The Pharisees and Sadducees came and, to test him, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He said to them in reply, "In the evening you say, 'Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red'; and, in the morning, 'Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times. (Matthew 16:1-3)
When some Pharisees and Sadducees, asked him for a sign from heaven, Jesus asked them why they were so good at discerning something as fickle as the weather, when they didn't know how to read the "signs of the times." Jesus wants all of us to be able to discern the signs of the times. He wants us to know how to spot the signs in our world that point toward him, his powerful love, and his Father's deep desire that we all be gathered in his kingdom. He also wants us to discern the signs that point away from him.
We have just celebrated Christmas, which was a large step forward in the fulfillment of God's plan. By sending Jesus to be with us, God was saying, "I love the world so much that I'm willing to send my one and only Son, not to condemn it but to save it" (John 3:16-17). A "saved" world is a world in which heaven has come down to earth. It is a world in which God's people are in touch with his Spirit and able to read the "signs of the times" that tell us about Jesus' love and about the Holy Spirit's transforming power.
This is such encouraging, uplifting news, and yet all too often, we walk around believing that only a few special people are able to read the signs of Jesus' love and presence. But just the opposite is true: This gift is not limited to saints, priests, or hermits. Everyone can have their spiritual eyes opened!
With Eyes Wide Open.
As Jesus told Nicodemus, we who have been baptized are born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). We have all received a new birth that has made us capable of seeing the kingdom of God (3:3). When we nourish the gift of Baptism by seeking God in every way, by turning away from sin, and by trying our best to love, we will be able to "see the kingdom of God" more and more clearly. Conversely, if we allow our hearts to harden, our spiritual eyes will be clouded, and our ability to see the Lord and his kingdom will fade (Mark 8:17).
It's true: We have spiritual eyes, and we need to open them! God has done everything he can to make it possible for us to see his kingdom and discern the signs of the times. But possibility is not the same as settled reality. Reality comes when we ask and seek. It comes when we take the necessary steps to open our eyes and look. Only as we practice the art of prayer-in private, at the Eucharist, and in the Scriptures-will we be able to put into practice the gift of faith we have received. .
The good news is that God doesn't expect us to do this all on our own. On the contrary, he is committed to teaching us and encouraging us along the way. This is, in fact, why he sent the Holy Spirit-the Third Person of the Trinity-to live in our hearts. It is the Spirit's job to open our hearts and our minds so that we can understand everything that Jesus taught (John 14:26). It is his job to take everything that eye has not seen and ear has not heard-everything that human hearts could never conceive of on their own-and reveal them to us (1 Corinthians 2:7-10).
A Faithful Disposition
God does not want to hide his wisdom and his love from us. He doesn't want to make it hard for us, or to make us have to work so hard that we give up before we reach him. But that doesn't mean that there's no effort required on our part. This is what Jesus meant when he told a woman he met in Samaria: "The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him" (John 4:23). If we want our spiritual eyes opened, it is crucial that we learn how to worship God in a way that acknowledges his authority, his love, his glory, and his power.
There are many attitudes and dispositions, good and bad, that we can have when we participate in the worship of Mass, when we pray, or when we make the daily decisions of life. The best disposition we can have is one that says, "I must spend time with the Lord every day-time in which I am free to worship him deeply and with no distractions. I also need to take hold of whatever I receive in prayer and put it into practice at work, at home, and in my community."
If we come to Jesus with hearts that are as pure and undivided as possible, we will find ourselves acting just like this Samaritan woman. Once she met Jesus and came to see who he was, she hurried off and told everyone in her village about him (John 4:29-32). This is how we will make ourselves ripe to receive God's wisdom. This is how we can set our hearts on Jesus. This is how we will be more likely to live by faith and not by sight.
The Spirit Lives in You
So many people in Scripture learned how to hear the Holy Spirit and "see" the kingdom of heaven. For instance, St. Peter traveled to Samaria and to the home of Cornelius, a pagan, because he felt the Spirit was leading him there (Acts 8:14-17; 10:1-48). Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the church in Antioch to become missionaries because of the Holy Spirit's promptings (13:2-3). Later, Paul, Luke, Silas, and Timothy felt led by the Spirit to change their plans and enter Europe rather than restrict themselves to Asia Minor (16:6-10). As a result of this change in plans, the church in Philippi began. Philip, too, was led into Gaza, where he evangelized a powerful government official from Ethiopia (8:26-40).
All of these stories lead us to one conclusion: We have spiritual eyes, and the Holy Spirit wants to open them. All we have to do is have the right disposition before God, and we will begin to see things as he sees them. Why else would he send his only Son to save us? Why else would he send his Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us? Our Father wants to influence our lives each day. He wants to open our eyes to his heavenly revelation so that we can discern the signs of the times, and have faith in the unseen and strive to please him every day on earth as it is in heaven.
Dear Lord, I ask you to open my spiritual eyes so that I can truly discern the signs of the times. I ask you to give me the grace to walk by faith and not by sight, and to see things as you see them.
Joe Difato is the publisher of The Word Among Us, a monthly devotional magazine. This article is adapted from an article in the Advent 2007 issue. Used with permission.
A Special Note: I am inspired and encouraged by the many testimonials I receive on the impact the Catholic Man Channel has had on the lives of Catholic men. I know that many of you have also been blessed through the Catholic Man Channel and the support and resources provided by the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (NFCM). More than ever, we need your prayers and financial support. If you believe in the vision of the NFCM, "Catholic Men, Linked as Brothers in Jesus Christ, and Called to Bring Him to Others" and have been blessed by the Catholic Man Channel and our other resources, please consider financially partnering with the NFCM. It is only through the support of men like you that we have been able to touch the lives of tens of thousands of Catholic men. Let's continue to stand shoulder to shoulder to reach other Catholic men for Jesus Christ and bring the light of the Incarnate Christ and his Gospel to a darkened world during 2008. To make a tax-deductible contribution to the NFCM and support our vision and outreach to Catholic men, just click here.
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Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. The articla states that Jesus wants us to be able to discern "the signs in our world that point toward him" and "the signs that point away from him." How would you describe these signs?
2. The article also says that "God has done everything he can to make it possible for us to see his kingdom and discern the signs of the times. But possibility is not the same as settled reality. Reality comes when we ask and seek. It comes when we take the necessary steps to open our eyes and look." Take a few minutes to pray and reflect on the "necessary steps" that are described in the article. What are some steps you can take to "open your eyes"?
3. The article goes on to say that "We have spiritual eyes, and the Holy Spirit wants to open them." What steps can you take to open yourself more to the Holy Spirit's promptings, guidance, and wisdom in your daily life?
If you are in a men's group, end your meeting by praying for one another using the prayer at the end of the article as the starting point. Continue to pray for one another during the week that each of you would have your "spiritual eyes" opened in a deeper way, so that you can rightly discern the signs of the times.