We often get distracted from the best thing because we pursue many good things. This thought is the key with which Fr Patricio Rodriguez, ISP, opened up this passage from the Gospel of Luke in a recent homily:
At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.
The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him,
they tried to prevent him from leaving them.
But he said to them, “To the other towns also
I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God,
because for this purpose I have been sent. (Lk 4: 38-44)
On this Labor Day, I think this is a fitting brief reflection. Fr Patricio talked about how Christ knew his mission – what it was, and what it wasn’t. We often get distracted from our own mission – the best thing – not only because of sin or failings (which is often the easier distraction to identify), but because of things that are very good in and of themselves. What’s the difference between good things and the best thing? To make a perfectly dorky Star Trek reference, “One’s my mission and one’s not” (Thank you, Data!).
In this Gospel passage, Jesus was doing many very good works in Capernaum. Healing the sick, driving out demons, and teaching in the synagogue are all wonderful things. But he knew if he just stayed there as the people wished him to, he wouldn’t fulfill his mission. Jesus was called to move onward, to keep following his Father’s will and pursue the ultimate best thing, even as that meant renouncing the good of staying and healing more people.
What is my mission? What is God’s will for me? That is the criteria that makes the difference. How often in our professional lives do we pursue many different projects in a distracted way, or volunteer for many extra activities or committees, or give in to the pressure to take on one more good thing? They may all be worthwhile projects and activities, and we may have good reasons for pursuing them. But is it God’s will for me? Each of us can only answer that question for ourselves.
Here’s a simple rubric that I find incredibly helpful as I strive to answer that question for myself. Is my labor of love in harmony with my relationship to God and my relationship to others? Our life is one integral whole. Our attachment to work, our attachment to God, and our attachment to others all mutually influence each other. And according to our state in life (married, single, young professional, religious, teenager, retired, etc…), this harmony will look different, but indeed there is a harmony to be found.
Once I spoke with a young professional who was involved in so many different religious groups and activities each weeknight that I wondered if it was possible for any one of them to really fuel her inner spiritual life. Another example of disharmony might be the parents who allow their kiddos’ extra-curricular activities to run the family schedule, and thus neglect to protect calm time each week to sit down together for a meal at home. I’ve met others who say “yes” so automatically to many good offers in their career that they skip the step of discerning that yes or no with God.
This active, hard work of answering that question of harmony is a way of holiness. Fr Joseph Kentenich called it everyday sanctity – “the divinely willed harmony between a loving attachment to God, to work and to our fellowmen in every circumstance of life.” 1
As I have worked on my own harmony in life between God, others and my labor, I have I noticed I have a tendency to hit the ground running at 100mph. I’m good at it, and I often receive positive feedback from others for doing so. But I can’t keep up that pace forever, so I eventually run out of steam, to the detriment of my responsibilities and the loved ones I’ve committed to. In this over-reaching un-discerned expenditure of energy, I miss God’s mark. God often uses my running out of steam to nudge me to take up that question of harmony again, and bring my life back in line with His will for me. I am working on approaching life on a more even keel, harnessing the energy God grants me each day and striving to be a good steward of it.
In closing, here’s a scripture verse that may serve to help your own meditation as you strive to answer that question – Is this God’s will for me? May the Holy Spirit lead you to discern what good things you may be called to forgo, in order that in Him and with Him, you may strive for the best thing.
“I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4)