You've heard the question: "If God is real, why is there so much evil in the world?" The answer is: It’s not God’s fault. We are neglecting to produce the good fruit that defeats those evils. - Terry Mojica
How does the Spirit of God manifest itself through us? Often we think that to witness means to speak up in defense of God. This idea can make us very self-conscious. We wonder where and how we can make God the topic of our conversations and how to convince our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues of God's presence in their lives. But this explicit missionary endeavour often comes from an insecure heart and, therefore, easily creates divisions.
The way God's Spirit manifests itself most convincingly is through its fruits: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). These fruits speak for themselves. It is therefore always better to raise the question "How can I grow in the Spirit?" than the question "How can I make othersbelieve in the Spirit?"
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel could either be a description of a victim or a description of a ministry. Which is it for you?
Bullies and other abusers tell us, in effect: "You have to turn your cheek and let me hit you again! You're not supposed to retaliate or defend yourself." A victim is someone who says, in effect: "It's wrong for me to resist being treated this way. It's wrong for me to get away from it. It's wrong for me to call in the authorities against this person. I must offer up my sufferings to Jesus, that's all."
No matter how others treat us, Jesus does not want us to be victimized by it. There’s a difference between making holy sacrifices, like Jesus did when he became a victim for our sins, and submitting to victimhood.
When we allow others to victimize us, we are self-serving: We are protecting ourselves from the unpleasant work of making our abusers accountable for their actions. Standing up against injustices and enforcing boundaries is other-serving: We serve abusers by giving them the opportunity to change, and we serve other potential victims by protecting them from future harm.
If we're caretakers in unhealthy relationships or enablers of addicts, or if we're clinging to what's familiar so that we won't have to do the hard work of learning new patterns, or if we're using our troubles to get attention and sympathy as a martyr, we are unholy victims. We are not serving as instruments of God's healing love. Jesus wants us to take injustices and abuses and turn them into ministry. In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7), he teaches us how to live a life of ministry, not victimhood. Our first reading is an example of how our Gospel reading is supposed to be applied. When we suffer for the sake of "enriching many," we are "sorrowful yet always rejoicing."
Amazing things happen when we live this way. Take, for example, the time a neighbor verbally attacked me repeatedly, because he mistakenly believed that my dog was spilling his garbage onto the street. He threatened to have an Animal Control Officer take my pet away. How did Jesus want me to give him my other cheek without being a victim?
First, without anger, I tried to explain that raccoons were the culprit, but when he refused to believe me, I looked for a way to go the extra mile. I cleaned up his ikky garbage and put it into one of my trash cans that had a good, snap-on lid, with a bow on top and a message to explain that it was a gift. After that, peace reigned between us, even when he left his trash unlidded and it was again ravaged by midnight invaders.
By having an attitude of forgiveness while maintaining healthy and reasonable boundaries against abuse, then and only then are we free to turn it into a ministry. Only then can Christ reach out to others through us and convert the pain of our sufferings into a gift with redemptive value.
And oh! How wonderful it is to contribute to someone's redemption!
How can someone ever trust in the existence of an unconditional divine love when most, if not all, of what he or she has experienced is the opposite of love - fear, hatred, violence, and abuse?
They are not condemned to be victims! There remains within them, hidden as it may seem, the possibility to choose love. Many people who have suffered the most horrendous rejections and been subject to the most cruel torture are able to choose love. By choosing love they become witnesses not only to enormous human resiliency but also to the divine love that transcends all human loves. Those who choose, even on a small scale, to love in the midst of hatred and fear are the people who offer true hope to our world.
There is also one song in the charismatic movement that stuck out for me in moments like this great and terrible trial that befell on me: "I Will Joy in the Lord," which is based on Habakkuk 3:16-19:
Though the fig tree blossom not, nor fruit be on the vine,
Though the fields produce no food,
And though the flock be lost,
I will joy, I will joy, I will joy in You, my God.
I will joy in your salvation.
You set my feet upon high places.
You make me run like a hind.
Oh, Lord, be swift to answer.
I will wait, I will abide.
I will joy, I will joy, I will joy in You, my God.
I will joy in your salvation.
This must be what hoping against hope, or "theological hope," means or tastes like: bitter at first and in the end irrationally sweet -- irrational because there is no compelling reason to feel good, save for the last thread of thought that one is assured of Christ's salvation. It is equivalent to O. Henry's last leaf, even if that image of the barely-hanging leaf seems self-deceptive to the outsider.
Are you a Barnabas? He sometimes seems to have disappeared in St. Paul's shadow. For a long time, these two men were partners in ministry, but Paul is the one we remember because of his abundant writings. Barnabas was no less an apostle, no less important to the spreading of the Good News. We get a glimpse of this in today’s first reading (Acts 11:21-26 and 13:1-3).
Are you comparing yourself to the Pauls in your life and ranking yourself as less important? Or perhaps you're not reaching your full potential in ministry because you sell yourself short, doing less than others because you think you can never do it as well as others.
Comparisons are fine if we use the information to make good decisions. But if it results in raising up one person as superior to another, it's evil. It denies the dignity and giftedness and uniqueness of the so-called "inferior" individual.When comparing ourselves to others, if it raises us up or puts us down, it's a sin. It paralyzes us from doing all that we can do.
No one is superior or inferior – we're just different. All are made in the image of God, who is the only Superior One. And Jesus needs all of us to function together as different parts of the same body – his body on earth – to continue to carry out his mission of making this world a better place and leading more souls to heaven.
Comparisons that lead to feelings of superiority or inferiority are based on the assumption – wrongly – that we fully know the people we're comparing.Any readers, for example, who compare their spirituality against mine have no idea what it took for me to get where I am today, how long it took me to get here, and what my shortcomings are (except my husband, who is merciful enough to not mention the faults he sees daily).
The only valid comparison, the only helpful comparison, is who we are today versus who we were in the past. In short: how far we've come. We can only rightfully compare ourselves against ourselves. This is what leads us to repentance when we've sinned, to healing when we discover old wounds, and to better use of our giftedness.
We must never, never compare our present selves to our past selves only for the sake of finding only what's bad and in need of repentance or change. It is not prideful to pat ourselves on the back for the goodness that is in us, or for what we've overcome, or for how much we've grown, as long as we recognize that God is the source of all this. Indeed, noticing how we've improved gives us the stamina and insight to continue improving, all of which glorifies God in whose image we’re made.
Barnabas happily fulfilled his calling as an apostle, because it didn't bother him that Paul was more outspoken, more prolific as a writer, and more in demand as a preacher. Are you a Barnabas? NO! You are an incomparably unique and wonderful masterpiece of God, called to do what you are uniquely able to do.
The beatitudes in today’s Gospel passage contain a word, a description of Christian living, that is very misunderstood in our modern language: meek. "Blessed are the meek" does not mean "Blessed are the pushovers" or "Blessed are the victims of abuse who don't protect themselves" or "Blessed are the quiet ones who don't speak up against injustices."
In the dictionary, the word "meek" is defined as "showing patience, humility, and gentleness." But we tend to understand it more often by its other definition: "easily imposed upon; submissive due to being deficient in spirit and courage."
Jesus modeled meekness for us. So did his Blessed Mother. Think about it: How could they deal with the tough circumstances of their lives if being meek means being deficient in spirit and courage? In fact, holy meekness requires a very strong personality. It's a bold strength that enables us to refuse to be impatient, prideful, or pushy. Rather than being a pushover, a meek Christian is one who will not push over someone else.
To be meek like Jesus means standing up firmly for the truth without insisting on being believed. It means holding fast to the truth without casting pearls before swine by forcing it upon those who refuse to listen. It means letting your desires be known without demanding your own way.
Christian meekness is confidence – but gently rather than arrogant or forceful or abusive. It's calm assertiveness. It's an unassuming but noticeable presence that does not draw attention to one's own self for the sake of being the center of attention but instead points to Jesus.
Holy meekness means setting healthy boundaries for your life and, with the strength of God, asserting these boundaries so that others cannot overstep them unless you choose to allow it for a greater good.
It means freely and lovingly, with good discernment, choosing when to make sacrifices, which you share with Jesus on his cross.
It means being a peacemaker in the midst of a battle, even as a troublemaker drawing attention to the battle so that a solution can be found.
In the kingdom of God, a meek person is anything but a wimp! Only with true meekness can we "inherit the land", i.e., receive as God's children everything that belongs to his kingdom. No one who's deficient in spirit and courage can obtain that.
The key to understanding how to be meek is to remember the word "love." To be meek is to be strong in whatever ways strength is needed – but always with love. We have the spirit and courage to love even during life's toughest trials.
I believe I have finally found the answer to my question to God: Why all these trials?
1 Peter 2:18-25
New International Version (NIV)
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you,leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[a]
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[b] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. *** Here's another answer today (June 10, 2013): The news of my affliction is meant to encourage (in faith) those who are similarly afflicted. 2 Cor1:1-7 Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the Church of God that is at Corinth, with all the holy ones throughout Achaia: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.