As I considered what to write for this post in the first week of 2018, I reflected on years of well-intended resolutions to lose weight, go to daily Mass, pick up a new hobby, play more tennis, etc. which ended in failure as my desires clashed with the reality of my busy schedule and stubborn resistance to change. I like goals, but I have decided to keep my resolutions more realistic this year. I have also decided to focus on simplicity and clarity.
To that end, nothing is more important (or clearer) than getting closer to Christ as I grow in my spiritual life.
Many of my challenges are self-imposed and I am often my own worst enemy. I struggle to say “no” to those seeking my help, my prayer life often gets shoved to the side because of my hectic schedule and I am typically more focused on action than thoughtful reflection. A recent conversation with one of our parish priests during Reconciliation and prayer time during Eucharistic Adoration have helped me realize many of my issues stem primarily from pride and a lack of peace which lead to a number of significant obstacles between me and Christ.
Before I share some of the common obstacles that separate me (us) from Christ, let’s consider what we know for certain. We have a goal (to get to heaven and to avoid hell), a road map (Scripture and Tradition), examples to follow (the saints, particularly St. Joseph), leadership (the pope, bishops, priests, and deacons), clear teaching authority (the magisterium of the Church), help along the way (the sacraments) and divine guidance (the Holy Spirit). It is clear that we are well-equipped and have the tools and resources we need, but are we willing to make the necessary changes?
Obstacles between Christ and many of us . . . and Actions to Overcome Them
- Pride – We have to surrender on an ongoing basis to Christ for His will to be done in our lives. He is not looking for a copilot. He is the pilot. We simply have to recognize that we are not in charge—as much as we want to be! Our active practice of humility will counter the sin of pride.
- We don’t fully appreciate the Eucharist – All of us have an opportunity every single day to have the most personal relationship possible with Christ by partaking of the Eucharist during Mass, yet we may not truly understand or appreciate this great gift He has given us. Many parishes offer Eucharistic Adoration, which provides an opportunity to kneel and pray before the True Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We will never know Him if we don’t spend time with Him.
- Lack of a prayer life – We can’t have a relationship with Jesus if we never talk to Him. I will work harder on my daily prayer with the goal of at least an hour a day devoted to prayer. Sound difficult? Think about how much TV we watch a day. Consider how much time we spend in our cars each day and how much time we devote to exercise. We have more than enough time for prayer if we plan for it, schedule it, and commit to it. Pray the Morning Offering or other prayers before you leave home (ten minutes), five decades of the Rosary in your car or while exercising (twenty minutes), the Daily Jesuit Examen (fifteen minutes), Grace with all meals (five minutes), and with your children and spouse (ten minutes). Add it up, and we just did an hour of prayer.
- Misunderstanding our true vocation – For those of us blessed to be married and have children, we must recognize that helping our families get to heaven and being good spouses and parents (and not our business careers) is our real vocation. It is so easy to allow our family to serve our work (my issue many years ago) instead of having our work serve our family, and, in turn, our family to serve the Lord.
- Lack of courage – If we don’t acknowledge Christ, defend Him in public, and tell others about Him, we will find it challenging to be close to Him. Christians are meant to stand out, not blend in. We live in difficult, trying times. Families are under attack, our children are at risk, many people are blind to the need to respect and value all life, and atheists are one of the fastest growing groups in the world. We have an opportunity to be beacons of light and good examples of Christ’s redeeming love. We will be judged one day on the fruits of our apostolate, and hope one day to hear Jesus say the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
- Lack of detachment – Let’s ask ourselves if we need “it,” whatever “it” is. Do I treat playing golf, going to the gym, time with friends as though they were more important than my family or my relationship with God who loves and created me and who is my ultimate end? If I already have a 50-inch flat screen TV, do I really need a 60-inch? If I already have a $40,000 car, do I really need a $50,000 car? Am I “majoring in the minors”? Let go of the things that are in the way of our prayer lives, Mass attendance, charitable giving, volunteering, time with our families, and certainly our relationships with Christ. “An effective detachment from everything we have and are is necessary if we are to follow Jesus, if we are to open our hearts to our Lord, who is passing by and calls out to us. On the other hand, attachment to earthly things closes our doors to Christ and closes the doors to love and to any possibility of understanding what is most essential in our lives” (Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, 7-volume set, Scepter Pubs, 1993). Healthy detachment includes letting go of the opinions of others and doing what we know to be right in the face of criticism and judgment from our peers.
- Lukewarmness – “As long as we live in the world our life is a constant struggle between love for Christ or giving into lukewarmness, to our passions, or to comfort-seeking, which destroys love. Faithfulness to Christ is forged each day by struggling against what separates us from Him, and by an effort to make progress in virtue. Then they will be faithful both when times are good and when they are difficult, when it seems few remain by Our Lord’s side” (Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 2, 418).
- Not spending enough time with the Blessed Mother – The surest way to Christ is through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Seeking Mary’s frequent intercession and praying a daily Rosary are necessary in my desire to be closer to her son.
- Lack of Peace – All of my hard work is meaningless if it is not given up for His greater glory instead of my personal satisfaction. I have learned that I am not Superman and I need to be careful about over scheduling my life. I know there will always be noise and distractions, but I must be ready to unplug as often as I can and fill that regained time with prayer and silence. I have learned that I can’t do any of this alone. I need to give up my struggles and unburden myself to our Lord in prayer if I am to truly attain peace.
Giving ourselves to Him, letting our old selves go and placing Him first will change everything. We will receive His grace, guidance, and love, which in turn will positively affect our relationships with our spouses, children, friends, and co-workers. We will see our faith journeys catch fire as we begin to appreciate the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith. Our appreciation of the Mass will grow exponentially as we more fully understand the gift of receiving the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and we are joined in intimate union with Him. We will be perceived differently as people begin to see Christ at work in us.
Or we can continue to stubbornly go it alone and keep ourselves distanced from Him.
Jesus Christ died on the Cross for us. He redeemed our sins. He loves us unconditionally. The only way to heaven is through Him. What does He want in return? He simply asks for ALL of us—mind, body, and soul. He wants us to place Him first in our lives, before family, friends, work—everything.
So, as much as I need to lose some weight, paint my house, pay off debt and attain a dozen other important goals, I will only commit to try and do my best. I will, however, make a resolution to stay focused on the only things that truly matter: being closer to Christ and obedient to His will. I know that every good thing He wants for me will flow from my obedience and love for Him.
Happy New Year and I pray our Lord will richly bless you in the days ahead.
Editor’s Note: Would you like to learn more about “regular Catholic heroes” and the joyful witness they give for Christ and the Catholic faith? Randy Hain’s exciting sixth book, Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic (Servant Books) is now available through Amazon and all Catholic bookstores!