Sunday, August 11, 2013

Eyes On Heaven

'St. Philomena' by Mic Carlson
Readings for Sunday, August 11/ 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time:Wisdom 18:6-9
Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
Luke 12:32-48

Today, August 11, is the feast of St. Philomena, a virgin martyr from the third century. Second only to our Blessed Mother, she is my ‘go to gal’ for intercession with Our Lord Jesus, so it was with great joy that when I arrived in our community I was greeted by two images of St. Philomena at St. Michael’s in Convent and the story of the chapel of St. Philomena that once stood in Grand Point. Indeed she loves our community very much, so let us pray for her intercession especially in this sacred time.

Something that I have come to do in my personal prayers before images of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the angels and saints, is to situate myself before them in such a way that they are looking at me. To be able to look them in the eye and feel as if they are looking back at me helps me to remember that the image I’m praying before is representative of a person truly alive in Heaven. They’re real, they’re praying for us, and they’re hoping that we’ll one day enter into their joy. So it always does my heart good to be able to look upon them face to face. But one thing I’ve noticed with most of the images of St. Philomena is that she won’t look at me. I have a statue and framed image of her but as often as I’ve prayed before them I find she will not look at me, but instead looks through me. Those images in a very powerful way show the reality that she was not caught up in earthly things but set her eyes on heavenly things, on the world to come, on eternity.

This is what Our Lord invites us to do today, to store up treasure for ourselves in heaven, looking past all the temptations to store it up instead here on earth. St. Philomena was a young girl beautiful to behold. There was something in her that shined upon all whom she met – her name even means ‘daughter of light’. A Greek princess of royal blood on both parents’ sides, she had much in her favor for a life of riches. When she went with her parents to Rome she was noticed by the Emperor, who desired to take her as his wife. She declined, stating that she had consecrated her virginity to Christ and she was His alone – this all at thirteen years of age! In anger, the Emperor had her imprisoned, hoping to break her spirit. It did not work. She was scourged just like our Lord, but was miraculously healed the next day. Arrows were shot at her but to no avail. Even flaming arrows were shot, but they turned back and killed the archers themselves. An anchor was tied around her neck and she was to be tossed into the Tiber River in Rome, but as they tossed her in she anchor was mysteriously came away and she was found on the shore perfectly dry, said to have been brought there by angels. Finally she was struck with a sword and received the martyr’s palm. She could have had the whole world at her disposal and lived a life of luxury most of us can hardly even conceive of living. And yet her eyes were not here, but looking toward heaven. Her treasure and her heart were firmly placed within the heavenly gates.

This past week I went on a short retreat for a few days and enjoyed the gift that time, being able to sit in the silence and experience God in a powerful way in my prayers both alone and in the community where I was staying. I was on that spiritual high that often accompanies a retreat. And when I came home, I found as I always do that I hadn’t really changed that much. I still had to battle with the same sins, still had the same temptations to avoid this or that task, to exercise my vices rather than virtues. In short, I realized that my heart is not completely in heaven yet. I still try often to store up treasure here on earth for myself. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think most of us are in the same boat on that point – we all have at least one sin that we fight against, that one possession we cling to, that one thing, whatever it may be, that keeps us from really letting our hearts go up to heaven. We keep those little treasures here for ourselves just in case – just in case Christ doesn’t fulfill us, just in case we’re not happy like we want, just in case.

How do we get away from this? How can we work to set our eyes and our hearts on heaven? It’s quite simple – not easy, but simple. We need only look at four main areas in our lives. Back in Lent we had books free for the taking, one of which was Matthew Kelly’s book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic (available HERE for only the cost of shipping). In that book he outlines those four ways which I remember by a nice little acronym – PEGS. Prayer, Evangelization, Generosity, Study. PEGS.

Prayer. Are we praying? I mean REALLY praying? Not just mindlessly saying words from a pray card or book, but speaking those or other words from our very heart. We have to pray regularly, telling God what is going on in our mind and heart, what is happening in our life, where we need His help, where we’ve seen His work, and how we experience and return His love. If we don’t know Christ personally and dialogue with Him we are far from heavenly joy. And at Mass, are we really praying there? I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle to pray every time I’m at Mass. It’s easy to just say the words without really meaning it, but we’re called to enter deeply into this celebration. Prayer.

Evangelization. We have to share the Good News! When I get on Facebook I see all the updates – people in new relationships, getting married, having babies, experiencing this or that activity – good things that they want to share. None of us ever experiences something that is incredible and fails to tell a soul about it. No, what do we do? We share it with everyone around us because we want them to know about it to. And if there is anything we should be excited about it is the salvation we have in Christ Jesus. When we truly encounter Christ in prayer – and only after that – we will be changed and want to tell others, to seek them out and say ‘let me tell you what Christ did in my life today, let me tell you what incredible things He has done.’ Evangelization.

Generosity. As I look out I see many faces who help in various ways and ministries in our community. It is a joy to see that. We must be generous with our gifts. Yes, we need to tithe, but we need even more to be people of service. People who are filled with the Gospel call to charity and seek to build up the Church and the Kingdom of God with our gifts, not keeping them for ourselves but sharing them generously. Generosity.

Study. We must grow in our knowledge of the faith. We have to read and know the Scriptures. We have to know our theology, our catechism lessons, the stories of our saints. It’s easy to study, we do it in so many other things. We know all the celebrity gossip, we know about our favorite TV shows, video games, internet sites, car parts, clothing stores, and the list goes on. We study the things of the world, but how willing are we to study the things of God? To spend a few minutes with the Bible everyday? To pick up a good book or cd on something of the faith and immerse ourselves in it? To set our hearts in heaven , this is an absolute must. St. Jerome once said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ Himself. And the same coule be said of His teachings given through the Church. If we don’t know our faith, we don’t know our God. Study.

PEGS. Prayer. Evangelization. Generosity. Study. If we want to go to Heaven, the path is a tough one but the method is simple. If we start with these four areas and try to live them each day and grow in them throughout our lives, we can be sure that there will be much heavenly treasure built up for us. And if we refuse to live these four things and grow in them throughout our lives, we can be sure of the opposite. The choice is ours and ours alone. Let us choose wisely and follow the path that St. Philomena has walked before us. Let us choose Christ.