I celebrated Masses last week with three Catholic Schools in our Diocese: St. Mary’s School in Cheyenne (January 29), St. Anthony’s Tri-Parish School in Casper (February 1) and Holy Name School in Sheridan (February 2). I also met with the priests and parish leadership in Sheridan because they are considering a building project for the school. Then I went to St. Edmund’s in Ranchester to talk with a small group because that parish is formulating plans for upgrading their facilities.
On Sunday, I celebrated the morning Masses at St. John the Baptist in Buffalo, then I went to St. Hubert’s in Kaycee for an afternoon Mass. The following is the homily for Sunday.
In today’s reading, St. Paul described why he was working so hard. He wrote, “I have made myself a slave to all to win over as many as possible. . . . All this I do for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:19, 23).
If people observed how you work throughout the week, what would they say? “He works like a dog. He’s burning the candle at both ends.” Would they say, “She’s really busy;” or “She has a mission in life.” To be really busy means that work and family demands long hard hours. But to have a mission in life has a whole different connotation.
How busy are you? Are you busy with your business or God’s business? When I was chaplain at the Catholic School in Rapid City, the students were stressed. They were trying to find time and energy for academics, sports, part-time jobs, family and friends. Parents seem to be busier and busier as they juggle work, family and an increasing amount of time accompanying kids to sports or other extra-curricular events. Family life is often stressed and harried. People have become slaves to their schedules.
What is the secret to living life with proper balance and the right attitude? I don’t think that it is not the difference between being busy and not busy. Rather it is a matter of being busy with a mission. Paul was a man on a MISSION. It is amazing to think that he traveled from Israel to Syria, Turkey, Greece, Crete, and Italy. He was high energy!
To describe his mission, Paul often uses the term ‘slave.’ He begins his letters by writing, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus” (Rom. 1:1). Why? Through his death Jesus paid the price of our ransom (1 Cor. 7:23). So Paul belongs to Jesus. He owes everything to him. When it comes to his relationship with Jesus, Paul is all in. That is what underlies his approach to ministry as he says, “I have made myself a slave to all to win over as many as possible. . . . All this I do for the sake of the gospel.”
Paul channels his energy as a slave of Christ Jesus. His whole life is a mission for the Lord….. a mission for the sake of the gospel. So Paul describes himself as a slave of Christ, but he never says that he is burned out or working like a dog. He must have found it life-giving.
Do you relate to Jesus as a “slave of Christ”? More often we live our spiritual life through the lens of being a child of God or a disciple of Jesus. In addition to those dimensions of our relationship to God, we need to add the term slave of Christ. For Paul, being a slave of Christ is his response to the death of Christ. His life poured out on the cross is what drove Paul to be a slave of Christ. The term recalls the debt of love we owe to Christ. It is a language of love, not servitude.
When I begin my day with this image it helps me to let go of my control. Sometimes, I drive myself so hard. But that’s the problem. I am driving myself. My focus is on what I want to accomplish. That easily leads to feeling weary or burdened. But when I re-focus and work as a servant of Christ, asking for the Holy Spirit to guide me, seeking to please God alone ….. then I might work very hard, but I’m more peaceful. I end the day not feeling burdened, but what I would call a good tired.
Today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) gives us a glimpse of a day in the life of Jesus. After he finished preaching at the synagogue and casting out a demon (Mark 1:21-28), he healed Simon’s mother-in-law. After sunset he cured many sick people and continued with exorcisms. Then before dawn he went off to pray in a deserted place. And that morning he left to do the same thing in nearby villages.
He had a grueling schedule. But do you picture Jesus as stressed out or worn down? Rather, we picture him as single-minded and peaceful, even though he may have been bone-tired.
Prayer early in the morning seems to be the secret to Jesus’ mission. He is busy. Yet he gets up before dawn for prayer. We know very little about what Jesus did in that prayer. But it’s obvious that he only prayed, whereas we might pray while being preoccupied with the rest of the day. You know how that is? You say some prayers, but the goal is to get done so that you can get to work.
We need to pray as if it is the most important thing that we will do all day – totally focused on God. Early morning is the best time to do that. You’re rested, not going in ten different directions.
What is the fruit of a solid prayer life? Through prayer Jesus was zeroed in on God’s work, not what is popular and not what he might want for himself. When Peter finds Jesus praying, he tells him, “Everyone is looking for you.” But he says, “Let us go to nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come” (Mk. 1:38).
Prayer engenders a sense of being sent by God. It calls us to obedience. Think of how unpopular that word is in American culture. Obedience is also one of the main elements of being a slave of Christ.
If people observed how you work throughout the week, what would they say? He works like a dog. Or, He or she is on a mission for God. Have you experienced the freedom of serving God alone? When we are single-minded in being a servant of God, it engenders so much freedom. We are free from what the desire to please others or from our own plans to be successful.
How free are you as a slave of Christ? Are you on a mission for God? Does your prayer life keep you grounded in working through each day as a servant of the Lord?