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November 7, 2018 - God's Desire and God's Work

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Before I became Catholic in 2003, I really wrestled with my decision. A wise person that I consulted told me that maybe a way to pray about it would be to pray: “God, if it is your will, increase my desire for it, and if it is not your will, decrease my desire for it.” At the time, that was the exact prayer I needed - and I now realize, it was a version of the line from the Our Father: “Thy will be done!”

I’m reminded of that prayer with today’s reading from Philippians 2:12-18. Here, Paul is reminding us to do many of the usual things that Christians are asked to do: be lights in a world of darkness and be obedient to God’s will. But Paul also writes, “God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.”

Desire and work. The prayer my wise friend taught me focused on honing my desire to the point that it matched God’s own desire for me and for the whole world. At the time, though, I was less focused on the second point Paul makes: that God works in me, for good purpose, the work I need to do as God’s disciple!

I didn’t think much about the work part of making the tough decision to become Catholic back in 2003, but I probably should have. The thing I didn’t realize then is that making a decision to follow God’s will is just the first part of the journey! The real work of implementing that decision takes the rest of a person’s lifetime!

Now, I should clarify - by work, here, I don’t mean drudgery in the way we often speak of work. And in fact, Paul doesn’t seem to mean something that is drudge either, for he speaks about joy!

Joyful work is still difficult work. Notice the kind of work Jesus calls us to in the gospel (Luke 14:25-33). We have to be like the builder and like the king who have to weigh costs of their actions - just as Jesus asks us to do if we wish to follow him. Could we renounce our families, our possessions, our comforts, for the sake of the gospel?

I do want to note that when thinking about costs, what right now looks like a really heavy forbidding cost (like hating my whole family???) might not always seem so. For example, becoming Catholic involved, in a way, renouncing my family - who are still upset with my decision. But I would say that the work since my conversion has been a constant openness to conversation, to being with my family - but now in different ways than I would have imagined. I had to leave some things behind - but God’s call on me to “hate” my family didn’t mean, in this case, utterly leaving them behind and never seeing them again.

One more point I want to make about the work of discipleship. Today’s scriptures remind us that our work is to be faithful to Jesus’ call. We are not only about weighing the costs, but we are also about thinking: “Can I do what is necessary to see out my call to the end?”  In other words, our work on behalf of the gospel is work that we must take up daily, and for a lifetime, by God’s grace.

Today, let us pray both for the desire to do God’s will, and for God to work the kingdom’s work in us!

- Jana M. Bennett