By Charles Johnston:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
(Colossians 3:1-2 RSV-2CE)
I’ve heard this verse before, I’m fairly certain I have even heard sermons centered on it, but it never really struck me like it did recently.
You see Scriptures are like that. Sometimes years later, something you heard, once before will come back to your mind and make sense like it never did before. Like the Jesus’ parable about the sower sowing seeds, sometime seeds take a long time to start growing, but if they fall on fertile soil they will eventually grow. God tells us that His word (scripture) always accomplishes what He intended it to “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I intend,and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
I’ve always been a Christian, but for the longest time I treated my religion like a crash diet. I’d study and pray when times called for it and then, after I’d lost some spiritual weight, I’d slack off. After gaining a couple dozen pounds, in the form of sins and vices I’d go back on my “diet.” As you can imagine it works about as good for your soul as it does your waistline.
Any good nutritionist and physical trainer will tell you a diet isn’t a quick fix. To change your weight, and health, you must make it a lifestyle modification. Well the same goes for the spiritual side of the coin, what works for your body also works for your soul.
One thing that wasn’t lacking was my church attendance, if canonizations were based on your attendance record, well, I’d be in line to be St Charles one day. But just because I can count the Sunday’s in my life when I wasn’t in church, doesn’t mean I really brought my all. It comes back around to being there, and BEING there. You can warm a seat every Sunday and not grow in spiritual maturity than when you first believed. If the extent of your spiritual life is an hour on Sunday, maybe another hour on Wednesday, and occasionally cracking your bible open, then how do you expect to grow? If you barely fed a child, would you be surprised if they had difficulty growing? The best way Catholics grow in faith is by consuming our daily bread, the Eucharist, and by consuming the Word. As Jesus said “It is written,’Man shall not live by bread alone,but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)
I was a part time Christian at best, but we aren’t called to be part time workers in God’s vineyard. Working to build up His kingdom is a full time job. To really deepen, and enrich your relationship with God, you must make it a lifestyle change. I did this, without even realizing I was doing it, until recently that is.
It started with listening to Catholic radio driving to work, and tuning out all the bad news around me. Sure, I’d still watch the news at night, but I found myself surfing political news sites less, and reading the Bible more. I’d read articles on Catholic.com rather than politico, I’d listen to Catholic Answers Live rather than political talk shows or music on my drive home. I set my mind “on things above”, as Saint Paul recommended to the Colossians, and it has changed my life in ways I didn’t even realize until recently.
For a long time I had lots of hatred in my heart, hatred for people who’d wronged me. I got past it over time, but it only diminished, never really disappeared (and until this moment I’d never talked about it in depth with anyone but my priest). But as I went deeper into my faith, as I set my mind on things above, the anger and hatred didn’t just disappear. What appeared in its place was forgiveness, something I never thought possible. It’s very hard to say I forgive you, especially when the person, or persons, you are forgiving are not seeking forgiveness. I’d say that without special graces from God, it is humanly impossible, but like Christ himself said “with God all things are possible.”
Another effect of focusing on things above and praying, not just once a day, but off and on throughout the day, is a sense of peace that I’ve never had before. Christ said to his apostles “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) He doesn’t just wish us peace, as is the customary greeting in the Middle East even today, he gives us His peace.
The key to receiving His peace was laid out by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. (Phil 4:6-7) we can see here that an effect of prayer and thanksgiving to God (seeking the things that are above) is the peace of God.
St James’ letter tells us to “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) this is a constant process. Twice St. Paul calls the Christian life a race (Hebrews 12:1 & 2 Timothy 4:7) and a race is an endurance event. We run this race, but a lot of times we get sidetracked by events in life, we need to keep moving forward. We can’t fall into the temptation of being a part-time Christian, this is a full time commitment. We commit ourselves at baptism and reaffirm our commitment at confirmation, it’s a 24/7 job.
But Jesus promises us that he will help us through the struggles “for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) Notice He doesn’t say that He has no yoke for us, or that His burden is non-existent. He says it is “easy” and it is “light”, but it’s still there. But as long as we keep our eyes and mind on Christ, He will give us His peace. In the end, that’s what we all desire, even if we don’t know it yet.
St Augustine said “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in thee.”
So here’s a challenge, try it for a week, and if it bears fruit in your spiritual life then continue another week. You don’t have to do all or even most of these, it’s better to take on a smaller commitment and do it well than to take on a larger one and fail (as anyone who has gotten overly ambitious with their Lenten plans on Ash Wednesday can tell you);
Don’t just fill idle time with things from above, actively replace the time you spent doing other things with things of God. As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, thank God for another day. Say an Our Father and a Glory Be before getting out of bed. Do an in depth study on a chapter in the Bible, any chapter will do, you can even just focus on part of a chapter (the first 18 verses in the Gospel of John contain enough theology to study for weeks, that’s a great place to start). Listen to Catholic radio in the car instead of the news or music. If there is any doctrine or dogma of the Church that you don’t believe or agree with, or even don’t fully understand, make an effort to study that doctrine or dogma and ask the Holy Spirit to help you believe or to understand, whatever the case may be. Seek the things of God and you will find them (or more accurately; God will reveal them to you)
I’m no saint, I’m a sinner who asks for forgiveness daily, and goes to confession as needed (more often than I’d like but that’s another story). I’m not writing this to pretend that I have some kind of claim to holiness, but we are all called to be holy. ”For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev 11:44) This was an impossible task when this passage was written (under the Old Covenant), and is very difficult for us even now. But through the grace of Christ, first obtained in baptism, and strengthened through the sacrament of confirmation, can help us to strive toward this goal. Most of us, maybe even all of us, won’t reach the ultimate goal of holiness in this life (that’s what the cleansing fire of purgatory is for, but that too is a discussion for another day), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As Patrick Coffin says at the end of every show of Catholic answers live “be a saint. What else is there?”
Become engaged in your faith, clock in on time for this job that we have of building up the kingdom, become the best Catholic Christian you can. We can all do better than we currently are, we can all run this race a little faster and for a little longer. Become fully alive in your faith and see the glory of God in your life.
(This post originally appeared at Catholic365.com )