How many of you’all ever wanted to sign up to go to the mission field? I sure did until I discover they had animals. Fr. Fortunatus told me, “Ellen, NO animals.” I think he heard me wrong because we all know that priest cannot lie. Then the second obstacle came with the wardrobe. What would I wear? Do High Heels work for missionaries? We all know I love to accessorize. As you can see I am what is called, “Missionary Challenged” However, like the angel who spoke to the Shepherds on the day of Our Saviors birth—I, come to you today to bring you tidings of great Joy. I bring you “Good News.” I love good news. How about you? The good news is, “Today the entire world is a mission field.” Yes, hearts everywhere are longing for the “Good News of Christ” to come into their fields. However, “The harvest is ripe but the workers are few.” All of us are given the opportunity to be a missionary right where we are, in our little corner of the world. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ, living the good news and preach the Good News. St Francis is quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel wherever you may go and when necessary use words.” My friend, in the world today, where the dark is getting darker and the light of Christ is shining brighter, I find words very necessary. We must speak out for the truth of Our One Holy Catholic Faith or who will?
In order to make a difference, we must: the how, what, where and why of gifts.
1. How do I discover my gifts?
2. What are your gifts?
3. Where do I use my gifts?
4. Why has God given me these gifts?
When I say the word gifts, a whole lot of different things go off in people’s minds. Some good thoughts that bring a smile to your face and some bad that bring tears to your eyes, depending on your life experiences. I who received a hair dryer from my parents when it was in vogue to drip dry your long straight hair, parted in the middle in the 70’s used to almost get an anxiety attack when birthday or Christmas arrived and I had to open my presents in front of a larger Italian family. In my family presents was another word for love. I used to think they love me, but they don’t know me. You can imagine my delight when I returned to the Catholic faith after a short time of being to busy for God, and gave my whole heart to Jesus in 1976 and his first words to me were, “I only give you good gifts.” My heart began to change forever. Yes, his words have proved true; they are always just my size and the desire of my heart. God himself will help you slowly, carefully, and diligently, unwrap the presents he has placed in your heart; these gifts once revealed are to be used for his glory alone. In Psalm 139 God says, “I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. He knit you together making us a unique creation of his love.
Do you remember the old Baltimore catechism, I sure do!! I think that comes with both being older and being raised a cradle Catholic. Oh, how I treasured my catholic faith and the formation I received. If my 61 year old brain will remember correctly, it went like this: Who made you, God made you. Why did God make you, God made you to know him, to love him, to serve him and to be happy with him in heaven. I don’t know the entire Baltimore catechism by heart by any means but that one lengthy sentence has stuck with me for life. I think it describes our catholic faith in a nut shell. I say it a little different now. I say instead to know God is to love God, for God is love. To truly love God is to serve God. Then we will be happy with him in heaven.
The quest to know God is a life long search. To me it has become my life long goal. The Book of Job contains one of my favorite scriptures. Job, after asking God 20 questions approaches God with total humility saying, “I heard about you from my friends and now I know you for myself.” I bet you’ll thought that t all Job got was a lot of pain and suffering and of course the fruit of patience. People often say, “Oh, the patients of Job. I’d say that our friend Job received something more than the fruit of patience for all His pain and suffering. You see my sister in Christ, in the midst of his trial by fire he got to know the living God of the universe first hand. Yes, He knew God for himself. And, yes, God answered all his questions. God knew the answers. God wrote the book. God will do that for you too. So, ask away!
As we spend time daily with our living Savior, Lord Jesus Christ, we begin to not only know him, but as St. Theresa says, “Know God and then know ourselves as well.” Then we discover our gifts. God is calling us all to be His disciples, just as He did when He walked the earth. He wants to call out your name. He wants to invite you with the words, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers ’of men.” You see the word disciple means learner. Jesus first will train you up and then he will send you out .How does He train you? He trains you up through His Church, through His Word and through His people. God gives us the sacraments to gives us the grace we need to live each day for Him the definition of sacrament is: A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace. We are saved by faith working through grace; it is not of our self but a gift from God. Grace is defined as unmerited favor. We all agree it is amazing.
As we receive Jesus daily in the Eucharist we begin to receive the grace we need to live the life he has called us to live. As we study the Word in our quiet time, He will teach us how to live. As we listen to the priest or Deacon preach in the homilies will begin to know how to apply the Scripture readings to our everyday life. You can be assured that if you will seek him, you will find Him. The more you seek, the more you will find. The first time I gave this talk, I took the talk to heart. I began a quest to know God. I sought harder, prayed harder and frequented the sacraments more often. Then I asked wisdom of wise old Deacon Pat, I said, “Honey, “that is what I call him behind closed doors, “I just want to know God.” I must have appeared a desperate woman because Deacon Pat answered promptly and he always thinks before he speaks. What did Deacon Pat say? He said, “Ellen, you can never know God totally. God is infinite.” “Wow, I’m glad I asked,” I said, I think I was trying to do the impossible.
Jesus will unwrap those gifts and then call us to use them for his glory in his church and the World around us. As we receive the sacrament of reconciliation often we are able to empty ourselves of the sins that drag us down. Through this sacrament we are given the grace to become more like Jesus. As John the Baptist said, “We must decrease so that he can increase in us.” Paul says the same thing in different words, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me.” I have a question for you ladies: Are you alive? If you don’t know the answer asks your husband. My husband said to me one day after I said, “Sometimes I think I’m dead.” He assured me, “Honey you’re not dead yet!” I took it as a nudge by the spirit of God to keep putting the flesh to death. Remember ladies we can get so overwhelmed by sin in our lives that we forget that, “He that began a good work in you will complete it until the day of his return. I say, “He changes us within as we spend time with him.” God loves us into wholeness, so as we know him, we discover that he loves us and we in turn learn to love him back. Then he calls to service. So, how do we discover our gifts? By getting to know him and getting to know his word. Do you want to be used by God in your gifts, ladies and to serve the church?
Now I am going to tell you how God can do that. I love the Mass. It is so amazing that you can go to Mass day after day and then one day God can show you something that has been there all along, that moment of grace can change your life forever. You will never be the same. That is what happened to me one day as Fr. Ring raised the cup in adoration. God spoke to me as if from the Last Supper, “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to t hem, saying, "This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” I in my minds eye reflected about that sentence. I began to learn a truth about growth in Christ –not a formula but a truth. On the journey to maturity there is a road to holiness some take it others do not.
When we first come to give our whole heart to God he blesses us. We walk around with a permanent smile that say Jesus loves me and I love him too. We secretly think he loves us more than anyone on earth. Then after a long season of grace he begins to call us to a deeper walk of knowing him for ourselves like Job. Many are willing to praise and hail him as read in scripture Matt. 21:9-8. How many are willing to walk with him to Calvary, the walk that leads us to sit at the foot of the Cross with him alone. He asks if we are willing to let him break us, “unless a seed falls to the ground and dies,” Just like the priest breaks the host at the Mass, did you know women that so many are willing to walk with God in the good times but how many are willing to walk with him in the bad times, the times of trial and suffering. Just like the marriage covenant teaches us to stick together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, as we walk toward maturity in the Lord, we learn to take up our Cross and follow him. During the time of suffering we need to be a willing vessel, to be broken like the clay pot, being molded and fired in the crucible of life. We begin to know another side of our God that he is faithful, that he will walk on the water if he has to, to save us. If our boat is sinking he will carry on his back if he has to bring you to a place of safety. He will hold us in the palm of his hand. We also learn about ourselves, we learn that we are weak, but in our weakness he is strong, that we are human and need not only Him but, we also need the body of Christ. We learn that grace is unmerited favor, not something we earn. We don’t deserve it. We learn that we need Jesus to daily save us from our sin and from ourselves, not one time, but over and over again. This mission ladies, if you decide to take it, will bring you right to the heart of God. You will not self-destruct. I promise that you will learn, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, but apart from you Lord, I can do nothing.” You will learn that “I am nothing and you are everything.” Then God will pour you out to love and serve the body of Christ, both in the Church and in the fallen world.
So, do you know your gifts? A common comment I hear Catholics and other Christians say is, “I don’t have any gifts,” or “No one ever asks me to do anything in the Church.” I can assure you that you all have gifts and God wants to use every one. There is much work to be done! Remember the parable of the talents. Before I go on I want to say that there are seasons in your walk with Christ in which your gifts will be used for different things. For example, Pat and I have a large family and for many years we did very little in the Church because we put our whole heart into raising our children (the little church = family). Little did I know that the journey itself would take me into my ministry? I now run a Woman's Ministry called Little Pink Dress Ministry. I also speak and write on many subjects. My newest book is a bible study just for moms. I am working on a Bible Study for teens and tweens called, “Help, and I Want to Be a Godly Girl!” I love the way God works. He works in the secret of my heart. So, as I daily laid my life down for my family, He was molding me for my ministry. One thing I always say is, “your passion usually is your ministry.” Mine is the lost art of motherhood and the vocation of marriage. It is still a worthy vocation. We Catholic wives and mothers have the opportunity to be a Light to the world of doing it God’s Way. Our marriages and our families should be Christ centered. As Pat and I began to to serve the Church, we felt more a part of the Church. One of our gifts as a couple is calling people on in their gifts, drawing on their gifts, discerning new gifts, having the welcoming committee plugging new people in. Your gifts are given to bless others. Don’t bury your gifts or let others bury them. Present yourself as a living sacrifice for Christ.
As Christ laid down his life for us in sacrificial love, we too must lay down our life for others in sacrificial love. To build the kingdom of God here on this earth. Does this sound familiar? Did you realize that we say this daily in the Lord’s Prayer. The words are, “God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.” We need to be grateful, willing to be humble and daily abandon ourselves to God’s spirit. Go where he wants us to go and do what he wants us to do. The more you use your gifts, the more God will give you places to use them and they will improve.
Did you ever hear the saying, “What you are is God’s gift to us, what you become is your gift to God? Effort plus Prayer = Victory in Jesus. There is much work to do in this world to bring light into the darkness. There are no super Christians. Many hands make light work. We all have to do our part We need each other. Working together we can make a difference, in our Church and in our world.
Some words of caution:
- We are a team. We are the Body of Christ. There are no superstars, It is God alone that we praise, not people, and definitely not our self. All gifts are important. Deacon Pat can minister to some people that turn a deaf ear to me, and vice a versa. So treasure each person for the gift they are to the Body of Christ.
- Do not discourage others. If God is telling them to collect day old bread from the grocery store and give the bread to the poor. Don’t say you know the Bible says, “We’ll always have the poor among us.” Pray instead from the book of Proverbs,” “A blessing on the kindly man that gives his bread to the poor.” Always encourage rather than discourage a person. Then if you feel God prompting you, offer to help. It may be the first time they ever stepped out in faith to do a ministry for God. Applaud them.
- As you grow in maturity, in grace and in faith, you gifts may change. Change is inevitable, maturity is optional. Do not be so locked into your gifts that you cannot be flexible. Let God lead and you follow Him. He may ask you to get out of your comfort zone. God may even ask you to walk on the waters. He asked Peter.
- If you are going to boast, boast in the Lord. My grand baby Elle is in her own words, " I am the The Best Ballerina Ever." She was only four at the time. She will outgrew the bragging stage and still try her best. Bragging is not something we want to do as an adult. Gifts are freely given by God to Glorify Him and to build His Kingdom. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Use your gifts to glorify Him. Use them always, with a grateful heart.
- Don’t be a gift hog. Pray before you take on any ministry or service. If you take on a service that God has not called you to do, it may cause you stress and frustration. It will not only rob you of your peace, but also may rob another brother or sister from being able to serve. The Word of God says “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me because I am a gentle and humble teacher and I only give you light burdens.
- Burn Out – Psalm 23 “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He restores my soul” Don’t miss the moment!! If God calls you to rest in Him, rest, rest, rest. As I close I want to caution you in Christ to seek always after the greatest gift of all, knowing God. What is it that you ask of me, God? Many times in my walk God calls me back to my first love, back to remembering when he first spoke to me at the age of 7 when I received the Eucharist for the first time and I knew my God was real. I remember in my 20’s when he called me to give my whole heart to him, by speaking the words, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one gets to the Father except through me. I remember when he called Pat and I into full time ministry with the words in Matt. 10:37-9, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Before I conclude, I want to sum up the talk with a:
G-------------GROW THEN GO
I---------------INVEST TIME SEEKING GOD
T---------------TEACH AND BE TEACHABLE-----TEAMWORK
My friends seek the giver of the gifts and not the gifts. He is the greatest gift of all. To know him is to love him, to love him is to serve him.