Charity Starts Here

There is a song by Casting Crowns that is really meaningful and speaks much to our call of intentional and missionary discipleship that I would like to share with you now. It is named, “Start Right Here.”

We want our coffee in the lobby
We watch our worship on a screen
We got a Rockstar preacher
Who won’t wake us from our dreams
We want out blessings in our pocket
We keep our missions overseas
But for the hurting in our cities
Would we even cross the street?

I’m like the brother of the prodigal
Who turned his nose and puffed his chest
He didn’t run off like his brother
But his soul was just as dead
What if the church on Sunday
Was still the church on Monday too?
What if we came down from our towers
And walked a mile in someone’s shoes?

We’re the people who are called by His name
If we’ll surrender all our pride and turn from our ways
He will hear from Heaven and forgive our sin
He will heal our land but it starts right here
We’re the people who are called by His name
If we’ll surrender all our pride and turn from our ways
He will hear from Heaven and forgive our sin
He will heal our land

Hmm ’cause we wanna see the heart set free and the tyrants kneel
The walls fall down and our land be healed
But church if we want to see a change in the world out there
It’s got to start right here
It’s got to start right now
Lord, I’m starting right here
Lord, I’m starting right now

I think many of us can relate to the words of the lyrics because they challenge us to personally take on the call of discipleship — here and now — in a very proactive and caring way! In a consumeristic and enticing world, often, we, too, demand that church services be entertaining, positive, inspirational, and beneficial for us instead of wanting to hear the real messages that challenge us to be true disciples. We want our spiritual meals served and handed to us in ways that we like to receive instead of opening ourselves up to be changed by the Gospel and our take on our call of discipleship. Sadly, but true, more and more people are leaving the Church because they think that the Church is not appealing to them. Too many have chosen to leave the Church but have never been changed!

We like to listen to messages that fit our particular lifestyles and feel good about things that we think we can change with our very own human factors. We talk much about revolutions and good works, about politics and political righteousness or correctness, but we remain very indifferent about spiritual matters. We have come to a point where it gets easier to judge, condemn, and point fingers at others without realizing our very own personal needs for conversion. We have come to a time when we expect to hear a particular style of Gospel being preached so that it fits our lifestyle and worldview instead of letting it challenges us to change ours. We have become armchair thinkers, consumers, and believers who are comfortable with what fits us and makes us feel good but do not know what gives us life.

Hence, as a priest and spiritual director, what is going on in our world really disturbs me! It is sad to see so many people who resent God or religion but have not taken the time to know Him and why faith is important for us on this journey of life. They might know a list of information and “facts” about what the Catholic faith seems to believe as to dissect, analyze, pick and choose, or dismiss it since those matters do not fit their particular lifestyle or viewpoint of life.

The real truth is that many people who identified themselves as believers or were raised Christians really do not know their faith. They can identify what they do not like or hate about the Catholic faith, and pick out what they think is outdated and judgmental, but they never know the real reason why or has the formation of the heart as disciples who know who God is! To be honest, we have done a poor job of forming disciples because we had never led them to grow in the love of Christ Jesus. Too oftentimes, we ended up telling them about the obligations and commandments without proper explanation, dialogue, and formation of discipleship. The world is to blame, too, because it keeps telling our people that they have the freedom to do whatever they want and choose the life they want to live without anything else holding them back.

I have heard so many times from people who are ex-Catholics that they used to love their faith at some point, usually when they were younger; however, they grew out of it when they somehow “grew up.” Perhaps they do not want to recognize it, but the departure from faith probably happened when they began to listen to other voices and worried about living for themselves instead of listening to God. The voices of this world are loud and vocal because they are doing their best to constantly try to win our attention. Hence, if we begin to only listen to them in order to get what we think we want or need to be accepted by others, we begin to shut out the voice of God who speaks gently to us. So oftentimes, we have lost the childlike, simple, and loving faith that seeks Him, so we have become the result of what our fragile ego wants us to be and prove ourselves to be in front of others.

I am worried about many of our people right now because we have become more frustrated, angry, discontent, and unhappy because, while we have no problems finding the faults of others. We think we know what we want, but we really do not know who we are. We have more stuff than other generations before us but we are never happy because we always think we do not have enough and deserve more. We keep letting envy and jealousy eat us alive and we attack those who are different than us because, ultimately, we do not like where we are and our very own selves.

I have been reading up on diabolical possessions and demonic influences, and what is being said about this subject matter is disturbing because I can see it all around us. Even with more people who have no problems identifying themselves as Christians or good-hearted people nowadays, the evil spirits are still able to weave themselves in, manipulating, controlling, and wittingly disturbing our very own souls. We are restless and lost because we have no spiritual substance and depth! If I ask someone how he or she is doing today, I will oftentimes receive an answer that contained words like tired and frustrated — after the usual “fine” excuses. That is simply telling us that our soul is constantly running on empty without any real life! When we have no substance and life that comes from God, we easily get frustrated, angry, resentful, discontent, or restless of others and ourselves because we really have nothing to give.

At the end of the day, we all try to do things with good intentions, but we tend to do things that are dependent on ourselves, so we tend to end up with many opinions and frustrations when we disagree or do not get what we want. Since we do not know who we are and have no scope of eternity, our vision gets temporary and myopic because our human senses get attached and focused on immediate, changing, and apparent matters. Differences in voices and opinions then agitate and irritate us but we have nothing to fall back on because we have never taken the time and effort to listen and receive from God.

We only know of God and come to Him in times of need, but outside of that shallow context, we have never really spent time to get to know Him and to receive from Him. The saints talked much about spiritual indifference, and it is one of the hardest attitudes to have. I know I struggle with this constantly because my mind and senses get attached to the things that are in front of me more easily than the matters that are of eternity! It is hard to find rest and allow ourselves to be grounded in Him instead of being pulled all over the place by changing things. Nonetheless, to be spiritually indifferent is to know that God is in control, and the greatest challenge is for us to conform ourselves to His will first, to rest in Him, and to wait for Him when we do not get what we want. This is the deep state of knowing who we are and loving God and our neighbors by being present, giving our all, and choosing to conform our lives to His will. It is hard because it helps us to move away from having to do something, to prove ourselves, or to be judged by others to simply be who we are deep from within in His eyes. When one knows who one is, one does not have to prove or worry about what is not being done, for being and belonging to God is the greatest joy of all.

Secondly, holy indifference challenges us that our world is not to set out to change the world and others without first changing ourselves. Conversion, love, and true change begin with us, because humility and obedience have to first begin with us, or else the Devil and his minions will creep in to feed on whatever we think we need to do. To be honest, it is easier to think that we can change others, but the hardest has always been the changing of ourselves — because it is a very personal, intimate, and humbling process! If we believe that God is in control, then He needs to be in control of us first. I do not know about you, but it is a big personal struggle to let the Almighty control and guide me instead of what my ego and the world want. If that does not happen, we will only be effective, successful, or vocal people on the outside, but we have nothing that gives us true joy deep from within.

It really worries me and makes me really afraid and sad because there are many people who are hopeless, manipulated, and empty. They have been fed by false worldly values and egoistical spiritual lies that put up more effects and defenses on the outside, but their souls are empty, hopeless, and dark. They are simply glorified or masqueraded spiritual zombies with many exterior things but have nothing deep from within. Again, as a spiritual director and priest, the spiritual emptiness and unwellness of our people cause me a great deal of sadness. It makes me worry because we have become more vocal, loud, argumentative, defensive, frustrated, and angry. All those things happen because we have become hopeless and find no meaning in our very own existence, self-identity, and knowledge of our very own being and belonging.

I pray that many people will really take the time to know themselves, grow in their own spiritual journey, and become more attached to God‘s love instead of worrying about their exterior shells. What profit will it be to gain the praises of others, the whole world, and shallow self-approval but lose our soul!?! This is a hard question to ask, but it is one that each and every one of us will have to ask so we can keep ourselves grounded, humbled, and dependent on Christ Jesus so as not to be easily moved by the things of this world.