We live in difficult times as Catholics. Quite possibly it has always been this way. The culture sends messages to us that are very harmful to our spiritual life. If we have become blind to this truth, it is likely that we are pursuing success as defined by the secular world instead of pursuing the holiness God has called us to live.
Here is how the world measures success:
- Is my physical appearance attractive?
- Are my clothes stylish and sexy?
- Do I eat at the finest restaurants?
- How much money do I make and how large is my savings?
- Do I have the finest house and the latest luxury car?
- Am I powerful at work, home and among my friends?
- Are my children enrolled in the finest schools so that they too can achieve worldly success?
But, God provides a different measure:
- Do I love God with every fiber of my body and soul and love my neighbor as I love myself?
- Do I care enough about the spiritual and material needs of others to do something to help them?
- Am I dependable… can others count on me?
- Am I a person of integrity and honor… can others trust and believe me?
- Am I kind and compassionate?
- Am I humble and selfless or am I prideful and jealous?
- Do I do good things and avoid evil?
We hear a stark warning in today’s second reading at Mass from the Epistle of James that reminds us that to follow the way of the world – pursuing material wealth without regard to our obligation to love God and serve our neighbors – leads to our destruction. (cf. James 5:1-6)
And Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that pride can even slip in when we are trying to serve Him. We sometimes try to prevent others from doing what is good as if it somehow detracts from our own efforts. (cf. Mark 9:38-41) He speaks forcefully about the necessity to avoid occasions of sin:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43-48).
Practical Advice for Avoiding Sin and Pursuing Holiness
God desires only good things for us. He has created each of us out of His goodness to enjoy His eternal beatitude in this life and the life to come. It is important for us to know which measurement drives our behavior and actions. If we do not examine how we live and what motivates our behavior, we will quite likely drift further from God’s plan for us. Here are some simple and highly effective steps to help us see ourselves as God see us and to take corrective action to deepen our conversion away from sin and toward God.
- Make time for prayer throughout the day.
- Incorporate an examen (examination of conscience) into your bedtime prayers.
- Begin your examen by praising God and giving thanks for His goodness. Ask God to grant you the grace to be wise and open to what He desires to reveal to you.
- Identify the ways in which God has blessed you since your last examen.
- Identify the times and occasions since your last examen where you have followed God’s will for your life… identify those times and occasions where you have failed, through commission and omission, to follow God’s will.
- Identify recurring patterns of behavior. Where you have done well, seek more such occasions to live in virtue. Where you have sinned, seek to modify or avoid such occasions.
- Make an Act of Contrition. Resolve to sin no more. Ask God to grant you the grace and strength to surrender to the Lord.
In doing so, we will build up a storehouse of riches for the life to come. Jesus has promised that He will not forget the smallest of our good acts done for love of Him… “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
A Powerful Example from a Simple Saint
Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. At the Lisieux Carmel, there was a nun that was particularly irritating to Thérèse and as would be the case with most of us, she found great difficulty in being charitable when this nun would appear. Where possible we are to avoid occasions of sin, but there was no way for Thérèse to avoid this nun, nor could she in good conscience anyway. So during her daily examen, she realized that she had to change the dynamics of her encounters with this nun. She resolved to always and immediately treat this nun as if Thérèse loved her best of all, whenever they met. Such a simple and kind act… and it bore fruit beyond imagining – both women grew in charity and holiness.
When we do nothing about our spiritual life, sin becomes the easy thing to follow. But, when we begin in humility to replace sinful acts with virtuous acts, we find that holiness is far more satisfying than sin.
This is a lesson that all of the saints show us and they each learned it by following the example of Jesus who gave His life for them – and for each of us – accepting death on the cross. So as we approach the Altar to receive our Lord at Holy Communion, let us reflect on these simple truths and ask Him to help us avoid sin by striving to live according to His measure and not the world’s.
Into the Deep…
Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life™. A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.
He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplains to the St. Peter Chanel Business Association and co-founder of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.
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