We live in difficult times as Catholics. Quite possibly it has always been this way. The culture sends messages to us that are very harmful to our spiritual life. If we have become blind to this truth, it is likely that we are pursuing success as defined by the secular world rather than pursuing the holiness God has called us to live.
Here is how the world measures success:
- Is my physical appearance attractive?
- Are my clothes stylish and sexy?
- Do I eat at the finest restaurants?
- How much money do I make and how large is my savings?
- Do I have the finest house and the latest luxury car?
- Am I powerful at work, home and among my friends?
- Are my children enrolled in the finest schools so that they too can achieve worldly success?
But, God provides a different measure:
- Do I love God with every fiber of my body and soul and love my neighbor as I love myself?
- Do I care enough about the spiritual and material needs of others to do something to help them?
- Am I dependable… can others count on me?
- Am I a person of integrity and honor… can others trust and believe me?
- Am I kind and compassionate?
- Am I humble and selfless or am I prideful and jealous?
- Do I do good things and avoid evil?
We hear a stark warning in today’s second reading at Mass from the Epistle of James that reminds us that to follow the way of the world – pursuing material wealth without regard to our duty to love God and serve our neighbors – leads to our destruction. (cf. James 5:1-6)
We oftentimes try to prevent others from doing what is good as if it somehow detracts from our own efforts. (Cf. Mark 9:38-41) He speaks forcefully about the necessity to abstain from occasions of sin:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43-48).
Practical Advice for Avoiding Sin and Pursuing Holiness
God desires only good things for us. He has created each of us out of His goodness to enjoy His eternal beatitude in this life and the life to come. It is relevant for us to know which measurement drives our behavior and actions. If we do not examine how we live and what inspires our behavior, we will quite likely drift further from God’s plan for us. Here are some simple and very effective steps to assist us see ourselves as God see us and to take corrective action to deepen our conversion away from sin and toward God.
- Make time for prayer throughout the day.
- Incorporate an examen (examination of conscience) into your bedtime prayers.
- Begin your examen by praising God and giving thanks for His goodness. Ask God to grant you the grace to be wise and open to what He desires to reveal to you.
- Identify recurring patterns of behavior. Where you have done well, seek more such occasions to live in virtue. Where you have sinned, seek to modify or avoid such occasions.
- Make an Act of Contrition. Resolve to sin no more. Ask God to give you the grace and strength to surrender to the Lord.
In so doing, we will build up a storehouse of riches for the life to come. Jesus has promised that He will not forget the smallest of our good acts done for love of Him…“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”