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106. Giving More and Getting More (Mark 4:21-34)

June 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“… Love him and let your whole aim and intention be directed to pleasing him always. Have no fear, for even if all the saints and every creature abandon you, he will always be ready to help you in your needs.”  - St. Cajetan

Mark 4:21-34: He also said to them, ‘Would you bring in a lamp to put it under a tub or under the bed? Surely you will put it on the lamp-stand? For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.’ He also said to them, ‘Take notice of what you are hearing. The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given – and more besides; for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’ He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’ He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’ Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.

Christ the Lord  Christ’s favorite topic, it could be argued, was “the Kingdom of God.” His first public sermon began with “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” and from then on he kept talking about it. If there is a Kingdom, there must also be a King, and if there is a King, there must be subjects. Such is the image that Jesus chose to describe the community of his disciples, the Church. We would do well to ask ourselves if we share that vision of the Church. When we pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” is what we mean in tune with what Christ means? God’s Kingdom is the realm where hearts obey him; the kingdom of this world is the realm where hearts serve themselves; if we want to conquer the latter and spread the former, we need only hearken to the King, so that we can carry out his commands.

Obeying someone else, though, is almost always a challenge. Jesus knows this. And so he motivates his listeners to trust in him. He promises that if we are generous with him (the amount we measure out), he will be generous with us. Then he assures us that even if we trust him just a little bit, if we exercise our faith in him even a small amount, it will give his grace enough room to make those virtues grow, “for the man who has will be given more.”

Being generous with this Lord yields very different results than any other brand of generosity. The more we seek and fulfill his will in our lives – following the voice of our conscience, the teachings of the Church, and the example of Christ and his saints – the more abundant and fruitful will our experience of life become. And that makes perfect sense, considering that God was the one who invented human life in the first place.

Christ the Teacher  The growing parables reveal three essential characteristics about living in communion with Christ. First, the life of our relationship with him comes not from ourselves, but from God. The power of growth in the “seeds” does not come from the farmer; it comes from the Creator. Likewise, if God were not constantly breathing his grace into our lives, no matter how hard we might try, we would never be able to grow in intimacy with him – just as the farmer could never make a rock grow into an ear of corn. Our life of union with God depends primarily on God; we cannot achieve Christian success based solely on our own efforts – but the good news is that we don’t have to, since God is always at work, even while we’re asleep.

Second, growth in holiness (life in communion with God) is a gradual process. Unlike Hollywood heroes, who become world champions in the course of a two-hour movie, Christians develop their incomparable wisdom, joy, and virtue through a patient and consistent effort to cooperate with God for the long haul. This is why discouragement is such an effective assassin of saints – if our prayer life doesn’t produce spiritual fireworks right away, if our bad habits don’t go away with a snap of our fingers, if we don’t understand all of Catholic doctrine after a weekend seminar, we tend to slack off in our efforts. That is the effect of a culture built on the shaky foundations of immediate gratification. We need to learn that when it comes to our friendship with God, the full-grown, healthy plant that will attract and nourish those around us is the fruit of constant, patient effort and an unshakable confidence in God – which is exactly what the devil wants to undermine.

Third, spiritual growth takes time. Imagine a farmer or gardener standing out in the filed and yelling down at some recently planted seeds: “Grow faster, you fools! Faster!!” It’s an absurd picture, but a common one: every time we get frustrated at our slow progress, we’re futilely screaming at the seeds to speed up their growth.

Christ the Friend  Christ continues to “explain everything in private” to his disciples. In the intimate privacy of prayer, he shines the light of Christian truth on the particular circumstances of our lives. Most especially, he stays present, addressing us intimately and personally in the Gospels and in the Eucharist. There we can always find exactly what our souls need. No matter how often we turn to him, we can always have access to his advice, his comfort, and his guidance. Christianity is the most person-to-person of religions; it is God addressing each one of us personally through his Son, which is why the Church tirelessly encourages all of her children to make personal prayer an essential ingredient in their lives. Without spending time alone with God, we rob him of the chance to “explain everything in private” that he is constantly looking forward to.

Christ in My Life  Teach me to pray, Lord. I want to learn to recognize your voice speaking in my heart and mind. I want to live in your presence so that you can make my life into what you created it to be, so that my life can be a bright lamp shining in a dark world…

How I need patience, Lord! You are patient, humble, wise. Stay close to me. Hold me back. Let me know when I’m being ridiculous. You know that I want my life to bear fruit for your Kingdom, and I want to taste the fruit of your Kingdom in my own soul. So teach me, Lord; in your kindness, show me how to cultivate the grace you have planted in my soul…

I want to spend my days sowing the seeds of your Kingdom everywhere I go. I believe in you, and I believe that only you can satisfy the human heart. The happiness we all seek can only be found in friendship with you. Fill me with that happiness, Lord, so much that it overflows into the lives of those around me. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart more like yours…

 

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", Inside the Passion--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Meditations for Mothers, and A Guide to Christian Meditation.

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  • judeen

    seeking God in depth.. i some times feel like is am not growned… or depressed.. again I call my freind on the phone. and she prays with me.. grounds me.. as we talk it through… alot of saints did this.. they were in 2,3.. if you look at it.. st Ignasious know alot of other saints.. at his time ..  God will not let you be alone.. there is always others to help you guide you and pray with you…. others with deep faith… in God…

  • Pingback: 106. Giving More and Getting More (Mark 4:21-34) | Catholic Canada

  • Becky313

    Geez!  I need to read this a dozen times to grasp the full beauty of it!

    Good advice here: “Without spending time alone with God, we rob him of the chance to “explain everything in private” that he is constantly looking forward to.”

    Thanks Fr. John!

  • abandon56

    This teaching the desciples in secret reminds me of the following from Pope Benedict XVI regarding friends of the Sacred Heart of Jesus:  By entering into Jesus’ solitude” and “only by participating in what is most personal to Him, his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can one penetrate to his identity.”  Our Pappa adds this prayer:  “Lord Jesus, I come to be silent in your presence, trusting that your heart will speak for me, knowing that all I could ever want to say, that all I would ever need to say, is spoken eternally to the Father by your Sacred Heart.”

    • LizEst

       Beautiful!  Thank you abandon56.

  • ConnieH Stelzer

    Such beautiful thoughts and prayers.  It really moved me, and challenged me to look at things differently.  Thanks

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    This is a truly powerful Post. One needs to read it often and get a deeper grasp of Christ’s Teaching. Thank you, Fr. John.  I  truly love this Sentence :  

    “Without spending time alone with God, we rob him of the chance to “explain everything in private” that he is constantly looking forward to”

    The realization that God is always there to talk me and He is happy to listen to my rumblings and always responds to my self-doubts with reassurance…….my confusion with conviction……my pleadings for those I pray for with Faith that He cares for them as only He can and He is In Charge…..the firm trust that He is always patient with me, especially when my manner-less wandering mind which, even when I am before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, involuntarily “goes every which way except the Centre” makes me just whisper to Him, humbly and silently “Thank You, My Lord and my God for being so loving and so understanding”……after that, I just sit before Him in silence and I know that He is speaking to my heart and  soul and they understand Him perfectly, though with my human senses, I am totally oblivious of these Divine Communications.

  • Jennifer

    It’s been true in my life; that the more I give, the more I get.  But this passage always confused me because I see many people who are really honest, ethical and giving seem to struggle financially.  On the other hand, people who are greedy, selfish, unethical and immoral seem to be really really rich.  So, I just don’t know about this

    • Becky313

      Good Point.  It helps me to remember with things like this that Jesus often refers to spiritual rewards as well as earthly.  Financial wealth, or lack of it, is often a poor or misleading indicator of one’s spiritual state.

      Our trouble is that we often don’t notice all the spiritual rewards that are poured out upon us in great abundance!  Struggling financially might be the only thing that reminds some people of their dependence on God and the need to pray for His help.

    • LizEst

      Jennifer,

      Thanks for your very honest comment.  It’s a common observation in trying to understand how those who follow God’s ways can sometimes seem to have the worst lives.

      We are in the world, but we are not of the world.  “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Matthew 6:21.  What is important is where your heart is. 

      It is very difficult to be poor, destitute, hungry, naked, sick, etc, all those things that constitute a difficult and miserable life.  Yet, when a person’s heart/treasure is in the Lord, that person has everything–life, love, abundance, joy, riches beyond all measure.  One can be poor and struggling and still be rich in the Lord (And, spiritual poverty itself is a gift.  In fact, religious profess actual and spiritual poverty as an evangelical virtue.  Poverty is also one of the ten evangelical virtues of the Blessed Mother.). 

      Conversely, a person can also be poor OR rich and be miserly, greedy, selfish, unethical and immoral.  The god of such people is themselves.  But, one can be rich and still be rich in the Lord.  It’s just more
      difficult because riches have a tendency to make a person self-reliant rather
      than reliant on God.  We are better off not judging the condition of a person’s heart and soul.  Jesus has told us as much, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.  For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” Matthew 7:1-2.  God alone knows and judges the hearts of every one of us. 

      Because the Old Testament thinking was that riches, health and bounty were gifts from the Lord, people were shocked when Jesus said it would be tough for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  “Who then can be saved?” his disciples asked Jesus.  We know Jesus’ response, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”  So, neither riches themselves nor the lack of them are indicators of the human heart, of the inner woman or man.  Some (not all) of the people who have, indeed, the most miserable lives are the happiest…in this life and in the life to come.

  • Deacon J Prieto

    The notion of Christ the Teacher is not only powerful but it certainly provides a sense of hope in our prayer life.

  • LSLinda

    Father Bartunek, your book is great.  I would like to spend more time in it.  For those of you who do not own it, I highly recommend it.  The content is wonderful, but an added bonus is the amazing feel of the pages and the ribbon.  Genius!