The keys to peace on earth and joy in heaven.
Many years ago, an elderly Bishop visited a parish of his diocese for Confirmations. Despite the fact that he was losing his hearing, he continued his custom of quizzing the children on their catechism before Confirmation.
He asked a young girl to define the Blessed Trinity. The girl was rather nervous and shy. She whispered: “The Blessed Trinity is one God with three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Not hearing her answer, the Bishop said: “Speak up, I can’t understand you.”
Turning to the Bishop, the little girl replied: “You can’t understand. It’s a mystery!”
Precisely. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (234) states:The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.
God is mysterious. We have to accept this fact. We cannot think that we can completely understand God.
St. Augustine was once confronted by a pagan leader who showed him his idol and said, “Here is my god; where is yours?” Augustine replied, “I cannot show you my God; not because there is no God to show, but because you have no eyes to see him.”
Although we cannot begin to fathom the mystery of God, we do know that he is always with us. The gift of faith that we have received at our baptism helps us to live in his presence and know that he is always with us.
Because the Blessed Trinity is a mystery that we cannot understand, I would like to focus attention this Sunday on how we should live out our relationship with God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I’d like to consider with you what I call the Eight Habits of Highly Effective Catholics. These are the habits of believers who have a radical trust in God.
What do I mean by “radical”? It comes from the Latin word radix, which means root. So for those who have a radical trust in God, their relationship with God goes to the very core of their being. It is a personal relationship. As Paul explained to the Athenians, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28).
Habit #1 – Highly effective Catholics accept suffering
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was a Catholic priest from Vietnam. He became a bishop in 1975 and later became a cardinal. Only a few months after becoming a bishop, Van Thuan was arrested by the Vietnamese government and imprisoned for thirteen years, nine of them in solitary confinement.
During the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II invited Cardinal Van Thuan to direct the annual Lenten spiritual exercises for himself and the Roman Curia. The collection of meditations he delivered were published in a powerful book entitled Testimony of Hope.
In one of the meditations, Cardinal Van Thuan movingly describes what it was like not to have the Eucharist readily available and what he had to do to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands. The next day, I was permitted to write to my people in order to ask for the most necessary things: clothes, toothpaste… . I wrote, “Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomach ache.” The faithful understood right away. They sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, “medicine for stomach aches.” They also sent some hosts, which they hid in a flashlight for protection against the humidity. The police asked me, “You have stomach aches? Yes. Here’s some medicine for you.”
I never will be able to express my great joy! Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass. This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! It was true medicine for soul and body, Medicine of immortality, remedy so as not to die but to have life always in Jesus,” as St. Ignatius of Antioch says.
Each time I celebrated the Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice. Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, and eternal pact between Jesus and me through his blood mixed with mine. Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life! (p. 131)
My dear friends, Cardinal Van Thuan understood that evil exists, but he also understood that no matter what happens to him, God would always be with him in a very powerful way. In prison, he was able to love his enemies, minister to other prisoners and even convert his jailers.
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan lived out the words from this Sunday’s second reading:
… but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that afflication produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Rom. 5:4-5).
Habit #2 – They accept the reality of death
People who have focused their lives on heaven, think in terms of eternity, not in terms of days, months and years. They see life as a mission and they are driven by that mission. They do all that they can to get to heaven and to bring as many people as possible with them.
Eternity is not an escape from their duties here on earth. Instead, they develop the talents and gifts that God has given to them and they strive to make this world a better place for everyone.
Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and loses himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, 39).
Habit #3 – They pray daily
Anyone who has a radical trust in God spends at least one or two hours a day with the living God in whom they trust. They are always in love with God, with others, with life and with all of their endeavors. They are never bored and their time with God launches them into enthusiastically donating themselves to all those around them. They are radiant Christians.
Habit #4 – During their time of prayer, they listen
Always acknowledging their own inner poverty, highly effective Catholics recognize their need for God. They trust God and therefore they sit with him quietly, lovingly remaining in his presence. They are convinced of the words of Jesus: “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:8).
Habit #5 – They avoid distractions
Because they see life as a mission, highly effective Cahtolics use technology correctly. They understand that time is a gift. They have a realistic view about life, and they understand true leisure. They rest on Sundays, enjoy the company of their family and friends, and take vacations. They do not waste endless hours on Facebook or watching television.
Habit #6 – They seek counsel and spiritual direction
Highly effective Catholics are spiritually in tune with God and they notice that God often speaks to them through the counsel and direction of a good priest, a good deacon, a religious sister or a well formed lay leader. They do not avoid them, but instead, have regular meetings with them. Before making a major decision, they talk things over with their spiritual guide. Moreover, they have a regular confessor and make use of frequent confession.
Habit #7 – They surrender themselves lovingly, in holy obedience, to the will of God
Within the daily circumstances of their lives, believers who have a radical trust in God live out the words that Jesus taught us to pray: “your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6: 10). They don’t lament and complain about the difficulties of life because they know that the Father will provide their daily bread and they know how to forgive all those who’ve hurt them.
Habit #8 – They are happy
Highly efficient Catholics possess an indescribable joy. Even when they suffer terribly, they continue to smile, because they know that their smile encourages others to press on and persevere. They can always laugh because they know that God loves them unconditionally. They have an interior peace because of their radical trust in God. They know that the words of Teresa of Avila are true and real:
Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing; God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who possesses God lacks nothing: God alone suffices.
Are you ready to start cultivating some of these habits? Begin my making time for daily prayer (including silent prayer) and before you know it, God will help you to form all the other habits. Guaranteed.