Sunday, October 27, 2013

New Life in Christ

Romans 12: 1-8
 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

In this passage, St. Paul begins to lay out the morality that every Christian should aim for in this life in order to imitate Jesus Christ.  Having just threatened the Romans with the possibility that God may cut them off, he commands them to be obedient to God.  He begins in verse one by telling them that their bodies must be a living sacrifice offered in spiritual worship to God.  St. Chrysostom (Chris sis tum) said that in order to do this we must let the eye abstain from sinful looks and glances, the tongue abstain from speaking ill, the hand do no lawless deed.  Instead, the hands must do alms, the mouth must bless, and the ears should rejoice in hearing the scriptures.  There is no other reasonable worship then men offering their bodies and souls to serve God.  We, too, must dedicate ourselves, bodies and souls, to God---all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do.
In verse two, St. Paul tells them not to be conformed to worldly customs and desires of the flesh.  This is the enemy of the renewal of our bodies as a living sacrifice.  He is urging them to transform themselves into new men who despise those things the world admires.  A renewing of the mind leads to a conversion that causes a change in the quality of the soul. St. Paul then tells them that once they are transformed they will be able to discern what is most pleasing and acceptable to God.  This is the verse that changed my life and ultimately led me to this very moment.  For a good part of my life, I was living for the world.  I wanted to have what everyone else had.  I wanted to keep up with the latest “fashions” and trends even those that I really didn’t care for.  I was always trying to fit in somewhere, yet, I always stayed just far enough out not to get sucked in too far.  Thank, God, for the conscience I had early on.
But as I got older and began our family, I realized how crazy this world really was.  I begin to see how rude and selfish our society was.  This was not what I wanted to teach my children.  Travis and I strived to put God first in our lives and not to fall into the temptations of the world, but as our kids grew older we began to fall into the trap of the enemy.  We began to stray from living totally for Christ.  We were offering incomplete sacrifices to God---not offering our whole bodies, just giving him parts.
One day this verse popped up in our path.  We had heard it before, but this time we felt convicted to stop and re-examine our life.  We began to “renew our minds” by taking in account all of our thoughts, actions, purchases, etc.  Then through prayer and scripture we began to discern God’s will for our family.  The more we sought out God’s will the more our lives began to transform eventually leading us to completely give up everything to follow His call to become full time missionaries.  This wasn’t an over night transformation and one that won’t be completed until we are in heaven.  The type of transformation that St. Paul is calling for is ongoing, one that must practiced daily.  Each time we sin, we must renew our minds and seek conversion and repent, always seeking what is pleasing to God.
These first two verses seem to be the most familiar verses of this chapter and the rest of the chapter tends to be overlooked.  I know that when I first began my transformation I did not go any further than verse two.  After ridding our lives of things we thought were “not of God”, we thought we were living holy and righteous lives and began to think more highly of ourselves and less of others who in our eyes were still living “for the world.”
Had we read further at that time, we would have read that the very next verse cautions against the sin of pride. Pride is that feeling of happiness we have when we do something good, but it can lead us to think that we are better than others or deserve respect from others for our accomplishments. Pride is considered one of the seven deadly sins.  It is often referred to as the “key” to all other sins, because once we believe we are better than others we begin to treat others poorly.  Pride fools us into thinking that we are the source of our own greatness.
But St. Paul continues on in verse 3, reminding us that even “our measure of faith” is assigned by God.  How humbling is that!  Humility is what this verse is calling for, and St. Paul even acknowledges in the opening words of this verse that the words he is speaking is dependent on the grace given to him by God.  We too must continually remind ourselves that we are only where we are by the grace of God not by anything of our own doing.      
After calling us to renounce our pride and increase our humility, St. Paul calls us to unity in verses four and five.  He compares the physical human body to the body of Christ in order to show the importance of our relationship with other believers.  He tells us that we each belong to Him and that each of us is important not only to Him, but to each other.  Not only does the body depend on each part, but each part depends on the other parts.  Verses six through eight explain how this unity works for the good of all.
St. Paul explains how each of us are given different gifts through the grace of God.  Each of these gifts is to be used to build up the body.  Each one is ultimately designed and given to bring glory to God alone.  While we cannot be prideful of our gift as we heard in verse 3, we cannot become slothful in using our gifts for the good of others.  This is another one of the traps of the enemy I fell into during my transformation.  Once I began to renounce my pride in the gifts that God gave me, I was afraid to use my gifts and share them with others for fear of becoming prideful once again.  I quietly kept them to myself and to my family and didn’t share them with the other members of the body of Christ.  But St. Paul tells us that we should humbly, generously, diligently, and cheerfully use our gifts for the good of the rest of the body.  Only when we do this will we begin to see the transformation Paul is calling for in this passage.
So, how do we begin this renewing of our mind in order to completely transform our bodies into living sacrifices?  We first begin by looking at our day's thoughts each night before going to bed.  I once read a meditation that explain that the crown of thorns were due to our thoughts of sin and pride.  After meditating on this, I really began to try to understand how dangerous our thoughts can be to our souls.  Our thoughts eventually lead and guide our actions and how we treat others.

Here are a few questions to get you started on your examination of thoughts: Were they all acceptable to God?  Were they thoughts that Christ would have had? Did you try to stop the thought at any time? Did all your thoughts revolve around you?  Or did you think of others?  Were you prideful in your thoughts?  Did you think ill of others? Were you jealous or envious of others?  With each thought, think about how you  could have and should have been more Christ-like in your thinking.  

If we faithfully examine our thoughts each night and truly think about how to make them more holy, we will soon find ourselves examining them throughout the day without much effort and changing our train of thought immediately.  And once we begin to retrain our minds to think thoughts that are pure and holy and acceptable to God, then we will see our actions begin to be more pure and holy and acceptable to God.  And only then will we begin to truly discern God will for us and begin to use the gifts He gave us according to His plan.  So, that’s my challenge to you:  Begin to examine your thoughts each night, so that your mind can be renewed, your bodies can be transformed, and your will become God’s will.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why Pray?

If God knows the future and has it planned out already, then why should we bother to pray? Will it change His mind?  Does it have any affect on what is already destined to be?  And why must I pray if He already knows my needs?  These are all questions that I have asked myself in the past.  Maybe some of you have asked some of these too.  Today, I’m going to try to answer these questions.

So why should we pray? The most important answer is because God commands us to pray.  This is evident throughout scripture. 
Colossians 4:2 - “Devote ourselves to prayer”
Ephesians 6:18 - “pray in the Spirit…”
Romans 12:2 - "Be faithful in prayer…”
                        Philippians 4:6 - “let your requests be made known to God”
1 Thessalonians 5:17 - “Pray without ceasing..”
God calls us to pray, therefore, as Christians must be obedient to what God is calling us to do.
But why would God call us to devote ourselves to pray without ceasing if He already knows what we need?  The answer is that He simply wants to have a relationship with us.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that when a person prays, he enters into a living relationship with God. In order to have a relationship with someone, we must first begin to communicate with that person.  We must talk with them, share our thoughts with them, and more importantly listen to them.  The better the communication is between two people the better the relationship is.  This is the same with God---the quality of our prayer life determines the quality of our relationship with God.  God wants to reveal himself to us and He does this through prayer.
But if God already knows the future, why would He want us to waste our time praying for things He knows will never happen or are already destined to happen?  Because our prayer may be the means through which something is destined to happen or not happen.  God has already predestined for our prayers or for our lack of prayers. In 2 Corinthians 6:1, we are called God’s co-workers.  He simply invites us to share in His work through our prayers.  When we share in the work of something great on Earth, we are excited about it.  We want to share with others about the good work.  When we get involved in a particular work, we are excited when it succeeds and want to share its success with others.  This is the same with prayer.  When we pray and our prayers are answered, we want to shout it from the rooftops.  We want to tell everyone about how God answered our pray.  The more we participate in God’s work through prayer, the more we also begin to trust in Him and the more our faith grows.  The more we work with God, the more our prayers begin to line up with His will for us instead of our own will or selfish needs.  Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes the “pray-er.”
So, if God commands us to pray faithfully without ceasing for things that He already knows we need in order for us to grow closer to Him, then how and when should we pray and for what should we pray?  In Ephesians 6:18, we are told to “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”  There is no “best” prayer.  Or best way to pray.  There is no limit to what we can pray for.  If God’s main purpose of prayer is to have a relationship with Him, then we can begin by just talking to Him---telling him our thoughts and feelings, our fears and our desires, our frustrations and our joys just as we would talk to our closest friend.  I think St. Ignatious of Loyola says it best,

"We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, servant to his master; now asking some favor, now acknowledging our faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our fears, our projects, our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel." 
And once we are done, we must sit and listen to Him just as a good friend would in turn do.

Monday, October 14, 2013

God is Love

In his first epistle, St. John tells us twice that God is love. Being an English teacher, I would classify this as a simple sentence. But in reality, it is probably the most complex sentence ever written. How can God be Love? In order to begin to understand what this sentence means, we must first understand what love is. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said that the word “love” is misunderstood and misused so much. I believe that this is very true especially in today’s world and in my own life.

We tend to overuse the word “love” so much (I love that dress. I love your hair. I love pizza.) that it has lost its true meaning. When I searched Webster’s online dictionary, I found that there were 28 definitions and examples for the word “love” ranging from a warm affection for someone or something to a sexual desire for someone. I think these are the two most commonly accepted definitions of “love” in our world today, which is very sad. Love is so much more than a warm fuzzy feeling and so much more beautiful than a sexual desire for someone.

So what does scripture tell us that love is? I believe that St. Paul describes love best in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous; it does not put on airs; it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is never self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails;”

If this is what love is and God is love, then this is also what God is. God is patient. God is kind. God is merciful. God is not jealous. God does not put on airs. He is not quick to anger. He does not brood over injuries. God rejoices in the truth. God bears all things. God endures all things. God never fails.

This is so different from the so-called love we see in real life. As humans, we are not patient with one another. We are jealous of one another. We are prone to anger and do brood over injuries. The love we seem to have for one another waxes and wanes and is often dependent on the actions of the other person. But God’s love is unconditional.

Throughout my life, I was a people pleaser. I thought that the more I did for people the more they’d like me or the more they’d love me. I felt that my parents only loved me when I was being good. I thought that they stopped loving me when I did wrong, and they had to discipline me. Because I didn’t know the true meaning of love in my human life, I could not understand God’s unconditional love. I felt that I had to earn God’s love by doing good deeds. I thought that He’d love me more, the better I was and the more I did for Him. I spent a good part of my early adulthood trying to “buy” God’s love or to make Him love me more. But there is nothing that we can do to make Him love us more than He does right now, and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us any less than He does right now.

As hard as it is to understand that God’s love is unconditional and unchanging, it may be harder to comprehend that His love is eternal and everlasting. Our human minds cannot comprehend what eternity is. People say to imagine a line going on forever and ever without stopping. Or to look at the sky that s endless, but even those in our minds seem to have a stopping point or a border somewhere. Here on Earth, everything seems to have a beginning and an end. But God’s love has no beginning. Scripture tells us in several places that He knew us even before He created us in our mother’s womb and that He destined us for love even before He laid the foundation of the world. There has never been a time when God did not love us.

Just as His love had no beginning, it has no end. It will last forever. It will never fade away. We see so much divorce in our world that we find it hard to believe in an unending, everlasting love that endures all things with patience. But in Psalms 118 and 136 the words “God’s love endures forever,” is repeated over and over. And God tells Jeremiah, “ I have loved you with an everlasting love.” And He told Isaiah in chapter 54, verse 10, “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you.”

Although, it may be hard for us as humans to understand this kind of unconditional, eternal, and everlasting love, it is ours. It is given to us freely. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that God created us out of His love and that His Love was written on our hearts from the beginning of time. He created us for no other purpose than to share in His love. This Love is waiting to be embraced. It is waiting to be accepted. It is waiting to be returned.


I recently gave this "God is Love" talk to the faculty of Holy Rosary High School on Camguin Island here in the Philippines.  After the giving the original talk (above), I discussed how each one of us as baptized Christians are called to reflect God's love, to share God's love, and to love as Christ first loved us.

I had read a post on Facebook a few weeks ago about a mother who had her daughter replace the word "love" in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 with her boyfriend's name as a test to see if he was truly "the one."  I recalled this post a few hours before I was to give my talk and decided to challenge the teachers was to replace the word "love" in that verse with their own name as they thought about their relationship with their students and fellow teachers.

I challenged them to something I had not yet done myself until that very moment when it came out of my mouth.  "Wow" is all I can say!  It was truly an eye opening exercise.  I couldn't get past the first one without wanting to run to Jesus in the confessional!  It has taken me several times to get throught the entire passage using my own name.  Boy, do I have a lot of work to do!

I challenge you to do this, but only when you have quite a bit of time and a lot of Kleenex on hand.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What is In-take Anyway?

In-take is what Family Missions Company calls its 3-month training program that all new missionaries must go through in order to be sent out into the world to proclaim the Gospel.  It's a time to make sure that the missionaries not only understand the Gospel they are to preach, but believe in it and live it to the fullest.  During this training, we live in community: sharing meals, studying, praying, reading God's Word, and serving in the local area.  Basically, we are doing what the Apostles and the early Christians did to grow in holiness and become more faithful to the teachings of Christ.

Each morning all 50+ of us get up and head over to the community house aka the Big House for breakfast about 8 am.  We begin with a song followed by the blessing of the food.  After breakfast, we have morning prayer in the Big House.  We begin with praise and worship and then pray the Liturgy of the Hours as a community and later divide up into smaller groups for personal sharing and prayer intentions in which we pray for all of you and your needs.  Following morning prayer, we alternate between two "classes".  One is called Si SeƱor and the other is a teaching workshop.  

During Si Senor, we are learning the "ins and outs" of being foreign missionaries.  We are learning about what is required of us not only through scripture and Church documents, but also through the experiences of the Summers family.  For the teaching workshops, we are broken into two groups and are learning how to give different kinds of talks and teachings.  We have all given our first talk which was our own personal conversion story.  We were very blessed to be able to hear how God first began to work in each of our lives eventually leading us all to In-take 2013.

About noon, we get a little break before gathering back for lunch.  This is usually when we check back in on the kids if they weren't with us during the morning session.  We all gather back at the Big House for lunch which also begins with song and prayer.  After lunch, we gather for our afternoon session.  Again, alternating between two different sessions.  We are studying the Acts of the Apostles and Mission of the Redeemer by Pope John Paul II.  Both of these lay out the "job" of lay missionaries.

After lunch study is chore time.  I know many of you moms were thinking, "Who does all the cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. for 50+ people?"  Well, we all pitch in.  We have chore teams that take turns with the cooking and dishes for each meal, but we also all have personal chores that we do each day.  Some of us clean different areas of Big Woods and/or the Big House.  Some of us are in charge of yard work.  Some work in the office.  Everything is divided up, so even though there is a lot to do, it all gets done pretty quickly with such a large crew.  My job is entering new benefactors into our database and updating previous donor's info, helping to promote our upcoming Proclaim 2013 conference, and helping with grant research. Travis is the trash man and helps keep the grounds mowed.

Once our individual chores are done, we have time to rest and/or study until dinner time.  This is usually when we meet back with the kids to finish up school or do our own homework.  Yes, we have homework too!  On Tuesday afternoons and some Thursday afternoons, we all go to daily Mass down the road.  Then meet back at the Big House about 6:00 for dinner.  After dinner, we have various evening activities:  men's and women's bible studies, community leisure night, game night, praise and worship night, etc.  Lots of fellowship time!

On Wednesday nights, we have "Mission Formation" which is a potluck prayer meeting that is open to anyone.  We'd love to have you join us one Wednesday evening. It is held at Our Lady of the Bayou Retreat Center on Henry Street in Abbeville at 6:30 pm.  We share a meal, listen to reports from the mission field, share anything that God has been doing in our lives, and pray for one another.  Sometimes a missionary or two will share a testimony or teaching.  I was asked to share mine last Wednesday and was so blessed when I began to recall how God had changed me from the selfish, wordly women I was to the submissive, God fearing woman I am today.  (Click here to receive reminders and more information about Mission Formation and other FMC events.)

Thursday is probably my favorite day of the week!  It's ministry day, and we get to spend the entire day together as a family.  Our family, along with the other three families and four of the singles, accompany Mr. Frank, our founder, to one of the local nursing homes for a rosary and communion service.  We have always loved visiting the nursing homes back home and really felt that God had hand picked this ministry for our family.  After the nursing home, we break up into smaller teams and visit some of the homebound from the parish.  Our family visits a beautiful lady that recently had a stroke.  She can't communicate much with us, but I know that she loves seeing the kids each Thursday.

We return to Big Woods for a quick lunch and meet back up with the rest of our ministry team.  After regrouping, we head out to a local trailer park for some door to door ministry.  One of the other teams ministers at the "soup kitchen" in Lafayette while another ministers at a different nursing home here in Abbeville.  Thursday night is family night which means that we don't have a community meal.  We usually take the kids out for a bite to eat and then come home for family movie night or family game night.  

Saturday is Work Day/Desert Day/Lord's Day.  All are welcome to join us on Saturday.  Just call the office and let them know you're coming!  We tackle some the "big" projects our here at Big Woods or for someone in the local community in need that can't be done during the week (carpentry, plumbing, electric, painting, etc).  After lunch, we have what is called Desert Day.  Everyone spends the afternoon in the outdoors in prayer with God.  We take our bibles, journals, prayer books, and bug spray, and then we find a nice quiet place to spend with God in His creation.  Saturday night is our Lord's Day dinner.  We get dressed up and celebrate the arrival of the Sabbath with a small ceremonial meal similar to a Seder meal---song, scripture, prayer, candles, bread, and wine (aka sparkling grape juice).  Afterwards, we usually have community game night where there are usually several board games going on at once all over the Big House.  

Sunday is our free day!  We attend Mass and then have the rest of the day to rest, call home, and waste our two hours of personal Internet usage scrolling through a week's worth of Facebook statuses and junk email.  We are allowed to leave and have lunch/dinner with family and friends IF all other In-takers are invited.  So, who wants to have all 37 of us over for Sunday lunch? ;)

For the most part community life is awesome, but like with all families it can be difficult and burdensome at times to live so closely with others.  The reality is beginning to set in for many of us as the newness and excitement wear off.  Anxiety levels are beginning to rise, and of course, Satan is constantly trying to swoop in and use that against us.  But the power of so many people seeking holiness through Christ is so much greater than all the trials he keeps sending our way.

We are growing our patience as our pride begins to die.  We are feeding off of each other's wisdom and starving our own arrogance.  We are learning humility as we learn to give of ourselves completely and totally for the good of the community.  Please continue to pray for all of us as we learn to totally die to self and give Christ our everything.