can catch a glimpse of this in the Eucharist.
When we look for opportunities to be with someone we love, we also make sure that we’re ready to be with them. When dating, future spouses will make sure they are showered, dressed to impress and groomed to perfection. How much more should our attention be to these kind details when it comes to spending time with our Lord? Being ready to spend time with the Lord isn’t just about appearances (though this does make a statement about our inward commitment to our relationship with God) it has all to do with our spiritual readiness to spend time with Him.
The sacrament of Reconciliation, the confession of our sins, our fessing up to God to restore our relationship with Him is what it takes to get our soul ready to spend eternity with Him. If our Catholic hope, our ardent desire, is to spend our eternal life with the Lord, then we need to make sure we are ready for it. Unfortunately, Reconciliation is probably the sacrament that Catholics fear the most, even those who are in the regular habit of making their way to the confessional. After a long absence, Reconciliation can seem overwhelming, but not only God, but the priest will rejoice in a lost lamb’s return, helping take the baby steps necessary to make a good confession.
To receive the most our of God’s grace through Reconciliation, it is important to prepare oneself to make a good confession. Making a thorough examination of conscience is key to the process. Look deep into your soul, God already knows all, but He needs you to do the cleaning yourself. Reconciliation is always a difficult task that takes humility, but it does get easier with practice. Once a good confession made, and one is reconciled to the Lord, they need to get back to Mass to be able to fully participate in the Eucharist.
This fourth aspect of making our Catholic hope become a reality flows naturally from the first three. When one has a strong prayer life and has developed the habits of frequent Reconciliation and participation in the Eucharist, a change comes over them. Reconciled to Christ, they become more Christ-like. In washing the feet of His disciples, Christ showed us the mission to serve, and this service is almsgiving.
Typically, when we think of almsgiving, we think of giving money to the poor – and yes, this is a part of the almsgiving that leads to our Catholic hope. In a material world with material needs, most Catholics balk at the traditional notion of almsgiving as tithing (giving 10% to the Church). Tithing is important, doing without for others is the humility needed to present oneself before the Lord, but it does not entail cutting a cheque for 10% to the Church at tax time.
It is important to provide monetary support to the Church to keep the lights on, pay salaries, and to offer all of the other support services that the Catholic Church provides, but that the world seldom sees (think St. Vincent de Paul). Tithing can also involve other forms of giving too, such as directly helping charities with monetary or material aid, as well as volunteering personal time to help out where needed.
Our Catholic hope goes beyond what this world has to offer; it is firmly set in our desire to spend eternity with God. Our Catholic hope is unique, in that we hold in our own hands the ability to make this hope a reality. The four building blocks of Prayer, Mass, Reconciliation and Almsgiving are what we can use to develop our relationship with God, bringing us to spend more time in His presence.
Photograph Courtesy StephenMitchell