Though not as often as prior to getting married, now and then I still take kind-hearted people up on the invitation to speak. I’ve always found the entire thing a bit strange, getting paid to travel and speak about matters of faith and life. In fifteen years, no engagement has ever been the same. As a former evangelical pastor, I had officiated weddings, spoken at funerals, baptized new believers and prayed for people on their deathbeds. Today, whether the audience is Catholic, Protestant, non-denominational or ‘spiritual not religious’, I’ve learned that people laugh at good jokes, love to eat and will respect anyone passionate and sincere enough to share their heart with strangers. From Costa Rica to Spain, Hawaii to New York or any of the other 40 States where I’ve shared the gospel, people want to know if God is real and what real faith looks like today…which you can’t really demonstrate by simply showing up to speak.
Last week I experienced a first. I delivered my first commencement speech; but that wasn’t what was unique about it. This particular engagement was delivered behind barbed wire and security detail. A state juvenile correctional facility invited me to give a message to the graduating class of inmates who had earned their diploma or GED. It was moving to see how many friends and family members came, shedding tears over the greatest accomplishment some of these kids will ever achieve. After the ceremony, the conversations with those young men impacted me deeply. As I cleared security, turned in my badge and collected my belongings to leave, very quietly and gently, I sensed the Word of God come alive in my heart, “for I was in prison, and you visited Me” (Matthew 25:36).
You see, for years I’ve been asking God what He wants from me. Somehow, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” had become too vague. I wanted to know what God wanted me to do, specifically. Perhaps you can relate?
As it’s prone to do, I found some comfort in the Scriptures:
“You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
It sounds so simple doesn’t it? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. But what do these general phrases mean? What do they look like to be lived out in the 21st century for a guy like me or someone like you?
When outlining the vision of Catholic charity work in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI makes a revolutionary observation. He affirms that charitable work is as essential to the Church as preaching the gospel and celebrating the sacraments:
“As the days went by and the Church spread further afield, the exercise of charity became established as one of her essential activities, along with the administration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the word: love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.”
Sadly, some in the Church view charity work and social justice as something in tension with everything else the Church teaches; but clearly, works of mercy and concrete acts of love are in harmony with orthodoxy.
A few years ago I remember pacing back and forth while talking to a good friend on my cell phone about these stirrings. I was outside on my front lawn, it was a scorching hot summer day when I distinctly remember saying, “How am I supposed to do justice and love mercy? I want to show love in a concrete way…but how?”
Just then, literally across the street, a young man probably in his early twenties was walking hunched over carrying a large trash bag over his shoulder. I live in an urban neighborhood so random sights like this aren’t too uncommon. It was sweltering and he was sweating profusely. In a moment of grace, I was aware of the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I told my friend I needed to go. I hung up the phone and with some hesitation in my voice, I yelled, “Hey! Do you need some help?” as I began to walk across the street.
It turns out the young man had just wrecked his car a few blocks up. It was inoperable and he took what he could from inside the vehicle. He had just moved to Denver and had no friends or family close by. He was staying in a local motel 4 or 5 miles away. If there was ever a time God was saying to me, “Duh!”- This was it. Even someone as restless as I could recognize this was what I was praying for, an opportunity to do God’s will and be like Jesus to someone in real need.
As we loaded his belongings into my truck, I initially thought I was simply giving him a ride to the motel. Then God got in the way again. I had recently had a roommate move out and as a homeowner serving as a Catholic missionary; I knew ends were going to be tough to meet. As we drove closer, the young man shared his concern to be able to afford the motel for much longer. In faith, I knew God wanted me to take the next crazy step and offer to house him. So I did. By the time we reached his motel, it was checkout time. We fit the few things he had in the motel room into the back of my truck and headed back to my home.
John lived with me for several months before I got married. He got a job at a local restaurant soon after moving in and came home one day saying, “I shared how we met and my co-workers just couldn’t believe it. They said things like that never happen. I told them you were Catholic.”
Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” In a culture obsessed with performance and doing everything just a little bit bigger and better, it’s comforting to know God’s definition of success is often small, hidden acts of faithfulness – no better expressed than loving Christ in the ‘least of these’ (Matthew 25:40). Sometimes, the ‘will of God’ is right in front of us and yet hidden, much like the poor, lonely, imprisoned, elderly, and sick in our society.
If you’ve been looking to take your faith beyond mere belief, ask God to take you there…just don’t be surprised if it comes masked as someone needing a meal, or clothing or a place to stay.
You Might Also Like:
Please ensure that popups are allowed in your browser so that we may verify your email address.
Since the pontificates of Pope Paul VI and John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has been commissioned to engage and embrace the world with God's message of love once more with ‘new methods, new ardor and new expression.’ It has come to be phrased, 'the new evangelization.'
For FOCUS, this means meeting college students across the nation where they are and challenging them to examine the meaning and purpose of their lives. Through personal relationships and friendship, we offer college students the true peace and fulfillment they seek in the good news of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Catholic faith, inviting them to answer His calling in their lives.
We want the FOCUS blog to be a place where our audience contributes to the conversation. We‚ve created this form as a way to reach out and hear from you. You can use the form below to do three things: 1.) Submit a topic that you would like to see discussed by our featured bloggers. 2.) Submit an idea you have about writing a blog post for the FOCUS blog. 3.) Submit a full blog post for us to consider posting on the FOCUS blog. Thank you for your time and effort!