bible study

How a Saint is Made (Mark 4:26-27)


Examine the life of most any saint and you will be struck by how ordinary they all started. Saint Francis of Assisi is an excellent example of this. As a young man, Francis indulged in parties, dreamed of glory in battle, and was pretty much just like the rest of the young men in his town.  Had you known the teenage Francis, you would probably not have assumed he would one day be recognized as one of the great Saints of the Church.  No, more than likely, you would have thought his story had a different ending in store.  It is clear, however, that in the life of Francis, a seed of faith had been planted. 

Francis was gifted with profound moments of encounter and conversion. As a young man, he encountered a leper and was revolted. Then, ashamed of his revulsion, Francis climbed down from his horse, embraced the man, and gave him all of the money in his wallet. In that leper, Francis believed he met Jesus. Later, in the chapel of San Damiano, the Lord spoke to Francis from the Cross and commissioned him to rebuild the Church. Due to these dramatic stories, it is possible to think that Francis was made a Saint in such moments. That was not actually the case. The Lord was planting seeds. Francis then had to set out, day and night, and live in such a way that he was responding to the call God had placed on his life. God did not make Francis follow. He had to choose to do so, daily. 

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus gives a parable of a sower throwing seed, 

. . . it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how (Mark 4:26-27)

In this parable, Jesus is revealing something about the lives of the saints, and the life he is calling us too as well. Throughout our lives, God plants seeds. Often, these come in moments of encounter or conversion. Perhaps you have read a blog or heard a homily in which you knew the voice of the Lord was calling you. That was a moment of conversion. It was a seed thrown into your life. Perhaps as a youth, you attended a conference, and that weekend God may have shown you his face in the Eucharist. A seed of conversion was planted. The thing is, if you were operating under the assumption that those moments of encounter were somehow going to "make you a saint”, then it is possible that, instead of moving you forward on the road of sanctification, they may have left you feeling disillusioned. You might not have known that every incredible moment of encounter is followed by an ordinary moment faith.

It is easy to believe that mystical moments of conversion make saints.  And, yes, there were those moments in Francis’ life, but no moment distinguishes itself as “the moment” in which he became a saint. He could have left his encounter with the leper feeling good about giving his money, about having hugged the man, and left self-satisfied and unchanged. But, he did not. Instead, he let that encounter set him down a path. It was a long and winding road that led to his sanctification. The sower had thrown the seed into his life but Francis, at any point, could have chosen to ignore it or to turn away from it. God revealed himself to Francis in those moments but, far from controlling how Francis would move toward Him, or even dictating whether he would seek Him at all, God allowed the great saint to respond.  “…Night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” It is not that Jesus does not know how the seed of faith grows in his people. What he is telling us is that, upon receiving this seed, we must choose to follow. Francis did just that. Night and day, the seed of faith sprouted and grew as Francis chased after the heart of God. What makes Saint Francis extraordinary is not the dramatic stories. What makes him remarkable is the daily resolve to respond to the seed of faith that had been planted. 

The truth is, God is calling you to Sainthood. He has planted the seed of faith in your life. It is very likely that you have encountered him many times. But, God does not force the seed of faith to grow. He does not make you to respond. Instead, day after day, we have the opportunity to walk in faith, responding to God's call. As we do, the seed of faith grows and sprouts.  The work of sainthood happens, not in an instant, but in the everyday moments.

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"They Worshipped, but They Doubted" (Matthew 28:17-18)


It is hard to fully comprehend the experience of the Apostles. These men have become giants in our minds, and truthfully, they are monumental figures. These are the guys Jesus personally called. They walked with him for three years. They shared his teaching. Jesus chose them and built his Church upon them.  Apart from Mary, who has received greater honor than these men?  All of that is true. But, read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and you will see the Apostles squabbling with each about rank. You will see them act rashly. You even see them deny Christ at his most significant time of need. All of that could have been omitted from the Gospels. Why would the Holy Spirit inspire the Gospel authors to include these details? Why so clearly demonstrate that these foundational figures are so obviously just a bunch of ordinary guys?  Why not portray them as perfect followers?  A human author, acting under his own inspiration, might have chosen to do so, but the divinely inspired authors clearly wanted us to see something in this.

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we see the imperfection of the Apostles in literally that last paragraph. The text tells us that the eleven are gathered on a mountaintop in Galilee. Jesus appears to them, and they worship. So far, so good. Then, immediately after the author tells us they worshiped, it says they doubted. The sentence reads “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”  How crazy is that? The Apostles are worshiping in front of the risen Jesus, and they doubt? Don’t miss the magnitude of the moment. Jesus was very publicly murdered just days before, and now he is standing in front of them.  How could they doubt in such a moment? It seems impossible, but If there is one sentence in the Gospel that gives me great hope, this one could very well be it. 

Too often we have a false image of the perfect Catholic. The ideal Catholic must be a saintly figure that never struggles in their faith and never doubts. They speak in a gentle voice at all times, and faith is never challenging or frustrating. This idea takes root in our minds, and then, when doubt inevitably creeps into our life, we tend to approach it in one of two ways.  A.) Rather than confronting the uncertainty, or bringing it to the Lord, we bury it, pushing it aside, acting as if it never happened. Or, B.) Perhaps even worse, we move as if the doubt make us somehow unworthy of the work of the Kingdom. Both courses of action are wrong. Jesus’ response to his Apostles doubt makes that very clear. 

In the Gospel, right after we are told that the Apostles doubted, it says that Jesus came and approached them.  Far from being repelled by their doubt, the Lord steps in. What he does next is so vital, and so crucial for us to understand. Jesus then commissions the Apostles to go out and bring the Kingdom. Don’t miss that. In Matt 28:17 it says the Apostles doubt then in verses 18-19 Jesus answers their doubt, not with condemnation, but with a commission.

Ok, there is a little more to the story than that. Between the Apostles doubt and their commissioning, Jesus says something else that helps it to make sense. He makes a declaration. He says, “All power on heaven and earth has been given to me.” What an incredible answer. It is as if Jesus is saying, “I am bigger than your doubt!” 

When doubt creeps into our faith, We do not need to pretend that it does not exist or that because of it God is not still calling us. The Apostles stood before the risen Lord, and they doubted. God’s reply was to draw closer to them and to declare his power and authority to them. In our moments of doubt, we need to understand that the Lord desires to do the same in our lives. Far from being repelled, Jesus wants to come closer. When we feel like the work of the Kingdom, or the teaching of the Church is more than we can handle, we need to remember that God is bigger than the anxiety or fear we may feel. So, go, therefore. Not because of who you are, but because of who he is. 

Originally published at

I will place my law within them (Jeremiah 31:33/Acts 2)


Did you know the feast of Pentecost predates the coming of the Holy Spirit?  It’s true. The disciples were gathered to celebrate a Jewish feast. In the Old Covenant, God had established this celebration as a remembrance of the giving of the law to Moses, and it was celebrated every year, seventy days after the Passover. It is interesting that God chose this day to pour the Holy Spirit into humanity. Think about it. Out of the three hundred sixty-five days the Lord could have selected, God decided to come on this particular feast. Could it be a coincidence? I do not think so. 

Perhaps the Lord’s word’s, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, can shed some light.

See, days are coming…when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke my covenant, though I was their master… But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days… I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:33)

Did you catch that last part? God promises a new covenant. It will not be a covenant like the one he established with Moses. In the Old Covenant, the Lord gave the law from the outside. In this New Covenant, he promises to place his law on the hearts of his people.  How would he do that? In Acts, chapter two, it becomes clear. The Spirit comes to dwell in the hearts of the believers.  In this light, it makes perfect sense that God would choose to come on Pentecost.  Just as the Passover prefigures Jesus paschal sacrifice, Pentecost and the giving of the law prefigures the coming of the Holy Spirit.  

When we understand this relationship between the giving of the Law and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we gain insight into the relationship we, the followers of Christ, are supposed to have with the Holy Spirit. In this light we can reflect on Jesus words in John 14:26, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”  The Spirit comes to guide us and to teach us. He comes to establish God’s law within us. How are we to know this law? From the outside? No. We are supposed to come to know the Lord through the Spirit so that his will is clear to us at all times because it is written on our hearts.

When the Holy Spirit burst into creation, he came so that every believer could know and live in the will of the Lord. Jeremiah’s prophesy continues to emphasize this “They will no longer teach their friends and relatives, “Know the LORD!” Everyone, from least to greatest, shall know me…” That is the relationship God desires with his people.

It is possible that a person might be tempted to think, "well, why do we need the teachings of the Church if we already have the law written on our hearts?"  Because God is a good Father. Yes, He established his Spirit in us to teach and to guide us, but like a good Father, He created safeguards in this relationship. Yes, we should not need the law, because our relationship with the Lord should be so intimate that we know the law. God, however, knows how easily we are led astray. He knows that there is an evil one actively seeking to mislead us. So, not only does the Lord speak the truth to our hearts, he also speaks to us through the Church he established as well. The Church is always there, publicly proclaiming the truth so that we are safe to follow the prompting of the Spirit in that truth. In those times when we are tempted to stray after our egos, or into the lies of the evil one, the Church proclaims the truth with authority.  

The Spirit’s coming on Pentecost was no accident. It was not a cosmic coincidence. No, God was teaching us something. He was declaring something. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised to write the Law on the hearts of his people. In Pentecost he accomplished it. 

Originally published at