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home : bishop : columns

2/15/2018 9:00:00 AM
A near occasion of grace
'Here is a proposal for Lent: Instead of taking on more burdens and making more promises - things to do as if to impress God (and yourself) about how holy you can be - make a resolution to turn your life completely over to Jesus.'

Most Catholics are familiar with admonitions "to avoid the near occasions of sin." This is one of the resolutions every penitent makes prior to receiving absolution in the sacrament of penance.

It is a promise to do everything possible to steer clear of persons, places, events or things that are likely to tempt one to sin. It also implies a commitment not to be a source of temptation to others: Friends do not lead friends into sin.

To put this in an affirmative way, it would make sense to ask, "Am I actively seeking to be an occasion of grace wherever I am and for all those I encounter on life's journey?" Being holy is not just for church!

Another way to ask this question is, "Am I actively seeing to lead others to Christ?" This is really what the big word "evangelization" is all about. It's that simple. The mission of every disciple of Jesus -- the "great commission" -- is found in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus commands us to "make disciples of all nations."

How are we going to do that? How are we going to bring Jesus to others? If we follow the example of the master Himself, we can see that it is a very personal kind of engagement, often one person at a time.

Jesus enters our lives in very direct but gentle ways. The story in last Sunday's Gospel (Mk 1:40-45) of the lone leper whom He cleansed and the stories of the woman at the well (Jn 4:5-42) and the man born blind (Jn 9:1-41) are all Gospel passages well worth reading during Lent. They are all conversion stories.

Jesus encounters a person in trouble, heals them deeply and transforms them so that they themselves become evangelizers, or bearers of the Gospel. Their own life story -- sins and all -- becomes an occasion of grace for others as they tell the good news of what Jesus did for them.

We all have important stories from our life experience - not all of them easy to tell. Good friends, parents and grandparents sometimes find the courage to share a lesson in life with a young charge or a friend in order to point them in the right direction.

The saints are not shy about recounting the times when they lived in error or behaved badly, and how God entered their hearts and turned their lives around: St. Paul and St. Augustine, for example; or Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), who once had lost all faith in God, but eventually died as a martyr in Auschwitz.

Jesus changes lives because He is an occasion of grace to anyone who lets Him in. The question Jesus poses to each of us who wishes to be His disciple is, "Are you are ready also to be that occasion of grace every day?"

To put it bluntly: "Am I good news or bad news? Am I more of a 'near occasion of sin,' or am I an occasion of grace to those whom I meet every day?"

That may sound like a tall order, but it is not as far-fetched and intimidating as it might seem. Whether we realize it or not, each of us has tremendous influence on people around us. People do follow the example of others. How often do we hear (or think), "Well, everyone is doing it," and use this as an excuse or a cop-out for really bad behavior?

As baptized Christians -- people who have been "Christ-ened," so to speak -- we have a God-seed planted in our souls. Unless we have completely abandoned the Lord, He is very much with us and in us. Just giving Him permission to grow the seed of our faith, to set His roots down more deeply, is all it takes to get moving. He will stay.

Jesus is a tremendously attractive force. Children were drawn to Him all the time. He attracted all kinds of people seeking to be fed by His words and actions. A disciple of Christ, trusting in the Lord's presence, listening to his Word in the Scriptures and feeding off of His Body and Blood regularly in the Eucharist will find people drawn to that same source, that "occasion of grace" which is Jesus in you and me.

This is not something we should fear just because we might not be confident we have the right words or can quote the right Bible passages, or because we don't feel "holy" enough. The devil can quote Scripture too, but doesn't bring anyone to Christ.

If we open our hearts to Jesus, however, He will make us "tabernacles of the Holy Spirit" and draw others to Himself through us. We just need to give Him our trust.

Here is a proposal for Lent, as we move into this holy season: Instead of taking on more burdens and making more promises -- things to do as if to impress God (and yourself) about how holy you can be -- make a resolution to turn your life completely over to Jesus. Just say, "Lord, I am yours. Do with me what you will."

This is a resolution that must be made every day -- several times during the day, in the middle of the night when you wake up or cannot sleep, or when something is getting you mad or distracting you.

"Lord Jesus, I trust in you." Say this every day throughout the season of Lent. See what happens when Jesus really lives in the center of your life and is seated on the throne of your heart.

Do not be afraid to let others know your secret, too: the hidden treasure of a faith that sets the world on fire and renews the face of the Earth. For everyone you meet, you can be a near occasion of grace!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

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