When we are ordained as permanent deacons in the Catholic Church, the ordination ritual includes these words: “Believe what your read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach.” This is our call to service as deacons by the bishop. For the remaining days of Lent, I want to focus on the three sections of that statement. Today, let’s focus on:
“Practice what you teach”
Let’s take a moment to sum up what we’ve discussed so far:
Believe what you read. I like reading and I believe what I read about my faith – for the most part. There are some things that don’t make sense to me about our faith, but I’m certain I am not alone. After all, the disciples (those closest to the living God) didn’t get it all the time. Maybe that’s a part of the mystery of our faith. Catholic doctrine or practices may not make complete sense on the surface, but we take it on faith.
Teach what you believe. Another no-brainer. I am more than willing to share my beliefs. I don’t know everything about my faith, but God has given me a good roadmap with the Bible and a wealth of resources to help me find the answers to most theological and doctrinal questions. It’s said that if you truly want to learn, then teach. I’m good with that.
Practice what you teach. OK, this is where it gets a little tricky. This is where that accountability thing comes into play. Are you telling me, God, that you don’t want me to just be an academic and a sponge for information? I have to do more than read and teach about my faith? You want me to put all of that knowledge into action? I think I know that answer to those questions. “Yes, Yes, and Yes.”
I had a conversation with Jesus the other day. I like to practice what some call “The Empty Chair Prayer.” You picture in your mind an empty chair next to or in front of you. Jesus then occupies the empty chair. You strike up a conversation with Jesus as you would with any close friend. You simply talk about what’s going on in your life: what you are experiencing, what concerns you, and how you are living your life. In my conversation with Jesus I began telling him about some of my failings – my inability to live out some of the promises of my faith. I focused on all of the negative things I had done recently and Jesus reminded me of all of the positive things I had done. He pointed out all of the times I had recently done “little” things (acts of kindness, giving of time and talent, simple prayer, etc.) that touched his heart, and the hearts of others. He reminded me that for all of “bad” things I did and all of the “good” things I failed to do, I had touched others in a positive and nurturing way. Jesus reminded me that I could only do my best.
Don Miguel Ruiz is the author of a book I have read several times titled, “The Four Agreements.” Following Toltec wisdom, Ruiz tells us to live our life with integrity by following these four simple steps: 1) Be impeccable with your word, 2) Don’t take anything personally, 3) Don’t make assumptions, and 4) Always do your best. This last agreement is important and Ruiz reminds us that our best is going to vary from day to day, situation to situation. Regardless of the interior and exterior conditions at work in our life, we honor God and ourselves when do your best.
I think Jesus takes a similar approach to our lives of holiness. (I hope so, because I am betting eternity on this one!) I think Jesus calls us to live the best Christian life we can, realizing that we are human, and that our ability to live a holy life is going to be affected by both internal and external forces. Jesus calls us to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (See Matthew 5:48). But Jesus understands that we are flawed and incapable of being “perfect” in this life. I believe he calls us to use this life to prepare for the next (“perfect”) life in God’s eternal home.
Mother Teresa, one of my favorite people, puts it this way: “We are not called to do great things for God. We are called to do small things with great love.” That’s important to remember as we walk our pilgrim journey to a life of holiness. Accept that we are not perfect, but that we are “perfectly imperfect.” Accept that we are called to love and to grow in relationship with God and our fellow man, but that this growth process takes a lifetime. Accept that God loves you, completely, unconditionally, and eternally. But also accept that God expects the best from us – to live the life he has chosen for us, in the best way we can.
In 12-Step circles they talk about taking life one day at a time. There is wisdom in that approach. Each day is its own journey and we can only take that journey a step at a time. It may be helpful to help focus your journey by asking:
“Lord, what is the ‘one thing’ you would have me do today
to grow closer to you?”
If you take this approach and take action to do the best you can, you will be practicing what you teach and living a life centered on Christ.
Have a blessed Easter. Be at peace and know that you are loved!
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