A couple weeks ago, I placed a breakfast order at my neighborhood Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru. When I went to pay and pick up my to-go bag at the window, the cashier said it was already paid for. I must have looked bewildered as the cashier proceeded to explain that a woman in the store had already paid for my meal. I was overcome with such gratitude and happiness. I immediately offered up my thanks to God and prayed for the woman and her intentions. The rest of my day was so bright and joyful because I kept thinking about the woman who showed such generosity to me.
Later, I could only think of how to repay the woman’s kindness by doing something generous for another person, an act known as “paying it forward.” Since this event, I’ve been to Dunkin’ Donuts twice and no one has been behind me in the drive-thru line for me to be able to pay it forward (or backward, rather). Each day, I feel as though I have a debt that is yet to be repaid. I was sharing this feeling with a friend when she said how the feeling is similar to when we finally understand Jesus’ immense love for us in his crucifixion.
Our debt to God can never be repaid. Psalm 116:12 says, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?” We have the answer in verse 13: “I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” There is nothing we can give to God that he doesn’t already have. However, we can give our thanks to him for the graces he has bestowed upon us and ask for more grace so as to show him our desperate need for his infinite love and resources.
The grace God gives us wouldn’t be grace if we were able to give it back. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me.” Our faith in God is what compels us to act out of goodness for others. These acts of kindness are our ways of being proactive in responding to God’s generosity and love for us.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus tells the story of a master who entrusted his possessions to three servants. The servants who were given five talents and two talents went off to make more talents. The servant who was given one talent buried it. The master rebukes the servant who buried his talent because he hid it from others. The master says, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29). This parable reminds me that God has entrusted us with gifts, be they monetary, skill-related, or time-related. We are to share these gifts with others, and in return for being good stewards of God’s gifts, he will provide us with more gifts. A friend of mine mentioned to me that even as she gave a little of the earnings she made from her first paycheck to God in the form of tithing and good deeds to others, she noticed that she always had enough for essential needs. Over the course of time after monthly charity budgeting, she earned a raise and could give more to charity while maintaining her needs.
The idea of paying something forward to someone else is most powerful when we share with those whom we do not know or wouldn’t naturally help. We have a responsibility to show God’s love to our fellow human beings by loving them through service, random acts of kindness, sharing God’s word, and in our actions and words. We have learned the importance of this already through the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for opportunities to pay it forward.
Until recently, I had this perception that to serve God in a day job, someone had to work directly in religious life or work as a missionary. I thoroughly enjoy my day job in communications, but couldn’t help wondering if what I was doing ultimately served God. I searched the Internet for ways to see God in the day-to-day struggles of work-life balance.
Through my search and prayer, I realized that working in an ethical environment that fit with my morals and values was the first step to seeing how my work served God. After reflection, I also saw how the words I used and the promotional or informative materials I designed inspired and educated others. God gives us all unique talents to grow and develop, as mentioned in The Parable of the Talents in Matthew. I believe my communications role allows me to strengthen my gifts in thinking creatively and working quickly and efficiently, while helping me to be a positive voice in my work environment.
Here are some inspirational points I keep in mind while working in a nine-to-five career.
1. “Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence.” –Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life
A secular view removes God from our work. However, God wants to be a part of our work. He calls us to use our unique talents for others. This helps to reveal to us why we are important and what we are called to do. We can each bring honor and glory to God in our own way by using these unique talents in whatever work we do.
2. “Slaves, be obedient…as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” – Ephesians 6:5-8
Regardless of the type of work we do, God is our ultimate employer. Following God’s plan for our work is what gives it legitimacy. Just as Adam and Eve were given the task of taking care of God’s creation before they sinned, so too were we created to do God’s work of maintaining and providing for His creation.
It’s important to remain ethical in our daily tasks. When we are tempted to gossip, be grumpy, or give into peer pressure, we must remind ourselves that God calls us to act above those enticements.
3. “Those to whom God gives riches and property, and grants power to partake of them, so that they receive their lot and find joy in the fruits of their toil: This is a gift from God. For they will hardly dwell on the shortness of life, because God lets them busy themselves with the joy of their heart.” – Ecclesiastes 5:18-19
Serving God in our work completely depends on our attitude. We are called to be joyful in our work. This is made easier when we remember that we are ultimately serving others through our work. If there’s a menial or stressful task ahead, think of the people who benefit from your service.
4. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
God wants to be invited into every area of our lives, and much of our lives are spent doing work. Though we may attain monetary success or be productive in the workplace, if our work does not have God as its foundation, it is stripped of its transcendent meaning. Including God in our daily lives is a sign of humility. Try asking for God’s help throughout the day or during an important meeting or project.
5. “In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:35
While we work to earn a living and provide for our families, we are also called to be generous to our neighbors in need. After all, it is because of God’s blessings that we have the ability to take care of ourselves. We are, again, called to take care of all God’s creation.
Some ways we can take care of God’s creation include:
• Reflecting on what your God-given talents are, and seeking ways to put your talents to work by serving your community.
• Seeking to respect life in all forms – the environment, human life from conception to natural death, and other living animals.
• Finding ways to live simply and not be wasteful; recycle.
• Offering to help others in your office – if a coworker is on a tight deadline, ask them how you can assist in your role.
• Saving a portion of your monthly budget for charity, including church tithing. You never know when a service opportunity presents itself – and now, you’ll have a budget you can pull from!
Have you ever sat behind a family in church who don’t realize their child is tearing out hymnal pages silently? That was me when I was young. My brother would bring a whole container of Cheerios and still end up chewing the wooden pew, and my sister would constantly be passed back and forth to Mom and Dad until she either fell asleep or stopped chattering. Families who bring young children to church are establishing a foundation on which their faith can be encouraged throughout their lives. Interestingly enough, all three of us are now grown-up, moved away from home, and are regular attendees at Mass. Our commitment to faith and the Gospels has never ceased, but only grown into what it is today.
Soon we celebrate an important day in the liturgical year…the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time! Not what you were expecting me to say, right? As we listen to the Gospel at Mass each week, our hearts journey alongside Christ’s teachings and we parallel these teachings to our own day-to-day lives. We often forget that Jesus’ miracles and most famous parables occur during Ordinary Time! Surely, there is no coincidence that during these weeks of Ordinary Time, when Jesus is teaching his disciples, he is also teaching us. As we hear in this week’s Gospel of Mark, “The people were astonished at his teaching” (Mk 1:22). Just as those who heard Christ’s teaching firsthand, so shall we open our hearts and hear him, too! The Catechism teaches us that Sundays are the “principle day for the celebration of the Eucharist because it is the day of the Resurrection. (CCC 1193). Throughout the liturgical year we come together on Sundays to celebrate the paschal mystery, that is the death and Resurrection of Christ. Ordinary Time is an important part of the celebration of this paschal mystery.
Ordinary Time can often be understood as time between the two holiday seasons. This period can be viewed as Christmas is over and Lent has not begun. There are two times during the Liturgical year. First is the time between Christmas and Lent, which begins at the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and lasts until Ash Wednesday. The second instance of Ordinary time begins the Monday following Pentecost and lasts until Advent. Ordinary is taken from the word, ordinal which literally means “counted numbers.” Many Catholics think of Ordinary Time as boring, usual, or “ordinary” Sundays instead of numerically arranged Sundays. Through the efforts of the New Evangelization, it is necessary to demonstrate to others the significance of weekly Mass, especially during Ordinary Time, to enhance our knowledge and message of the Gospels. Ordinary Time is a chance for Catholics to cultivate our understanding of Christ’s mission of love, and try our very best to be more like Him every day.
So this Sunday, on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, focus on the message of the Gospel and the relevance of the Word in your life. Coming to church on a Sunday that is not for Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter is not easy task for some people or families. If you see a family with young children in church this weekend, say a short prayer for those parents. It is not easy to take small children to Mass on a non-school-day, so a short prayer or an understanding smile might make it all worth their while. With your better understanding of the liturgical year, you too can let others know that Ordinary Time is not the boring-bunch-of-green Sundays, but a chance to grow closer to God and your neighbor. Now, if they ask you about the time between Christmas and Easter or Easter and Christmas you can respond with, “There is nothing ordinary about it!”
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to get you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
The friend in Jesus’ parable is persistent in asking for bread. He did not immediately give up when it seemed that the answer was no. He kept asking until his friend gave him what he needed. Just as the friend did not give up, we should be persistent as well. Instead of simply saying a Hail Mary or an Our Father and then calling it a day, it is important to persevere in prayer. For the intentions that are closest to your heart, remember to pray without ceasing. It has been said that Saint Monica prayed for the conversion of Saint Augustine for thirty years. She refused to give up when all signs seemed to indicate that her prayer went unheard! In reality, God heard her prayer and helped her son to become a great saint in heaven.
Just as a little child feels safe running to his father when he needs something, Jesus invites us to treat God the Father the same way. All fathers who love their children want what is best for them. God, our heavenly Father, is no different, except his love for his children is infinitely more perfect. He wants you to spend eternity with him in Heaven. He wants to give you the graces that you need to get there, if only you ask for them.
Jesus has made us a magnificent promise! “Ask and you will receive.” Although your prayers may not be answered exactly as you expect, God does promise his children something even better: the Holy Spirit! The gifts of the Holy Spirit are yours for the taking. All you have to do is ask and be persistent asking.
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis.
The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke’s Gospel is a passage referenced often for its moral lessons: how to treat the poor, how to avoid the dominance wealth can have on an individual. Readers take one look at the characters and find the lessons that can be applied in their own lives. However, a recent reading of John Chrysostom’s sermons On Wealth and Poverty has encouraged me to take a longer look at this parable. Chrysostom argues that we can learn from the parable not only about the characters in it, but also about the God who saves them.
We find Lazarus in a state of great poverty. Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel that Lazarus “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come lick his sores (Lk 16-21).” The details in this account show us that Lazarus was not just any poor person, he was the poorest. He could not afford anything for himself. He was so weak that he could not even fight small animals away. What does this say about the rich man? What kind of person must he be to pass by Lazarus without being moved to pity him? He must have passed him multiple times since Lazarus was right outside the rich man’s home. This paints a picture of a man who is not only consumed by his wealth, but is also blinded by it.
Given these two characters and the details told of them, what can be determined about God? Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Christ gives the famous Beatitudes, speaking about those who are “Blessed,” which can also mean “happy.” He says that in God’s eyes, those who are poor, hungry and weeping are the ones who are blessed and will be eternally happy.(Lk 6: 20-22) Lazarus embodies these characteristics to the extreme. And through Lazarus we see a reversal in heaven of what is on the earth. That is to say, that through Christ, those who are poor are wealthy in God.
In contrast, the rich man in the story, consumed by his desire for earthly wealth and status, finds himself in the netherworld after death.(Lk 16:23)He is the epitome of those Christ warned against in the second half of the Beatitudes. His “woe to you” lines speak out to all of the characteristics that the rich man had: money, fame and laughter. But this is not limited to a criticism of success or money, but rather reflects on how the rich man used his wealth. He did not share even the least of his possessions with Lazarus. Because of the character of God, He ends up sharing nothing of Heaven with the rich man. It echoes Jesus’ words, “What you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.”(Mt 25:40)
We see Lazarus in Heaven sitting with Abraham. The hopefulness to spend eternal life with Abraham, the father of the Israelites, is what makes the poor rich. This hope given to us directly from God is reflected within Lazarus himself. God took the poorest of the poor, and elevated him to standing side-by-side with Abraham. This alludes to the mercy that God has on us, culminating with the death of Christ Himself. In this death, we see a complete reversal: the son of God accepts the poverty, humiliation, and human death that we all must experience at some point. But Christ also shows us what awaits us in Heaven: endless mercy and love.
Lazarus’s poverty, hunger, and rejection from society become his greatest strength. For what kind of person does it take to endure such ridicule? Our God is a God who notices such characteristics that go beyond that scope of the world. In this parable, we see more than just a poor cripple and a pitiless man. We see a God who is completely merciful, reversing the earthly situation Lazarus found himself in. The parable represents an eschatological reversal stated clearly in the Beatitudes: The poor are blessed and the rich are warned. Most importantly, we have a God whose mercy extends to both sides if they choose to accept it.
Thomas Coast works in the Diocese of Manchester NH and working on is MA in Theology through the Echo Faith Formation Program out of the University of Notre Dame.