Friday, November 30, 2018

St. Joseph and Docility of the Spirit

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales writes that genuine, living devotion exists when a person not only does good, but does it carefully, frequently, and promptly. This kind of instinctive, loving action is also called "docility of the spirit." As Scripture reveals, an excellent role model of this docility is St. Joseph.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was in peril from the start. That the inn was full was only one of their many troubles. But, despite the obstacles that the Holy Family had to overcome, they prevailed. This is due in large part to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Any time there was confusion or danger that threatened the Holy Family, God needed only to speak to Joseph in a dream and Joseph would immediately do whatever was necessary to care for and protect his family.

The Birth of Jesus

The Holy Family threatened to unravel before it was even fully created! Mary was found to be pregnant while she and Joseph were betrothed, but before Joseph brought her into his home to consummate the marriage. Mary’s pregnancy could have caused tremendous scandal in the community and the shaming of Mary, but “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Mt 1:19) – a noble gesture, and from Joseph’s point-of-view, the only thing he could have done. But, God had something else in mind:
“As [Joseph] considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which his conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’” (Mt 1:20-21)

What did Joseph do? Did he question the dream? Did he wonder if it was really a message from God? Did he put off making a decision, or choose contrary to what he heard in the dream? No. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24).

The Escape to Egypt

The wise men who followed the star to the Holy Family’s house were supposed to return to Herod and report to him where they had found the child. But they didn’t! They too had great docility of spirit and, heeding the warning they received in a dream, decided to depart to their own country by another way (Mt 2:12).
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the Wise Men, was in furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to that time which he had ascertained from the Wise Men.” (Mt 2:16)

But, God again intervened, and Joseph responded:
“[B]ehold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod” (Mt 2:13-15).

Joseph didn’t wait to make preparations and plans. He didn’t even ask where in Egypt he was to go or how he was going to get there. He rose that very night, gathered up his precious family, and left. It’s alarming to the modern mind to see how singularly focused he was on being obedient to the promptings of God. Nothing else mattered in comparison to that.

The Return from Egypt

After the death of Herod, we see that God told Joseph in a dream that it was safe to return to Israel, and then, on the way there, God told him in another dream exactly where he should settle.
“[W]hen Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archela′us reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Mt 2:19-23)

It’s interesting that, for this particular mission, God appeared to Joseph twice. Perhaps God did this because Joseph had proven himself keen to respond carefully, frequently, and promptly to the Lord.

Joseph’s life is an example to us that if we readily respond to the guidance and promptings of God’s grace, then we will receive more guidance and more promptings from Him. In other words, in order to know the Will of God, we have to follow the Will of God! That is the message of the life of St. Joseph. That’s what docility of the spirit is, and that’s what true devotion is.

Pax Christi,

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How to Discern the Will of God

How to discern the Will of God

As Catholics we know that anything that aligns with Scripture, Tradition, or the teaching of the Church is the Will of God, since these are sources of truth for us. But, often times, we have to discern the Will of God on matters that don’t pertain to morality or doctrine. There is no Church teaching on whether I should move to another city, buy a particular house, marry a certain person, or become a priest or a nun.

What do we do then?

Discerning the Will of God is all about asking the right questions, living differently, and following your heart (hear me out on that last one!).

Ask the Right Questions

Saints and sages from every age have been pondering this question: “What do you want me to do, Lord?” They have found that the answer to this ultimate question comes by answering a series of smaller questions. These questions can help us discern God’s Will, whether we are concerned with our vocation or state in life, or we’re pondering any type of big, life-changing decision.

Try praying with the following questions:
  • Will this bring me closer to heaven? Does it give God glory?
  • What is the path of greatest love? Am I willing my own good or the good of the other?
  • Will this option help me fulfill the duties of my state in life? What does my current state in life allow?
  • Does it make sense based on my skills and talents?
  • What are the pros and cons of each option?
  • What does my conscience tell me about the morality of each option?

These questions will help filter out the noise of life and dig down to the heart of what God wants for us.

Begin Living Differently

After a couple has been married several years, they don’t have to ask each other what they desire in a given situation. They just know. They’ve shared enough of their lives together to intuit the will of the other.

We can have that same relationship with God, if we are willing to live a little differently. Just by focusing more on our prayer life, receiving the sacraments regularly, and keeping an eye out for the fruits of the Spirit, we can foster the kind of relationship with God that makes it easier to discern His Will.

  • A few minutes a day. Prayer is key. It’s how we enter into dialogue with the Lord. It’s how we listen to Him. It’s how we get to know Him and grow to love Him better. The more we know and love God, the better we are able to discern His Will. Even a few minutes a day can make all the difference (see Dynamic Catholic's "Prayer Process" for a simple method of prayer that anyone can use)

  • Grace for the keeping. Sin darkens the intellect and weakens the will – the two things God gave us to discern His Will and walk in it. The antidote is the divine life of God, and we receive that new life through the Mass and the Sacraments.

    Receiving the sacraments more frequently can feel like a burden at first, especially when there are so many other responsibilities demanding our time and attention. But, going to Confession at least once a month is doable, as long as we schedule it. And maybe there’s a parish nearby that offers a quick Mass during the usual lunch break.

  • Flesh and fruit. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he lists the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit:
    “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God …”

    “… but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:19-23)
    If we make decisions out of the works of the flesh or when enslaved by them, we will almost always choose wrongly. If we make decisions out of the fruits of the Spirit, or if we see the Spirit bear these fruits in our lives after we make a decision, then we can be sure we have chosen rightly.

Follow Your Heart

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is follow the heart. Of course, our hearts are not infallible. As Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). While it’s not the only guide we use when discerning God’s Will, it can be one of them. After all, God created our “hearts”, our inner-life where our soul, will, and desire are located. He has planted desires within us as a way to draw us to Him. So, it’s worth hearing what the heart has to say.

And at any rate, if we love God and are filled with His love, then our hearts will be worth following. As Augustine said, “Love God, and then do what you will.”

For more on how to discern the Will of God from a Catholic perspective, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,
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