Is the following statement true? “Catholics have been taught to seek their religion and to get it cheap. And we end up getting what we pay for, and it ain’t much” (Scott & Kimberly Hahn, Tough Questions on Family Issues, Track 11, 4:07). I heard it a few years ago while driving in my car and it rang in my mind for over eight months. I said to myself, “How much time, energy and money am I putting into my spiritual growth?” Because I’m cheap. I don’t like spending money. And then I remembered those words, “You get what you pay for.” I realized that when I was in the seminary, I had got a course to complete and stuff that had to be learned. But afterwards, as a priest, no one was looking over my shoulder to see if I was growing.
Today’s homily is about growth. For most of us, we’re complacent. We tend to take the path of least resistance and do what’s most convenient. In some ways, this is good, because we’re trying to do things more efficiently. But deep down we’re meant to grow. I hear, every now and again, people’s desire to grow. For example, “Am I going to be in this position for the rest of my life? I used to love my job, but I feel I have more to give.” I also regularly hear people ask, “How can I grow in my faith, in prayer?”
I was struck when praying over today’s Gospel: “The Spirit drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:12-13). The Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness to be tested, to prepare Him for His mission. In the same way, the Holy Spirit drives us out into the wilderness to be tested and to grow.
Here’s one phrase to remember: healthy things grow. Healthy things grow. When a business is healthy, what happens? It grows. When an organization is functioning well, when everyone’s doing their job, when they’re reaching their goals, they grow. When a church is spiritually healthy, people want to join it, because it’s full of life. If we’re not growing, something’s wrong. If a parish isn’t growing, then it’s dying, and that means it’s not full of spiritual life; people aren’t being nourished and its people aren’t loving and serving. The best athletes are always trying to improve, because if they don’t, they will lose. The best organizations are always committed to ongoing improvement and professional development.
Because it’s Lent, let’s focus on our spiritual growth. Scott Hahn’s observation that we just heard is helpful: we get our faith cheaply. And we end up getting what we pay for, and it ain’t much. So let’s ask ourselves two questions:
- How much time do we spend growing in our faith? How many hours a week?
- How much money do we spend on our faith? Do we buy books, CDs, go to seminars, talks, retreats, classes? And if they’re all free, how good is the quality? If all you hear is me once a week (and I’m free), how good do you think the quality is? The best programs, classes, and retreats cost money to put together.
I asked myself these questions a few years back, when I felt I was getting stale. So I started buying tons of CDs. All those CDs at the back of our church, I’ve listened to all of them, some multiple times. I’ve bought lots of audio books and listened to entire books while in the car. And it was worth every dollar I spent. I also decided to go every month to the Abbey for a day of prayer, rest, Confession and spiritual direction. Once a month, I decided to visit the Dominican sisters in Squamish. Because they need priests for Mass, I made a deal with them: I offer Mass for them, and they feed me… and then I spend the rest of the day there in prayer. I went to Franciscan University of Steubenville for a 6-day conference.
At last year’s priests’ retreat, the retreat master said every priest should spend an hour a day in study, not prayer, but study. I asked myself, “Oh man, where am I going to get an hour?” So I started with 10 minutes a day, which is better than nothing, and it’s something I’ve been able keep up. God willing, I’ll slowly work my way up to an hour.
But what’s the excuse I could have used not to study 10 minutes a day? I could have said, “I studied for 11 years after high school. I’m a pretty good priest (right?). And I have no time.” These excuses are a temptation for all of us. And good priests can become stale because of it. People sometimes tell me, “I went to Catholic school. I got all my sacraments. I studied with the Jesuits. The nuns taught me. My uncle’s a priest, my aunt’s a nun. I’m a Knight, I’m part of the CWL, I work in a Catholic school.” Those things are all good, but don’t necessarily mean we’re growing. We sometimes think that’s enough, but oftentimes it’s not. And they can be used as an excuse not to grow. I want to gently but clearly dispel these myths. It might be the case that if the last time we seriously learned about our faith is in grade 7, then our knowledge of the faith is at a grade 7 level. This isn’t to say we’re bad Catholics or don’t know anything about our faith, but it is to say that our faith hasn’t kept up with other parts in our life. We grow academically, professional, physically, but sometimes not spiritually.
I don’t want to overwhelm or discourage anyone. A woman once told me on a retreat that she felt so behind compared to the other women who knew so much about their faith. I reassured her saying, “Don’t worry. You can catch up really easily. When I entered the seminary, I was so far behind the other guys; they grew up in Catholic families, knew all the prayers, knew things about the saints, Church history, and knew all the lingo. But I stuck with it, tried my best, studied hard, and caught up to them in a year.”
So what can we do? Here are three simple but effective ways of growth.
- Buy those Lighthouse CDs at the back of the Church and listen to them in your car. We all have to drive, so we might as well use that time well.
- Do the Lenten Challenge with some friends. Choose a group of between 2-6 people, meet once a week anywhere during the six weeks of Lent for 60-90 minutes, and pick up the study guide at the back of the Church or download it here.
- We’re hosting a bible study by Jeff Cavins called A Quick Journey Through the Bible. I learned more in these 8 short lessons than I did in some of my scripture classes in New York. It will start on Saturday, Mar. 14, at 10:30 a.m.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Something is better than nothing. A little bit of growth is already very satisfying. You get what you pay for, so let’s pay a bit more in terms of our time, money and effort. Healthy things grow.