Only the Best for God

To give God all that we have without shortcuts

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AckermanToward the end of the academic year, as I walked through the halls of our grade school, I noticed a young man sitting slumped over a desk.

“Are you OK?” I asked him.

“Yes, Father,” he informed me. “I am finishing up a test.”

When I looked down, I discovered that half of his page was blank.

“You didn’t study too hard for this, I guess?” I asked him with a wry smile.

“Oh, no,” he replied, “I studied, but you only have to pass. I figured I answered enough right. Why exert myself?”

Although that was very amusing to hear from a third grader, it also led to me shaking my head, thinking that I have heard that answer far too often.

Perhaps many of us have become accustomed to simply getting by or doing the bare minimum. I witnessed a similar reaction from a roofer who was working on one of our churches that sprung more leaks than the Titanic.

“Father,” the worker told me, “you probably should replace this whole thing, but you also could save a bunch and just patch it. Who wants all that trouble of doing the whole thing?”

Convenience and ease seem to have won out in many facets of life, but that cannot be the case with spiritual life. Recently, I was given a book to read that focused on the need to fight against mediocrity, sloth and lethargy. One passage states: “It is necessary to be able to live the present moment intensely, knowing that it is an opportunity to encounter the Lord. To flee mediocrity is, therefore, to persevere on the narrow way that leads to salvation, instead of setting out on the wide, easy way that ultimately leads to perdition (Mt 7:13); it is to reject compromise and to choose holiness.” (“The Noonday Devil” by Jean-Charles Nault, Ignatius Press, $17.95).

That caused me to pause and reflect deeply on the need to work diligently and to accept the daily suffering that comes with doing so.

Hardships come in many forms — physical, spiritual, diocesan — but they ultimately help lead us into a deeper commitment with Christ. This commitment mandates that we give God all that we have while not looking for shortcuts. I am constantly inspired by the parishioners I encounter who volunteer day after day and event after event with no complaint. In particular, I have learned much from our arts and environment committee (the flower ladies). They can drive you crazy, but they are also extremely dedicated to moving plants, watering, gardening and improving our worship space. “Never settle for OK!” They often inform me. “Only the best for God!”

These ladies embody what we hear in the Book of Revelation about the need to be fervent, not tepid in our desire to serve the Lord: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (3:15-16).

I know that many of us are overworked, and that ministry is demanding. The most heroic thing many priests do is to continue to show up for the people. However, we must strive, through our prayer, fraternity and worship, to be passionate about the things of God.

Although delivering an address about space exploration, not spirituality, President John F. Kennedy once offered stirring remarks about the need to challenge ourselves. He said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills” (Address at Rice University, Sept. 12, 1962). We, too, must organize the best of our energies and skills to serve the Lord and his people, realizing that this endeavor has eternal consequences.

I am not certain what grade my young friend received on his exam, but he did enroll for fourth grade. I do know though that the attitude of simply squeaking by or of remaining in our comfort zone can only take us so far. If the cross were easy, everyone would be Christian, but because it is not, we know why we need Christ. May we never shy away from the challenge of faith.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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