Becoming Great

Becoming Great!

by Br. Nicholas Reynolds, OP

Nov. 19, 2013

We live in an age where status and material wealth makes you a “somebody.” Even I have to admit that I would not have gotten to where I am today without having received some stamp of recognition. We all wish to be a “somebody,” to feel a sense of importance. We want to be “great!”

I am still awestruck by St. Paul’s insight in his letter to the Philippians:

“Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”

He emptied himself. The more I reflect on this quote from Philippians, I am drawn to the realization that the Christian life is about emptying oneself before God. Yet, it is not an emptying that negates who one is before God. It is an emptying that leads us to fully become who we are truly meant to be. It is in emptying ourselves that we truly become great in the manner of Christ, because true greatness does not seek the pomp and circumstance that sometimes comes with worldly recognition, but true greatness accrues to the person who does simple acts with love. It is the mother who works two jobs and still finds time to read her kids a bedtime story. It is the brother in our house who always asks, “How are you?”

We are often under the illusion that greatness must come in the form of worldly recognition that in the end prevents us from encountering who we really are. Greatness isn’t anything we make for or of ourselves. In the end I cannot take my degrees to the grave with me. I cannot take my status. I cannot take my life possessions or my prestige. Ultimately, greatness is what we achieve when we simply let love consume us. This is because every act of love participates in the great eternal love of Christ, no matter how small and simple. Just as Christ was stripped of his seamless garment, which was cast for lots before he hung on the cross in the ultimate act of love, so too we must be stripped of our garments to be exposed before God, so we may die to self and receive his greatness.

Should we not seek to change ourselves to become better? Certainly, we should. Seek not so much that you might gain worldly recognition. Rather, seek the greatness of Christ.

I will leave a little prayer for your reflection:

Lord Jesus, who will remember anything great that we have done in our lives? It is not in great accomplishments that we are great or worthy of remembrance. It is the simple act of love that is truly great and in which we are truly remembered, because in every simple act of love we are joined to your great and eternal love that continues to be remembered forever. Strip us then of every desire for worldly greatness. Strip us, so that we may be love, for love alone is the greatest.  Amen

Br. Nicholas Reynolds, OP's picture

Simple Vows, Clerical Brother

Br. Nicholas is from St. Simons Island, Ga. Born and grew up in Savannah, Ga. He went to Furman University where he majored in physics, where he was actively involved with campus ministry.

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How Deeply Is God Involved With Our Lives

This morning I received an excellent question from a wonderful God-loving friend:  “How deeply does God want to be involved with our life?”  The short answer is He wants to be as involved as we want Him to be, short of making us automatons so dependent on Him that we negate our own free will.

The long answer is bit more complex.  My Jewish friend tells me occasionally that Christians are way more concerned about having a personal relationship with the Lord than are Jews. Some of us carry the concept of a personal relationship past the point that God Himself actually wants considering His concern for a healthy relationship.

We need to think of Him as relating to us in the same way as a parent relates to their child. For the sake of the child’s healthy well-being, a parent does not want to be talking to the child constantly. Parents will even let the child make mistakes so they can learn and mature rather than intervening in every event. That doesn’t mean that the parent doesn’t spend great quality time with their child talking over details of life. Sometimes the child actually asks for that time with the parent which can be a metaphor for us actually sitting down and praying to God.

When we hear the term “God has a plan for our life” the plan is rarely as detailed as some seem to think. It is more like God wants us to drive from here to New York. He is not usually concerned about the route we choose. At every point along the way, wherever we are, God sees a perfect plan for us to proceed; however, it is up to us using our free will to actually choose. If we get way off the route and run the risk of not arriving in New York on His schedule, He may send some person, circumstance, or other input to encourage us along.

I love the example of entering our destination into our GPS. As we drive along we sometimes fail to make a turn we should have made. The GPS immediately says, “Recalculating” and shows us a suggested turn we can make to get back on track. The choice of making the correction is up to us. We can continue on our new way and after a while the GPS will adapt to the best possible route incorporating our choice.

When the kids were small I remember they would sometimes be running around the house like wild Indians, but every once in a while one would stop, crawl up in my lap, lay their head on my chest, and just be still for a minute or so. Neither of us said anything, but there was a close bond like no other. Soon they were off again. I’ve always related that to us spending time with the Lord in much the same way. On occasion, we crawl up in God’s lap and get still. If we really need something we can ask, but then we get back to daily life, as it is, and make the most of it.

When big life decisions pop up, we should surely spend a little more time trying to discern His input. But, we are here on this earth to experience life in the fullest. We are spiritual people having an earthly experience. We do want to learn more and more about God and His ways, and even incorporate them into our lives. Daily reading of scripture, Church attendance, having good friends who love the Lord, can all enhance the quality of our lives.

I have often thought that some use the concept of a personal relationship to feed their own ego about how important they are in the overall scope of things. Sounds a little judgmental I guess, but let me say I have caught myself prattling on about my personal relationship with the Lord and taking great pleasure in the impression it made on others.

When it is all said and done, my personal opinion on the topic is just that, my personal opinion.  What is yours?

The Sadducees Strikeout With Jesus

Homily, Oct 09-10, 2013: Cycle C, 32nd Sun of Ordinary Time (Seven Bros Marry Same Woman)

I guess it is a normal human tendency to live our daily lives without giving much thought to Heaven. We all want to go, but we don’t want to die to get there.

It’s almost like we want to hold out for a personal Assumption like the Virgin Mary, but I have two words for you on that – “Fat Chance”

We probably think more about Heaven when we are at a funeral than any other time, as we consider where our loved one or our friend will be.

While Scripture does not give us a definitive picture, it does have a number of wonderful promises!

One of my favorites is the verse describing Heaven as: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

As beautiful as that verse is, still, we do not know exactly what Heaven will be like, because it is beyond our ability to comprehend. 

No one has died, gone to Heaven, returned and written a best seller about it.

So, we are left with scriptural hints.

For instance, this litany: we can be sure that it will fulfill our greatest longings,

…it will dazzle us with its beauty,

…it will obliterate our greatest problems,

…it will be greater than anything we can imagine,

…it will be a place where love and joy will reign.

All the wrongs of the world will be made right. This is a big one because if there is one thing that universally aggravates our souls, it is “wrong” prospering or “wrong” called right.

…it will be a place where everything good is present; everything sad will be gone, and only joy will exist.

…everything exciting will appear; everything hopeful will come forth.

…everything violent and hateful will be gone, and everything born of love will prevail. This is another big one since most wars turn out to be little more than ego battles between leaders at the expense of their people.

The classic from Revelations: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Heaven will be the residence of God. The greatest reward of Heaven will be God Himself. Nothing we see or experience will be greater than the fact that we are with God and see Him face to face. (Beatific Vision)

And, the best news of all?  God is busy preparing all of that for us, right now, and preparing us for all of that. 

As we approach the end of Ordinary Time in the Liturgical season, Holy Mother Church wants us to think about Heaven…

Oddly enough, our readings today use a grisly story & an obtuse story to lead us into considering what Heaven might be like.

In our First Reading from Second Maccabees, we hear about seven brothers & their mother who were tortured to death in an attempt to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s Law. 

It’s a gruesome story and they saw it as a huge issue, certainly more than us deciding to go to Southern Soul for a BBQ sandwich.  They saw it as a sacred issue worth dying for.  To them, it was about rejecting the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Each in turn refused to obey and cried out for the “life to come”, i.e. Heaven, with their dying breath.  So great was their belief in their God & the afterlife with Him, that they proclaimed that, they trusted Him to raise them up to Heaven. 

Heaven is a reality that Jesus also speaks about in today’s Gospel of Luke.  He is confronted by the Sadducees who posed a convoluted story to Him about seven brothers all marrying the same woman in turn & dying.  “Whose wife would she be in the afterlife?”

Obviously a trick question because the Sadducees did not believe in life after death.  That is why they are so Sad You See.

Jesus said that the reality of life after death is beyond human comprehension.  “They are like Angels and are Children of God,” He said.

Sometimes we view Heaven as though it were earth done right, done perfectly.  We have streets here so in Heaven they are streets of gold.  We extrapolate things here to Heaven – because we don’t really have a clue.

We don’t know what it is like to be “like the angels,” because we cannot comprehend angelic life. We just know that it will be better than our fondest imagination.

We do know that we were created to know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next.  Does that sound familiar?  It should…

That’s from the old Baltimore catechism that old fogies like me memorized when we were seven or eight years old. Going to a parochial high school gave me a total of 10 years to recite those truths.

Terminology may change through the years, but the basic truths remain the same.  Heaven is that place, that state of being, where we are happily united with God forever. 

Even The Catechism of the Catholic Church, released in 1992, says that Heaven, the Father’s house, is the true homeland toward which we are heading and to which, already, we belong.” (CCC 2802). Same truth – different words.

The Almighty Creator of the universe loved us so much that He sent His son to become one of us, to live like us, to die like us, and to die for us.  When we love someone, we want to give him or her everything we can, the very best we have to express that love. 

Well, God gave us His best, His Son, in this life.  What must He have in store for us in the next life? 

We are only in this world for a brief time. We have to make the most of it.  

That is why we are called to nurture the Presence of Christ within ourselves. That is why we are called to make Christ present to others by our actions.

We only have one life.  We pray today for the courage to allow God to perfect us in this life, in the here and now, so that we will be better prepared for the life to come.

May we always be united to Him, here and hereafter.