Discernment of Spirits Week 5: Keeping Focus

(Homily for Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B)

Message: Three thoughts: prayer, gratitude, focus.

We have arrived at the final homily in our series - Discernment of Spirits. I feel like a guy who wanted to take you to the top of Mount Rainier but instead showed you a postcard! If I haven't explained Ignatius' 14 rules of discernment, I want to at least give you Bloom's three thoughts.

First thought: If you do not pray, you don't have a prayer against Satan. Like Pope Francis, we have to carve out a time each day for quiet conversation - speaking to God and listening to him.

Second thought: gratitude. Quoting Tolkien, Stephen Colbert expressed it dramatically - "What punishments of God are not gifts?" This leads to a radical gratitude about what we have, are and experience. Such gratitude helps us to move from desolation to consolation.

The third thought is the subject of today's homily. To explain it I would like to tell you about a young man who suffered a nervous breakdown and then slowly recovered. Extremely talented, he went to college and earned a teacher's certificate. With his winning personality, he seemed destined for a great career. The other faculty members liked him and children adored him. But when he got into the classroom a terrible fear overcame him - that he would let students down, mess up and wind up a failure.

He told a friend about his fear. Listening sympathetically, his friend said, "gee, don't sweat the small stuff." That advice infuriated him. What's he talking about? Small stuff? The future of children - and my future too?

In the end, however, he told the principal he just couldn't do it. The principal saw potential in the young man and arranged for therapy. After a year of therapy and a successful return to the classroom, I asked him how the therapy helped him. He said the therapist was good. "She listened to me and just let me talk. What I learned," he said, "was, don't sweat the small stuff!"

That's my third thought. We see it dramatically in the Gospel where Jesus distinguishes small stuff from what really matters: where you and I will spend eternity. Either united with God and the Communion of Saints or separated from God and every other person. Jesus calls this isolation, "Gehenna - where 'their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched.'"

In comparison to where one spends eternity, everything else is small stuff. Jesus says even if you were to lose a hand, a foot or an eye - that's small potatoes in light of eternity.

This hardly means we become cavalier about the suffering of others. When people come to me with hurts and crises - anguish I have not had to bear - I hardly say, "don't sweat the small stuff." When I go to Peru and meet a family living in a one-room hovel, I am going to spend time with them, listen to them and help to the degree I can. But I am going to also keep in mind what matters most - that each one has an eternal destiny.

I know that in relation to others I have had it easy. Sometimes I feel like a spoiled child. I have been given so much, but when trials do come, as they do every day, I need to say, "Bloom, don't sweat the small stuff." Remember why you are here and focus on the task God has given you today.

So let's sum up the three thoughts on discernment of spirits. First, prayer: Satan wants to sidetrack you. In prayer God can get you on the right track. Second, gratitude: Thankful prayer will help you discern God at work. Even what seems like punishment can be his blessing. Third, focus. Distinguish small stuff from what finally matters. Blessed Mother Teresa shows us the way. She experienced decades of desolation when God seemed remote or absent. Yet she kept her focus - the salvation of souls. She did more for people in misery than probably anyone in the 20th century.

I hope my postcard helps you: prayer, gratitude, focus. This does not mean I won't lose my cool when the barista makes my latte lukewarm! But I will try to remember what my young friend learned, "Don't sweat the small stuff!"

In the next weeks we have Gospels that apply discernment to everyday decisions. For now I conclude with words from the man who has served as inspiration for this series. Early in his papacy, here is what Pope Francis wrote, “Faith is not a light which scatters all darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.” Amen.


Spanish Version

Plan for this series:

August 30: Discernment of Spirits: What is it?
September 6: Discernment of Spirits: The First Step
September 13: Discernment of Spirits: Most Important Rule
September 20: Discernment of Spirits: Overcoming Desolation
September 27: Discernment of Spirits: Keeping Focus

From Archives (26th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2012: Spiritual War
2009: Gehenna
2006: Whoever Is Not Against Us
2003: Giving and Taking Scandal
2000: False Comfort
1997: Everything Else is Small Potatoes

Sunday Homilies

Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Fr. Brad's Homilies

Fr. Jim's Homilies

Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru