November 18, 2019

Who Do You Hang With?

Once again this week my guard was down and I was letting the world gnaw at me. I was down because I was not being looked at for a job or title I wanted. The Evil One was whispering in my ear and I was listening. I have a terrible habit of letting myself get all worked up. I made a list of all the accomplishments I’ve made since joining the company. I was impressed with myself and saved the file for a future meeting with my supervisor. Later that evening, I got a call from my wife who was out of town and telling me how some life plans had changed with one of my daughters. I told my wife that it was no big deal and we are in a position to help her. The conversation was peaceful as I realized how blessed we were to be able to help. That earlier list of accomplishments moved to the back burner and forgotten as items that “won’t do much for me at my judgement.” Successes as a scientist pale in comparison to aiming at being the man God made me to be. The challenges I imagined earlier that day had dissipated. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t have, I again rejoiced and focused on my much more important job title at the moment – “Dad.” Work must never be seen as anything more than a means that my wife and I use to enable our plans and goals. When I view work this way, much of the stress I have in life goes away. They can keep their title. It won’t help much in the next world any way. Living with my soul is much healthier.

I believe the Evil One is often whispering in our ears and enticing us like I allowed him to do this week. Jesus gives us many ways to deal with this, such as prayer and avoiding the near occasion of sin. How do we avoid the lures of “near occasion of sin?” Jesus tells us to surround ourselves with the right people.

In Mark 3:33, Jesus asks “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” when told that his family has arrived. I once was taken back by his response; until I related it to how I too often let the world’s standard into my life. Here in this Gospel passage Jesus is not being hard on his family but pointing out how we should be surrounding ourselves with people who support our positive best interests. This “family” that this Gospel passage refers to was only too happy to stone Jesus a few chapters earlier.

Jesus’ advice is not exceptional. My wife has a sign on our garage door that reads “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you will be.” It is a modern update of Proverbs 13:20: “Walk with the wise and you become wise, but the companion of fools fares badly.” My wife wanted our daughters to think about it each day as they left for school.

We so often think that we are above the influences of this world. I spent a lot of time fooling myself in his. We hear in the media that violent video games and movies affect the psyche of those who watch them. I used to think that was true only for the soft willed. I loved violent movies and was not particularly violent myself. Yet, in my own life, when I stopped watching television shows which were morally challenging I found myself less drawn to that world. I’ve since reduced my time spent watching the news. Not to put my “head in the sand” but simply to reduce negativity in my life. The lures of temptation that surround us have nulled our senses and leave us open to the influences of the Evil One. This is particularly a danger we now see with our younger generations. The “smartphone” is not so smart in how many use it.

The Evil One uses the world to attack us in so many ways. I still recall when my wife chose to leave a very good job to be a “full-time” or “stay at home” mother. We were very fortunate to be in a financial position where she was free to make such a decision. Perhaps it would be better to say we were in a position to adjust our lives and finances to live our values. I remember at the time the negativity that my wife received for this decision. She was asked “What about your career?”, “What you going to do all day?” and “Why would you do this?” My wife’s peer group at work was less than supporting. Being a stay-at-home mother of small children is one of the toughest jobs around and certainly one of the most overlooked. Yes, our vacations were less extravagant after that decision but, the return on investment for that decision was exponential for our family. My wife’s peers at the time were certainly not the “brothers and sisters” that Jesus was talking about.

Walk with the wise…  This is not to say we surround ourselves with people who are useful for us to meet our goals. It is to acknowledge the need to find influences that reinforce our values and have a positive effect upon our lives.

I am a fan of the Knights of Columbus. I initially joined a council in Missouri that had a team in a men’s softball league each summer. At the end of the season, the State Council would sponsor a big softball tournament in Columbia and councils from all over Missouri would send teams. Our team would go each year with our families. Each evening, as we waddled to the pool with our bodies reminding us that we were not as young as we used to be, we would sit around the pool talking and acting as guys do while enjoying “frosty malted beverages.” One Saturday evening after it had gotten late and we had sufficiently numbed our aches, we all got up to leave the pool area. The conversation then changed to “Hey, what Mass is everyone going to in the morning?” I was happily surprised at the question. I smiled as I realized what a great group of guys I was hanging with. I also realized the power of having these men as my friends. I have moved several times since then and my softball days are all over. Yet, shortly after arriving in a new area I still make a point to seek out a local KofC council to join. I always find guys there that will become my “brothers.”

In deacon formation, a candidate and his wife get to know and become close with his cohort. The men in formation deal with plenty of emotions and challenges as they work toward adding another vocation to their lives. Going through this experience as a cohort is a blessing. We surround ourselves with like-minded men we can lean on. The men I shared this experience with, even the ones who did not complete the journey to ordination or have since left the diaconate, will forever be “my brothers.” We still get together occasionally to play poker and update our life experiences. It keeps the bond going a lot better than the Internet and texting. My wife always jokes that she likes it when I go out with these guys – “How much trouble could a bunch of deacons get in?” she laughingly points out. Little does she know…

I find it amusing that my two dogs are of so much use to me in this regard. They keep me on the right path and properly focused. The older terrier, in his zest for life, reminds me how precious time spent together with loved ones truly is. The younger terrier has a constant joy that he presents to the world. Oh, if only I could look upon the world through those lenses each day!

The evil in this world continually tries to seduce us. We need to fight this by devoting some time discerning the people we engage each day and look for those who help us on our journey to whom God wants us to be. Rejoice. Know that these are the “brothers and sisters” Jesus refers to that are present in our lives today. Embrace them for they are the ones who truly have your back against the lures of the Evil One that tempt us on our journeys.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster

REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.

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Written by Deacon Gregory Webster
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