Seeking Godly Counsel

When we really want to buy something, how many times do we slow down enough to seek Godly counsel before purchasing it?

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. So, if we have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially wisdom, understanding and knowledge, then we should inherently know that seeking godly counsel is a wise thing to do.

The Bible gives us many verses related to seeking counsel:

  • A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel (Proverbs 1:5).
  • Through presumption comes nothing but strife, but with those who receive counsel is wisdom.  (Proverbs 13:10).
  • Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days (Proverbs 19:20).
  • Prepare plans by consultation . . . (Proverbs 20:18).
  • Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory (Proverbs 11:14).
  • Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).

Those are only a few of the 48 Scriptures verses I found that encourage us to seek counsel.

But how often do we actually go out of our way to seek counsel – especially when it comes to financial matters? For most people, the answer is never or not often enough!

Most of us are very proud of our independence, especially as it applies to our financial situation. When we come face to face with a decision, we don’t relinquish control to anyone or seek help–we’re independent, and we don’t need anyone’s counsel. Yet one of the best ways to avoid financial problems is to seek godly counsel before making financial decisions, especially large decisions.

So, who do you ask for counsel, and how do you go about asking? Even though it may take a little courage to ask for advice, our most trustworthy advisors are the ones who have been there all along—parents, or close, trusted friends. Tell them the facts of your situation in a straightforward manner, being totally truthful. Just tackle the conversation head on, open your heart, and listen closely.

If you are married, your spouse should be your number one source of counsel. You will both suffer the consequences of any bad decision, so it is important for both of you to agree on the course of action. If you do not agree, wait, pray and keep talking about it.  Nothing will ruin your marriage faster than making one sided decisions.

We know because that’s what happened to us. We talked around our differences but never came to a decision on which we both agreed. Many years ago, we were in the middle of buying land and working with an architect to design and build our dream house. This was at the same time my husband decided to start his own business and quit his job which paid a generous salary.

The bad news is that we were not on the same page financially. We never really had any financial issues up till that point in our marriage so we never needed to sit down and hash through a budget, talk about debt or plan for saving. The money just came in and went out.

We never thought of seeking godly counsel in an honest and forthright way.  If we did get input from anyone, our questions were couched in language that assured us of getting the answer we wanted, because of course, we knew we were right. Almost as soon as our dream house was built and the mortgage payments started, we ran into financial turmoil.

The verse from Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools is right in their own eyes, but those who listen to advice are the wise.”  And we were certainly fools who thought we were right in our own eyes. The results of those actions were one of the worst financial mistakes we ever made and those mistakes almost cost us our marriage.

Like us, many people have lost a lot of money and have subjected themselves and their families to years of heartache and stress by making bad financial decisions. And what’s really tragic Is they could have avoided most of their difficulties if they had simply sought counsel from someone with a solid understanding of God’s way of handling money.

All of us should intentionally seek to surround ourselves with godly people who can counsel us is different areas. We each have limited experience and knowledge and we need the insights, suggestions and thoughts of others to make a proper decision.

The one common attitude that keeps us from seeking counsel is pride. Some people think seeking advice is a sign of weakness. It’s against our American spirit of independence to ask for help. The American mantra of “Stand on your own two feet” seems to contradict getting advice and counsel from anyone.

Yet this is totally contrary to what we see in the Bible, which encourages a spirit of interdependence in the Body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, we are described as a body where in order to function properly, we need each other. As we are one body in Christ, God encourages us to seek wise counsel and to rely on each other for Godly advice. The Christian life is not one of independence from one another; we’re to be dependent upon each other and grow together in love and faith.

There are cautions when seeking counsel. First of all, it is important to be totally open and honest. Because of our pride sometimes we don’t give all the facts. We just offer up the facts that will give us the answer we want. This isn’t really seeking counsel – it’s going through the motions. So, when you ask for advice stick to the facts – all of them, and don’t disguise or hide the facts in order to sway the person to give you the answer you want to hear.

You also need to be careful about who you ask for advice. Sales people may get a larger commission by pushing you to buy a certain product. Or they may pressure you to buy immediately so they can make their sales quota. It is certainly appropriate to gather facts from experts (like sales people) when making a financial decision. But godly advice is best gotten from a person you know well and who has no vested interest in your decision other than your welfare.

If you don’t have someone in your life who can give you financial advice based on the Bible, pray for the Lord to bring that person into your life. It will be one of the best decisions you can make. A great way to find godly people is through the Compass Catholic Navigating Your Finances God’s Way Bible study. Get involved with your church community and you’re sure to find brothers and sisters in Christ who are more than willing to help and share the Catholic perspectives on handling money God’s way.

For more on this topic, connect with the Compass Catholic podcast on Podbean as we discuss seeking godly counsel.

Middle Class Money Mistakes

According to a Pew Research study done in 2014, the middle class is defined as people who have an annual salary between $42,000 – $125,000. That is a huge margin between the low end and the high-end earners.

If you are on the low end of the income level, you are probably struggling to make ends meet, you have little to no savings and you can’t afford any frills.  If you are on the high end of the spectrum, you probably have a little bit of savings and can afford some of the nice things in life.

But whether you are on the low end or the high end, you may be making some mistakes that are not beneficial to your financial future. Here are some topics to consider if you want to improve your financial health.

The first thing that everyone needs to work on is ditching the debt. You want to be in a position where you are totally debt free—no credit card payments, no car loans payments and no mortgage payments.  Getting rid of the mortgage is a long-term goal but paying off the consumer debt should be priority number one.

If you were going to be charged an extra 15%-21% for everything that you buy would you still buy it?  Probably not. But people who use their credit cards and don’t pay them off at the end of the month are doing just that by paying interest. You get absolutely no benefit from carrying a balance on your credit cards and paying interest. It only provides added costs, more debt, and lots of stress when it’s time to make the payment.

The second most common mistake people make is not having an emergency fund. Personal finance experts stress the importance of having an emergency fund to cover unanticipated expenses and avoid long-term financial damage.

If you were suddenly hit with an unexpected $500 bill, would you be able to cover it? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. Nearly six in 10 Americans don’t have enough saved to cover an unplanned $500 expense, according to a report from Bankrate.com. When the unexpected expense occurs and there is not enough ready cash to cover it, the credit cards get whipped out and you go further into debt, paying even more due to interest charges.

An emergency fund is money that has been saved and reserved for emergencies. It needs to be in a liquid account (checking or savings not a retirement plan) so you can access the cash immediately when needed, with no penalty for early withdrawal. The money is never touched except for emergencies.

We encourage people to start with a minimum of $1,000. For most people, this is a goal that will take several months to achieve.  But even if you only have $400 in your emergency fund when you need it, you will avoid $400 in debt for that emergency. After you get a $1,000 saved in your emergency fund, increase it to one month’s income, then three month’s income. The goal is financial protection from all the unexpected expenses that are looming in your future.

The third mistake people make is spending without a plan.  If the money comes in and goes out and you have no idea where it went at the end of the month, how do you know that you are spending money on what is most important to you and your family?  

A lot of mistakes can be avoided if you just stop, think and evaluate how, when, where and why you are spending. Proverbs 21:5 tells us “The plans of the diligent are sure of profit, but all rash haste leads certainly to poverty.” Spending without setting priorities is certainly a way to run head first into financial chaos.

The fourth mistake is not taking advantage of an employer match on retirement savings. To avoid this mistake, invest enough in your 401(k) to maximize your employer match. Always, always save the maximum that your employer will match—it’s free money!

Along with not maximizing your employer match, the fifth mistake is delaying retirement savings until later. You may think that saving for retirement will be easier once the car is paid off, or after the kids graduate from college or when you get that long-awaited raise. But the key to a healthy retirement fund is to start early and save consistently, even if it’s a very small amount. That way you can maximize the magic of compound interest, where you’re earning interest on both what you have saved and the interest you’ve previously earned. Compounding the interest on your savings helps your savings grow exponentially over time.

The sixth mistake is spending too much on cars. A car is a depreciating asset and the newer it is, the faster it depreciates. An average car loan these days is five years or 60 months. An average payment on a car loan is $500. If you start when you are 20 and buy a new car every five years with a $500 monthly car payment, over your driving lifetime of 60 years, you will spend about $360,000 on car payments. And that calculation does not include the interest you could have earned if you had saved and invested that monthly car payment.

The seventh mistake is absorbing any extra money into your day-to-day spending. If you get even a small financial windfall or an increase in your salary it will disappear quickly if you just spend it.  Instead, allocate the additional money to emergency savings, retirement savings and to a worthy cause.

And that brings us to the eighth mistake, which is thinking you don’t have enough money to be generous. Everything we have is a blessing from God.  It is all too easy to bemoan what we DON’T have. When we think this way, it is easy to rationalize why we can’t give any money to charitable causes. Yet if we really believe that everything we have is a blessing from God, then when we are generous we are simply giving back to God what is already his. We need to look for ways to praise God and be grateful for what we DO have, and one of those ways is to be generous.

Taking time to think and plan your spending is the best way to avoid these common mistakes. It’s not glamorous and it may not be fun, but steady plodding keeps you on track. Proverbs 21:20 tells us “Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool consumes it.”

The Importance of Stuff

A week after the horrific Las Vegas shooting, the area which was once host to a day of country music was full of abandoned items which were being catalogued and organized so they could be returned to their owners. There were clothes, shoes, baby strollers, phones, backpacks and purses strewn across the huge crime scene. When people were fleeing for their lives, it was easy to let go of their material possessions in an effort to run to safety.

The same thing occurred with the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida and the fires in California. Most people willingly abandoned their homes, their possessions and all their stuff in order to save their lives.  

When we are faced with the possibility of death, it is easy to leave behind all the things the world tells us are so important. But why does it take a life and death situation to help us put the stuff in our lives into the proper perspective?

We live in the most affluent culture in the history of the world, where we are constantly bombarded with costly, manipulative advertising to prompt us to spend money. Advertisers usually stress the importance of image rather than function. For example, automobile ads rarely focus on a car as reliable, economical transportation. Instead, they project an image of status or sex appeal.

No matter what the product—clothing, deodorants, credit cards, you name it—the message is communicated that the fulfilling, beautiful, wrinkle-free life can be ours if we are willing to buy it. How many commercials do you see which infer that you can never be happy, or fulfilled, satisfied or successful until you buy this thing or that thing? The advertising message is that the big house, fancy car, stylish clothes, and whatever else they are selling will bring us happiness and fulfilment.  All we have to do is buy it. And all too often we fall prey to the advertising hype and sink into the trap of thinking that our happiness is directly related to how much stuff we’ve collected and how much money we have.

We are inundated with the message that once we collect a certain amount of money or buy certain products we will be happy. The problem is that almost as soon as we have purchased the latest object of our desires, or reached a certain level of financial security, we find that it really doesn’t satisfy us, and we need more in hope that more it will provide the satisfaction and happiness we desire. We end up in a constant cycle of accumulation.

Romans 12:2 (GNT) says, “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.”

The truth is that only God can provide ultimate happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul stated that he had to learn to be content. We too must learn to be content. There is no need to keep accumulating more and more stuff to satisfy our need for happiness when only God will provide all the joy we could possibly desire.

When we are face to face with our mortality, it is so easy to figure out what is really important. In the face of death, it’s easy to walk away from our stuff and run to safety.

But how hard is it to walk away from our stuff when we are comfortable and safe?  How often do we place more importance on our material things rather than our mission to proclaim the good news?  Our energy and focus can be easily diverted from our faith life into collecting and maintaining the things we have—the house, the car, the boat, the tech toys and on and on.

In the Gospels, Jesus tells his apostles to travel light so that they are not weighed down by material possessions. He wanted his disciples focused on their mission not their stuff.  “He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.”   Mark 6:8

He also wants us focused on our mission not our stuff. The mission hasn’t changed in the past 2000 years. We are to share God’s word with everyone we meet. Yet so many times, our stuff can get in the way of our mission.

The difference between how our world views wealth, and possessions is in direct contradiction to how Jesus views wealth. He does not teach that wealth is bad, but condemns being enslaved by worldly wealth and having the love of wealth be an obstacle to our life in grace.

“Jesus then said to his disciples, ‘I assure you: it will be very hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 19:23). Riches are deceitful because they are tangible and can blind us from the reality of the unseen Lord. We imagine that our finances and our possessions have some importance that only belongs to Christ.

We can use money to fulfill selfish desires or we can use money to further God’s kingdom on earth. We can use money to keep up with the neighbors or we can use money to help our neighbors. We can use money to accumulate worldly wealth or we can realize that true wealth is not of this world. We can worship money or we can worship God.

What is real security? We can find it in God alone. Apart from a relationship with Christ, it’s nothing more than an illusion.

There’s a Catfish on the Sidewalk!

We’ve spent a lot of time this month preparing for then dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

For you non-Floridians, hurricane preparation means securing anything in the yard or patio that could be picked up by the wind and become a projectile. Laundry must to be done because we all need clean underwear in case of prolonged power outages. A visit to the ATM is a must because if there is no electricity, credit and debit cards don’t work. Of course, if all the stores are closed due to electrical outages, there isn’t much shopping going on anyway. We have to check the pantry for non-perishable food because once the electricity is out, things spoil pretty fast in the Florida heat if we can’t make or buy ice and the fridge doesn’t have any power. We need to be sure clean drinking water is available as there is always the possibility of contamination in the local water supply. The car has to be filled with gas because the gas stations are closed when the electricity is out (or when they run out of gas.) Sandbags must be acquired, filled and stacked to protect low lying areas from flooding.

Then after all the preparation, we spend endless hours sitting around waiting and waiting and waiting for the inevitable wind, rain and damage.

After the hurricane, the first thing is a prayer of thanksgiving that we survived. Then comes the damage assessment. Are our families and neighbors safe? Do we still have a roof? Are there any broken windows? Any leaks? Is the electricity on? Who needs immediate help? Do we have enough food and water for the next few days till the roads are cleared and the grocery stores restocked? How much of our landscaping is now trash strewn around the neighborhood?

When it’s safe, we walk around the yard and neighborhood trying to figure out what to do first.

As we were doing damage assessment, one of our weird post-hurricane experiences this year was finding a catfish on the sidewalk in front of our house. It was a fairly large fish—over twelve inches long and it was VERY determined to stay in the teeny-tiny puddle on the sidewalk. We tried picking it up with a yard rake—it flopped off. Then we scooped it into a bucket, and it jumped out. We finally got it into the bucket and put a lid on the bucket for the trip to the pond. We never did figure out how the catfish got in front of our house which is a half-block away from the pond at the end of the street.

Thinking about this catfish reminded me of how a crisis can impact our life. We suddenly find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, with our whole world turned upside down. Like the catfish, we can find ourselves in a place that is out of our comfort zone in the aftermath of a hurricane or other unplanned crisis situations.

In talking to people and reading social media since the hurricane, I have come to believe that people fall into one of two categories in these types of situations. There are the whiners and the winners.

I want to be clear, that these two categories are referring to people who have experienced minor irritations and disruptions due to the storm, not people who have lost everything.

The whiners look on the hardship and inconvenience as a personal attack by some cosmic force. Their attitude is a “Why me?” cry of frustration and dissatisfaction until their world returns to normal. There were six million people in the state of Florida without power and most of the electrical grid in the state had to be rebuilt. Yet the whiners were complaining that their power was not turned on within a day of the storm. They acted as if Armageddon was upon them, even though they were going through a minor inconvenience compared to how the rest of the world lives on a daily basis and how so many other Floridians fared in the storm.

Again, I want to be clear that the whiners were safe, there was no damage to their homes and they were simply experiencing the lack of electricity and internet connection. Yet they acted as if it were the end of the world.

The other type of person, the winner had an “It is what it is” attitude. Yes, they were uncomfortably hot with no air conditioning and they would have appreciated the internet or TV as a distraction from the chaos. But they knew there were much higher priorities than their comfort and they were satisfied to wait out the return to normal.

Several of my friends actually used the past week as a way to be in mental communion with the poor and empathize with the way many people around the world live every day. How many people in other countries suffer through each day without a safe dry home, without enough food to eat or clean water to drink? How many people lack access to the things we take for granted–electricity, running water, air conditioning, refrigeration, dishwasher, TV, internet service?

I find myself being grateful for the return to normal and I also find myself aware of how much in life we expect, how spoiled we are with minor irritations and how selfish we are in putting our wants above the needs of others.

As Americans, we are pampered by the great abundance in this country and we expect it to continue indefinitely. Maybe the whiners all need a lesson in what is really important in life. Maybe our hurricanes are providing that lesson, at least to some of us.

I pray that each and every person who is suffering the devastating effects of losing their loved ones, homes and businesses through hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters will find peace and comfort in the Lord. My heart goes out to those who have lost everything and I encourage you to join me in donating to their relief.

I suggest sending a donation to Catholic Charities in the Dioceses of Galveston/Houston; Corpus Christi; Venice: St. Augustine and Miami.

I also pray that each and every whiner will face a wake-up call and learn the difference between needs and wants, between conveniences and necessities, between being a whiner and a winner.

The Tradeoff Between Energy, time and Money

Do you remember summers as a child when you had unlimited energy and all the time in the world to do whatever you wanted to do before the start of school?  And there was no real need for money.

Then you grew up and all of a sudden there was never enough energy, time or money for everything. Seems like with family, friends, work, church and other activities there is not enough time in 24 hours to get everything done we need to do. That makes it really easy to justify spending money on things we are able to do for ourselves, but just don’t have the time or energy to do it ourselves.

It is tempting to justify paying someone to mow the lawn, clean the house, wash the car or whatever else needs to be done around the house. When we do that we are trading money for the time and energy to do other things. That may be a good tradeoff but we are using money that could be directed towards things that are more important than paying someone to do our chores.

Balancing energy, time and money can be an art form and it is different for every family and each individual, but it is important to understand the tradeoffs and make a conscious decision.

About twelve years ago, we moved back to Orlando from Atlanta. When we were house hunting, we were very focused on buying a house big enough to be comfortable but small enough to be easy to take care of. It is not exactly a zero lot line house but the houses are pretty close together. The biggest benefit to us is that the home owner’s association takes care of the lawn and plants in the front yard, which saves us oodles of energy, time and also money. The side yards are filled with river rock so there is no maintenance there and the back yard is filled with mulch and plants so there is no maintenance there.

Our home is not large by any means, and that is a good thing. We can easily travel without having any maintenance cares above the normal maintenance that occurs when we are home. Just like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears – “it’s just right!”

A smaller living space keeps you from accumulating a bunch of stuff that you really don’t need or use. It saves time because the less active living space you have, the less time you’re going to spend cleaning it and taking care of it. It saves money because a smaller home has smaller bills – lower property taxes, lower insurance rates, lower energy bills.

We also make conscious decisions about the tradeoff with energy time and money in how we handle our groceries. Even though we are both working in the ministry out of a spare room in our home, dinner can sometimes be a challenge. We have many evenings where we have to rush off to a meeting or when we arrive home so late in the afternoon neither of us feels like cooking. That’s why we plan leftovers in to our weekly menu so there is something to eat on those evenings when there is no time to cook. It also saves money because it is cheaper to eat at home instead of the time and energy it takes to go to a restaurant.

I consciously make my menus and shopping list based on bulk buys and bogo items. There are lots of items around the house that we use every day and really don’t want to run out of, such as toothpaste, soap, paper towels, laundry detergent and toilet paper. If we run out we have to buy them at the current price. So we try to buy in bulk or when they are on sale or when we can buy through a bogo. Even if we have plenty on hand, I’ll take advantage of a sale because I know we’ll use them and that saves energy time and money.

Over the years, I have learned that cleaning what’s dirty on a regular basis works much better for me than an all-out blitz to clean everything all in one day. Every day I make sure that errant items are picked up and put away. When needed I will do a more thorough cleaning. This strategy keeps my desire to hire someone to clean the house at bay.

Seems like some days we are in the car a lot and it’s easy to get thirsty and stop at a convenience store for a bottle of water or soft drink. By keeping a bottle of water in the car, we know we don’t have to stop at a convenience store (saving both time and money) and we stay hydrated.

There is always a shopping list on our refrigerator. If we’re running low on anything, it gets written down. When it’s time to go to the store, I start with the list and add what’s needed from my meal plan for the week. Because our schedule is so dynamic, I only shop for 3-5 days at a time. I find that works best for us as we don’t buy a lot of things that go bad because we ended up having dinner out more than I had planned. I always check the sale brochure to see what is on sale and plan meals around that so I don’t buy expensive ingredients that will be on sale the following week. Sometimes we’ll be low on something and it is not on sale, and I am pretty sure there is a sale coming up so I just keep it on the list till the next week’s sale brochure comes out.

Since meals are planned around what we have on hand, it’s very rare that we run out of items in the moment, meaning that we rarely have to make “emergency runs” to the store, and the fewer trips I make to the store, the more money, time and energy I save.

There is a great balancing act between energy, time and money. There are a lot of ways that you can spend less time and get more things done without spending the money to pay someone else to do it for you.

The first key point is energy. If you are physically incapable of performing specific tasks around the house, you may not have an option of doing it yourself. If you HAVE the energy and physical ability then it becomes a balancing act between time and money.

Another key point in the balancing act is your time. What are your priorities for spending your time? If you have the money, it may make sense to pay someone to do chores for you if that gives you more time to spend on things that are more important to you, such as time with the family. Of course, getting the family involved in helping you with the yard work can accomplish the same thing. While also teaching children about responsibility and work ethic.

And the third part of the balancing act is money. If you are in debt or you don’t have any emergency savings then not spending money is your highest priority.

If you are struggling with balancing energy time and money, take it to prayer and God will lead you in the right direction. Remember this verse from Ecclesiastes 3: “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.”

For more on this topic, connect with the Compass Catholic podcast on Breadbox Media as we discuss the balancing act between energy, time and money.

Work is More Than a Job

We are all called to be workers. In the earliest part of the creation story God, the universe’s first worker, gave Adam the garden to “tend and keep” (Genesis 2:15).  The first thing God did with Adam was to put him to work. Work was given to man as a gift, before original sin, not as a punishment after original sin. At it’s very core, a Christian approach to work is rooted in man’s relationship with God and creation.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2015 American Time Use Survey (most recent data available), in the US, employed persons worked slightly more than an average of 7.6 hours a day during the work week.

The job we do during our work week allows us to buy the necessities in life. Work provides “our daily bread” and we are able to support our families with what we earn. What is more challenging to understand is that our work (and how we accept, respect and support the work of others), is the mechanism that provides for the nourishment of our spirit.

Pope Francis has stated that being a worker and engaged in business is a genuine human and Christian calling. He calls work “a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by the greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”

When we forget that our work is an opportunity to use our gifts and our energies to help meet the needs of our fellow man, we forget that we are called by God to be a worker. Realizing that we actually work for Christ, not our boss, changes everything.

Just as many people separate their spiritual life from their finances, many people separate their work life from their spiritual life. Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:24 that “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” If we are truly living our faith, our work life and spiritual life need to be integrated. If we are serving God with our work, then our work has a higher purpose.

We have a tendency to feel that the person with the big office and big paycheck has more value than the person who is emptying trash cans and cleaning the bathrooms. When we do this, we fail to acknowledge that there is equal dignity in all different occupations. What would the workplace be like if no one every emptied the trash or cleaned the bathrooms? The CEO and the janitor have different tasks, probably different education levels and different sized paychecks. But their work has equal dignity if done for the glory of God.

Pope Francis reminds us that work is fundamental to the dignity of the human person. He explains that “work ‘anoints’ with dignity, and that dignity is not conferred by one’s ancestry, family life or education. Dignity as such comes solely from work.”

Think about the lesson learned in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Each of the three servants is given a portion of the master’s assets based on his abilities, and is entrusted to be a responsible steward.

Two of the three follow the master’s instructions and make productive use of the master’s talents. The third, out of fear, hoards the asset and does nothing with it. The first two are praised and rewarded, and the third is scolded, rejected and punished. God expects us to use our “talents” to care for ourselves and our families. Work honors the gifts and talents that we receive from God. We are all called to use these talents in proportion to our abilities for our own care and benefit and for that of others.

Depending on your approach to work, you can spread the light of Christ or not.

Are you a frustrated worker always complaining and badmouthing your fellow employees and management? Do you constantly grumble about what goes on in the office or your hours or your co-workers?

Think about how your work is affecting your attitude. Do you feel a sense of joy and energy about your work? Or are you feeling depressed and overwhelmed? Your work should be uplifting to you.

Make a list of the gifts God has given you and evaluate how well you are using those gifts in your current job. See if you might tweak what you do or even make time for a hobby or a way to serve as a volunteer so you can use those gifts. Joy follows when you put your gifts to good use and if it doesn’t happen in your daily job, it needs to come from somewhere.

Is your job in conflict with your faith and family? It is important to be sure that work is not interfering with your vocation as a spouse or parent. If your work means you constantly miss important times with the family, then you may need to make some changes. For example, does your job interfere with your prayer life or your ability to have breakfast or dinner with the family on a regular basis? Even if you work less because you are putting your attention on the important areas of your vocation, your work time will be more productive if your priorities are in the proper order.

Evaluate the budget. Is having both parents working really adding to the family budget or tearing the family apart? Look at the costs associated with the second working parent—day care, restaurant lunches, fast food dinners, convenience meals, clothing, dry cleaning, transportation, etc. and figure out how much extra money is actually coming in to the family budget. It might not be as much as you think

If any of the above items hit a soft spot in your heart, maybe you need to make a change. Pray to the Holy Spirit for clarity about your current situation.

God is our Provider and He’s always faithful to provide for our needs. Obviously, our jobs are a big part of that. We never want to be ungrateful for our work because the Lord has provided it to us. The most important way to stay grateful on the job is to always keep in mind that you’re working for the Lord. Col 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men—it is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

For more on this topic, connect with Compass Catholic on Breadbox Media as we discuss the purpose and meaning of work.

Being Honest In A Dishonest World

All of us make many small daily decisions about being honest. Do you deal honestly in all areas of your life, even the smallest ones? Or do you quietly smile and pocket the extra money when the cashier gives you too much change? Have you ever sold something and not been entirely truthful because you may have lost the sale? Do you put more hours on your timecard than you actually worked? Do you fudge the numbers on your tax return to get a larger refund? Do you bring supplies home from the office for personal use? 

Thirty or forty years ago if you had asked someone if they were honest or truthful, they would have looked at you as if you had two heads. Back then there was no discernable difference between the two.

Today, however, attitudes have changed so much that people often manipulate their words and actions so they are scrupulously honest without being absolutely truthful.

Think about a small child playing with his ball in the house. He knows mom has forbidden playing ball in the house, but he is having a good time despite mom’s warning.  Suddenly the ball hits a lamp and knocks it over.   The lamp falls to the floor and breaks into a million pieces. 

Hearing the crash, mom rushes into the room and says, “Did you break the lamp?” The child replies, “No mommy.”  In his small mind, he didn’t break the lamp—the ball broke the lamp—so he thinks he is being honest. Yet even this small child knows he is not being absolutely truthful. He knows that he was the cause of the lamp breaking because he was playing with the ball.

The attitude of this small child is reminiscent of what we hear from political figures, sports icons, or media celebrities caught in a lie. When they are confronted, we hear qualifying statements such as “Well, as I recall …” or “What I remember is …” but they never actually declare the whole unvarnished truth.

Society’s attitude of relative honesty is the opposite of what we learn in Scripture. The Lord requires absolute honesty from all of us in every area of our lives all the time. “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who are truthful are his delight.” (Proverbs 12:22)

People who lie try to figure out if they’ll get caught or if they can get away with lying. But if we are living from a Scriptural basis, then our decisions are based on what will please God.

Society tells us to only deal with the facts that can be seen. Yet the Bible tells us to act in a way that displays our faith in the living God.  In John 14:6, Jesus tells us, “I am the truth.”  If we want to be like Jesus we need to be truthful. When we act in ways acceptable to the secular world but unacceptable to God, we are acting as if God is incapable of discovering our dishonesty. 

Our actions speak louder than our words and acting dishonestly dims the light of Christ shining within us, erodes our faith response, and tarnishes the Christian life that others see in us. Every decision to be both honest and absolutely truthful helps us fulfill our role as Catholic Stewards.

To be honest with others we need to recognize that our personal preferences don’t change reality, because it is so easy to base reality on our own likes and dislikes. Being honest doesn’t mean that we are obligated to express every feeling we have on every subject. Just because we are being honest doesn’t mean that it’s our job to point out the faults and shortcomings of others.

If someone puts you on the spot and being forthright is not in anyone’s best interest, it’s okay to say nothing. You have the right to speak or remain silent. This is especially useful if someone is trying to pull you into a pointless argument or when someone’s feelings are on the line. “One is silent and is thought wise; another, for being talkative, is disliked.” Sirach 20:5

Another situation where we may be tempted to be less than truthful is with someone who is quite ill or in pain. We don’t know what to do or what to say and our temptation is to say things that come more out of our own fear than out of our care for the person in pain. Sometimes we say things like “Well, you’re doing a lot better than yesterday,” or “You will soon be your old self again.”

But we know that what we’re saying is not true, and our friend knows it too. In these situations, it’s best not to play word games. Simply say: “I am your friend, I am happy to be with you.” We can say that in words or with touch or with loving silence.

Regardless of the prevalence of dishonesty in our society, we all have the freedom to choose to live by a higher standard.

Are there times when you have been less than honest? Having the courage to review your past offenses may cause some discomfort, but recognizing when you have been dishonest can help you identify patterns and stop them from continuing.

Start by doing a thorough examination of conscience to find areas in your life where you may be dealing from a dishonest standpoint. As with any other time we’ve sinned, seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation to put yourself right with God. After you restore your relationship with God, restore your relationship with the person harmed, then make restitution. 

There is an old saying, ”You might be the only Bible that some people ever read.” Make sure the Bible people read when they see your actions and hear your words accurately reflects the light of Christ. If people are looking at you as a way to read the Bible, be sure they are reading the Good Book!

Finding a Financial Planner (part 1)

You can certainly go it alone when it comes to managing your money, and you could also try to do it yourself when it comes to auto repair, cutting your own hair or giving yourself a root canal. Doing it yourself is a brilliant idea for some people in some instances and a really, really bad idea for many others.

Learning all the details about managing personal finances requires many hours of research, study, and experience, and it may not be worth your time and effort to develop the expertise you need to make good decisions when it comes to your own personal financial planning.  Plus, the fact that you are emotionally involved with your own finances may prevent you from making an unbiased decision.

A trustworthy financial planner can save you both time and money and help you stay on track with your financial strategies. They can help you tackle a specific financial goal, such as preparing for retirement, saving for college or estate planning.  It may sound crazy to pay someone to keep track on your money, but if you match your needs with their skill-set and knowledge it may be crazier to try and do it yourself.

Finding the right planner requires work and patience, but once you find someone who shares your passion for what you want to accomplish, it can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your financial future.

To help you find the right financial planner, start by having a conversation with your spouse if you are married.  Even if their knowledge of finances and investments is very limited it is important for this to be a collaborative decision. Marriage is a joint effort and the results (good or bad) of your savings and investments will affect both of you—so you both need to be involved in the decision-making.

Single or married, the first step is to decide what you are looking for. Are you only interested in certain financial firms? Are there other financial firms you want to avoid? How aggressive or conservative do you want to be in your investments? Are you looking for someone who provides counsel from a Biblical perspective? Are there certain types of products you do or do NOT want to invest in (annuities, mutual funds, bond, stocks, etc.)?

Do you want to avoid companies or products associated with gambling, alcohol, or pro-choice issues? There may also be investments that you prefer, such as companies that are environmentally friendly, focused on pro-life issues, or businesses that close on Sunday.

If you have a specific interest—such as charitable giving or socially responsible investments or if you’re a newlywed or recently widowed — you’ll want to find a financial planner that concentrates in that area.

Write down your financial goals along with a high-level time line.  Do you have 5 years to prepare for retirement or 25?  It also helps to have documentation on your current financial situation.  How much do you make each month? How much do you spend each month? How much debt do you have? How much do you have saved in what type of accounts (401K, 403B, IRA, Roth, stocks, mutual funds, stocks, annuities, passbook savings, etc.)? Yes, this is personal financial information and yes you will need to share it with a financial planner if you intend to use one.

Once you (and your spouse if you are married) have a high-level idea of your current financial situation, your goals and what you want in a financial planner, seek counsel from godly people. Sirach 32:19 tells us, “Do nothing without counsel, and then you need have no regrets.”

Friends, relatives, and neighbors may all have recommendations about financial planners they trust. They may also have some suggestions about people to stay away from! Some parishes have a resource listing all parishioners who own or run a local business, and there are always advertisements in the back of the bulletin where you can potentially find professionals who have the expertise you are looking for. Use all the resources at your disposal to vet potential advisors.

Assemble the facts that will influence your decisions, then seek God’s direction as well. Anytime you are making a large financial decision it is a good idea to pray about it. We have to remember that answers to prayer will sometimes direct us in a way contrary to our assessment of the facts alone so pray with an open mind.

Once you have a list of names, start investigating. Look at their website–what does it say and does it appeal to you? If you don’t have a website address for them, you can usually find a financial planner by entering their name and “CFP” in a google search. Be cautious if they or their business does not have a website.

Check the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA.org) website. You’ll have to enter the broker’s full name, the Company’s full name, and the zip code. The results will be a report on whether the financial planner has any criminal charges and convictions, formal investigations or disciplinary actions initiated by the regulators, customer disputes and arbitrations or personal financial disclosures such as bankruptcy, unpaid judgments or liens.

Once you find everything you can discover from all public sources, you still have to be sure that they are a good fit for you, and the best way to do that is in a face-to-face meeting. Pick your top three choices, contact them and set up an appointment. In this process, you may encounter financial planners who cater exclusively to clients with a certain level of assets to invest.  If someone you call has criteria you do not meet, move on to the next name on your list.

When you meet with them it’s good to have all your questions written down and to take notes on what you asked and how they answered. We suggest meeting with a minimum of 3 financial planners before deciding who you’ll work with.  

Our next blog (Finding a Financial Planner (part 2)) will delve into more details on qualifications and questions to ask as you look for a financial planner who is right for you.

Where is Your Heart?

Our hearts follow where our money goes as it says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Too often we let the money take the lead and control our heart. However, the heart should take the lead and control where the money goes.

If God is our treasure, then it is easy to understand God’s role in helping us put our priorities in the proper order. God comes first. He comes first in our heart, and the money follows where our heart leads.

There are many immediate demands on our money. The mortgage has to be paid, there are groceries to buy, the oldest child is approaching college, retirement is looming on the horizon. All of these requirements can simultaneously compete for every dollar in our possession.

There are only three ways to deal with these competing priorities for your money. You can spend it, save it or give it away. Think of these three methods as being the three sides of a triangle. If one of the sides is too long or too short the triangle is out of balance or incomplete. Or think of these things as being three legs of a tripod. If one of the legs is too short, too long, or entirely missing, the tripod will be out of balance and unable to stand firmly.

The key to a godly attitude in how we handle money is to have the three sides of the triangle or the three legs of the tripod in balance. Spending, saving and giving must be balanced.

If we get too caught up in spending and saving, giving can be forgotten.

As Christians, we are called to be light and salt in the world. We are challenged to live in a way that is different from how the rest of society lives. That means holding on to our money and possessions with an open hand. Think of the difference between someone holding an item in their open palm versus holding it in a clenched fist. If, for some reason, money and possessions are to be removed from our care, and they are resting lightly on our open palm, it will be much less painful than if God has to pry open our tightly clenched fist to remove it.

Everything we consider so important in this world has no meaning in the light of eternity.

There is a story about a man who was about to die. He was very wealthy and hated to leave his riches behind, so he prayed that he could take his wealth with him.

An angel hears his prayer and tells him that is impossible to take it with him. The man asks the angel to speak to God and plead for an exception on his behalf. The angel speaks to God and returns to the man telling him he will be allowed to take one suitcase to heaven with him. The man gathers his largest suitcase, fills it with gold bars and places it next to his bed so he can quickly get it when his time on earth is finished.

Shortly thereafter, the man dies and approaches St. Peter at the pearly gates. St. Peter sees the suitcase and tells the man he is not allowed to being anything to heaven with him. The man explains that God has granted him an exception since he was so wealthy on earth.

St. Peter zips open the suitcase to inspect the worldly treasure that was too important to be left behind. He stares in astonishment at all the gold and in a bewildered tone says “You brought paving stones?”

We are so caught up in this world that like the man in the story we sometimes forget that what we have on this earth has no lasting value.

I encourage you to estimate the number of days you have left on earth. My mom is 96 and my dad died at 90. If I live an average of their two ages, I have about 10,000 days left. Sounds like a lot, but thinks of how fast the years pass by. Making this calculation has helped me become aware that I need to invest my life, my time, and my money in efforts that will count for eternity.

Imagine a rope running through the room where you are now. To your right, the rope runs billions of light years all the way to the end of the universe; to your left, it runs to the other end of the universe. Now imagine that the rope to your left represents eternity past, and the rope to your right, eternity future. Take a magic marker and place a small dot on the rope in front of you. That tiny dot represents your brief life on earth compared to eternity.

Because most people don’t have an eternal perspective, they live as if the dot is all there is. They make dot choices, live in dot houses, drive dot cars, wear dot clothes, have dot friends and raise dot children.

When I am face to face with Christ I want to know that my heart followed him in all ways. I want to know that how I used my money followed my heart. I want to know that material things were useful if they facilitated serving God while I was on earth. I don’t want to squander my life on things that won’t matter throughout eternity.

As Sirach18:7-8 advises, “The sum of a man’s days is great if it reaches a hundred years: Like a drop of sea water, like a grain of sand, so are these few years among the days of eternity.” This is the backdrop against which we can determine which is leading and which is following – our heart or our money?

Christmas Isn’t Ever Over

advent-1897920_640It seems like we’ve been preparing for Christmas since Labor Day and on Sunday Christmas will be here.

Then it’s over.

By Monday, December 26th our secular world will have moved beyond Christmas to the next big shopping event—Valentines Day. Once December 26th arrives, there will be no more Christmas carols on the radio. Shortly thereafter, the Christmas trees will be dumped at the end of the driveway for trash pickup. All the ornaments and decorations will be packed away. The cookies will be nothing but crumbs and Christmas will be out of mind and out of sight for another 10 months.

However, when most people are finished, Catholics are just getting started with the Christmas season. For Catholics, the Christmas season begins at the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and the season ends with the Baptism of our Lord (on January 10th in 2017).

What about us? When do we bring Christmas to an end? We are all very familiar with the saying “Keep Christ in Christmas” but do we also say “Keep Christ in February 23rd or May 15th or October 9th”? What do we do to keep Christ as the center of our lives beyond the Christmas season?

St. Augustine wrote that “our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” This year take a few minutes out of your Christmas celebrations to plan ways to keep Christ out of Christmas too! We need him every minute of every day, not just at Christmas time.

A great tradition to start with your family is to talk about the real end of the Christmas season on January 10th and tell the children about the baptism of Our Lord. This leads to discussions about their own baptism.

Tell them stories about their baptism. Did they cry or smile when the water was sprinkled on their head? What did they wear? If you have moved to a different location, which church did you attend when they were baptized? Who was the priest who baptized them? Which family members and friends joined with you to celebrate? What did the family do to celebrate?

Talk to your children about the saint’s name you chose for them. By choosing a saint’s name you asked a particular saint to assist you in bringing up the child and that saint became your child’s patron. Find ways to teach them about their patron saint.

You can remind them of their saint when we say the creed at Mass, acknowledging that we believe in the Communion of Saints. This means we are spiritually united with those who have died and are now in heaven. They can act as intercessors—they have the ability to assist us and pray for us—and they should be a role model for your child.

If your child also bears the name of a relative, you have another teaching tool. What do you remember about the relative? What good qualities did they have that you want your child to share? Are there any funny stories you remember about their namesake? If they have passed away they are also united with your child in the Communion of Saints.

During the year, you can return to the focus on baptism and faith by celebrating the anniversary of your child’s baptism. It can be something as simple as a cupcake with a candle. Or even lighting their baptism candle (if you know where it is) on the anniversary of their baptism. This is a very real way to help them bring their faith to life.

Children love hearing tales about when they were a baby and telling them about their own baptism is a great way to bring the Christmas season to a holy and meaningful end. It is also a simple way to keep the focus on faith throughout the year.

Another way to keep the faith in front of them is to say this simple prayer from St. Patrick each day. What a beautiful way to send them off for the day. Try learning one stanza at a time and recite it by alternating each line between parent and child:

Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.

Christ be within me, 

Christ be below me, 

Christ be above me, 

never to part. 


Christ on my right hand, 

Christ on my left hand, 

Christ all around me, 

shield in the strife. 


Christ in my sleeping, 

Christ in my sitting, 

Christ in my rising, 

light of my life. 


Christ be in all hearts thinking about me; 

Christ be on all tongues telling of me; 

Christ be the vision in eyes that see me; 

in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.

Merry Christmas from Compass Catholic Ministries from now till January 10, 2017!

Evelyn Bean