Robert Morris once thought of his life’s mission as refuelling others: his wife, children, his church, and everyone who came to him. God told him in this metaphor, “Your job involves going… to fill up their tanks with the fuel from your truck.” But he was serving so often that it crept into his sabbath day of rest. It started with checking emails, then having meals to support people, and then scheduling work meetings.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
He prayed: “God, I know that I’m often ministering to others on only a quarter of a tank… Somehow, through spending time with You, I’m able to get back up to a quarter of a tank again. And then the draining starts all over again… I don’t have the physical strength to keep up the pace… I don’t have the emotional or mental reserves to properly help anyone.” Then he realized the ideal situation! “God, I know you want me to always be ministering to others from a tank that is somewhere between three-quarters and full.”
How many agree with Robert’s ideal, that God wants for him and us to be living life on a tank between three quarters and full? God the Father replied, “Wrong… I don’t want you ministering from a tank that’s merely almost full. I want you ministering from an overflowing tank. A cup that’s running over. That’s what I want for you, son” (Robert Morris, Take the Day Off, 50-52).
The Father wants you and me to be living our mission from an overflowing tank! That’s St. Paul’s state in the Second Reading. He’s overflowing with God’s grace, and opens his letter to the Ephesians with what’s called a ‘berakah,’ the Hebrew word for ‘blessing.’ It always starts with the words, ‘Blessed be God’ and then enumerates the reasons why He should be blessed. In this berakah, St. Paul gives seven reasons, and, in the Greek, the whole reading is actually one sentence, the longest sentence in the New Testament (Peter S. Williamson, Ephesians in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 29). The text is so theologically dense that I’ll give you a summary of the seven reasons:
1) God the Father chose us to be holy.
2) He destined us to become his sons and daughters through a relationship with Jesus.
3) Through Jesus’ death, we have received forgiveness of sins.
4) The Father has now revealed His plan to unite all things in Christ.
5) Jewish believers have now received the inheritance God promised them.
6) The Gentiles (us) who have believed the Gospel have been sealed as God’s own with the Holy Spirit.
7) The Holy Spirit is the down payment of God’s promise to give us eternal life.
St. Paul’s writing this to help the Ephesians appreciate what they had been given. And God today wants us to be so appreciative that we’re overflowing in blessing Him.
Now, it’s true that we can’t always be living in this state. God allows us to carry many crosses, and we must die to ourselves. But, along with this suffering, Jesus wants us to have the fullness of life. He also wants us to eliminate our self-inflicted suffering. I’ll give two examples of how we can have an overflowing tank even though there are problems in our life at the end.
For now, we ask how to get to this state of overflowing. Here are two insights. First, St. Paul mentions that “God the Father… chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:3-4). To be renewed, we need to keep in mind God’s plan for us to be holy. The saints, spiritually speaking, almost always lived from an overflowing tank. Once we realize this is God’s plan for us, then we will start making changes.
Second, St. Paul mentions the phrase “in Christ” eleven times in this Reading, because every blessing comes to us through Jesus. Living from an overflowing tank comes from reconnecting with Jesus.
So, I want you to examine how you’re respecting the Sabbath, which means, starting Saturday evening until Sunday night, we’re called to rest and dedicate the day to God. Insofar as it’s possible, God wants us not to do our usual work. He wants us to turn to Him, remember His plan for us, and reset our lives in Christ. We’re not supposed to catch up on work, or get ahead on work.
Robert Morris makes a great point in his book about the Sabbath. The Jewish people were God’s chosen people whose mission was to bring home all other nations to God the Father, the way an older brother brings back his younger siblings to his parents. But the Jewish people could only fulfill this mission by staying healthy and separate from the nations, and part of remaining God’s people was keeping the Sabbath.
We’ve been talking about the theme of family for three months now. Our family needs us to focus on God for one day, so that we can return to them and love them.
Speaking of mission, a month ago, I asked if you considered yourselves to be disciples and missionaries. I’d ask that you think about these questions again. Have you chosen to make Jesus the centre of your life and want to become like Him? That’s a disciple. Do you consider yourself a missionary for Jesus, someone who wants the whole world to fall in love with Jesus, be part of His Catholic family, and tries to do whatever they can to evangelize? You may never have thought about it in these terms, and you don’t have to know theology perfectly or be a saint. These are two questions to which we’ll return in the future.
Now back to the Sabbath. Here are God’s goals for you on the Sabbath. Participate in Mass in person, unless it’s truly impossible. Archbishop Miller intends to reinstate the grave moral obligation for Catholics to participate in Sunday Mass every Sunday. The obligation is meant to awaken us to the truth that, without the Mass, we spiritually die. It’s like a doctor telling his patients, “You have a moral obligation to take this medicine, and relax.”
Speaking of rest, the choice to sleep, nap, read good literature, read God’s Word, will most often engender rest. Waste time with Jesus and your family. Again, this means not looking at the clock, and being fully present. If you’re going to serve the poor or serve the parish, it should not be seen as another task to get done, but as a way of resting in God.
As for the very serious, deep philosophical question of shopping on Sundays, the answer is, if shopping actually helps us rest in God, then okay. However, if it makes us more superficial, then it’s not good. If we’re just leaving regular grocery shopping until Sunday, that’s not good for us. Furthermore, if you have time to go shopping, and skipped Mass, that’s a mortal sin; and if you didn’t spend at least 15 minutes in prayer but went shopping, then there’s something wrong. Reflecting further, if I see you at the mall but didn’t see you at Mass, may all your purchases be overpriced and may you find nothing on sale!
Now there are seasons in our lives when much of our life is beyond our control, as when we’re sick, or have young children. And we say, “I have no time.” But hear this liberating truth: You still have freedom to make better use of the time you do have (Michael Hyatt, Free to Focus, 59-60). All of us have some free time. Sometimes we waste it, and don’t turn to God and do what’s truly renewing. God doesn’t expect us to accomplish everything. But He does give us enough time to accomplish His goals.
I love my mission of spiritually fueling others! And I am grateful that God wants me to be doing it from an overflowing tank! That’s not always possible, but I aim for it. And I think of the example of two people, one who lived and one who is living her mission to the full.
First, St. Mother Teresa scheduled many breaks for her Missionaries of Charity. They work so hard to serve the poorest of the poor, but they never miss their times for prayer, their Holy Hour and daily Mass, their afternoon rest, and mid-afternoon tea. They constantly fill their tanks with God, rest, and relationships.
Second, Jennifer Fulwiler, who, when she had four children under the age of five, accepted the invitation to go on a weekend retreat, and there God spoke through the wisdom of a priest, who revealed a part of God’s plan for her. She felt called by God to have a big family, but also be a writer, and this priest encouraged her to bring her children into her life of writing. “Do this work that God is calling you to do, but do it as one part of something bigger—your family” (One Beautiful Dream, 129). He helped her accept the interruptions of life as part of God’s plan, which actually made her a better writer (175). And, one day, when she was in the waiting room of her doctor, her husband said about finishing her book, “What if you let it go? … How much less stress would you be under if you loosened your grip on these things and just let them pass?” After the editors could give her no more time, she let go. But, within the days that followed, she was full of inspiration for the book, and wrote in one day what she couldn’t write in four months. And she did it in the car! She got all six kids into the car, stopped at different places so that they could be amused, and asked the older ones to distract the younger ones while she wrote on her laptop. Five years of work done! And she thanked her kids (209-212)! Jennifer is living her mission of loving her family and building people up through her writing!
St. Mother Teresa’s example, along with others like St. John Paul II, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, and St. Gianna Beretta Molla, reminds us that the saints, while suffering, were so rooted in God that they had energy in their lives, and this inspired their mission to others. They all lived from an overflowing tank.