Offers food for thought
Readings: Isaiah 8:23--9:3; Psalms 27:1, 4, 13-14; First Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23 or 4:12-17
With the unprecedented awareness that we have of the challenges that face the Body of Christ the Church, we can imagine ourselves to be living in an age of terrible division. It’s essential however, to maintain perspective through knowledge of the history of the Church, which is a history of varying types of crises. Looking merely at the first century of Church history, through the scriptural record of Paul’s ministry, we see that a great deal of his focus was in response to crises of faith, morals, or church discipline.
There has never been a time, since the formation of the Church, when it has not been engaged in spiritual warfare. In as much as the Church is human it is also weak and at risk. In as much as the Church is divine, the ‘gates of hell shall not prevail’.
If we are to be united in Christ we must believe, embrace and allow the power of God to fulfill in us the words of Isaiah.
Isaiah speaks prophetically of the moment of complete freedom for the Israelites and ultimately for anyone who comes to believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and that through his self-sacrificing love, he delivers us from the darkness of ignorance and the oppression of sin that we have suffered because of infidelity to our nature and our maker. The darkness is overcome by the great light that leads us out of the despair of alienation into the joy of divine union. Isaiah reminds us and our history affirms that it is God and God alone who can accomplish this; that there is no skill, no strength and no human wisdom that can soothe the cry from the depths of our souls for the mercy and love that forgives and restores.
In our daily lives, we witness the evidence of just how fragile our world is and how problematic our circumstances. Things we took for granted 10, 20, 50 years ago as stable structures, such as countries, ideals, civil institutions, social structures, cultural norms, truth, family, human dignity; they all seem to have shallow roots and limited commitment when they are not authoritatively rooted in God. Much that goes on in the world around us serves to weaken the human spirit and increase animal instincts for survival. We become increasingly like lone ranger utilitarian individuals beating our chests about how awesome we are and all the while knowing feeling lost and alone. In the darkness of isolation and confusion we can succumb to a culture where values have only transitory meaning and our convictions are as stable as a house built on sand.
It’s especially in those moments that Christ wants to be your light, if you let him. When we live our own lives, our own way according to our own truth as opposed to God’s, we become starved and a tension grows within us as the knowledge of God, placed in our hearts increasingly strains for the something more satisfying for which we were made. Let him light the way and give meaning to even the most apparently meaningless things in your life. The Saints are the lights in this darkness, that give us hope of victory in the struggle against temptation. They are the evidence that we can become the more we were made to be, and refuse sacrifice our souls on the altars of the enemy; but rather go with courage into that light and live freely in that amazing grace and united in Christ.
The proclamation of the Good News by the prophets, John the Baptist, by Jesus and by the disciples of Christ, to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” is a Gospel that is not readily or easily received by many as the ‘truth that sets us free’. It’s not that we have a major issue with being or saying sorry for the ‘wrongs’ we do, but the call of repentance is not just to be sorry for sins and not to do them anymore, it’s an invitation to a radical change in the way we understand ourselves, our life and an uncompromising participation in the mission.
God created us to be saints. All of us. But, when it comes to the most important aspect of our mission in life, growing in virtue and holiness, too many of us never get out of the comfort zone. Becoming a Saint doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have to spend twelve hours a day on our knees, eating bugs and living in voluntary poverty. But it does mean that we are supposed to grow in the key virtues that will make us saints. Virtues like wisdom, courage, justice, and self-mastery. Virtues like faith, hope, and Christ-like, self-forgetful love. Too often we forget even to think about these virtues. And even less do we think seriously about how to grow in them.
It is not always easy to respond to Christ's call. Life is already hard. When he asks more of us, our first reaction is usually to hesitate, or even to rebel. That's when we must remember it is only when we embrace and engage in the radical change that we are able to understand things the way God intended, and our behavior changes accordingly as we increasingly progress toward greater holiness.
Business leaders use their heads to come up with effective business plans. Sports leaders use their heads to come up with effective game plans. We Christians are supposed to use our creativity and intelligence to pursue a much worthier goal: the true happiness and fruitfulness that comes from following Christ more closely. We should use our heads - and Christ's teaching - to come up with a business plan for our soul, a game plan for our life.
At the moment of the handing over of John for a martyrs death, Jesus begins his full-time ministry. Jesus calls the first apostles from among the disciples. His light drew them to him when they were still followers of John the Baptist and they came to believe that he was the Messiah. So, when he called them to take their part in His mission, they followed immediately. The Holy Family and Jesus himself set the example for them. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then His whole family had to flee into Egypt until it was safe to return, although instead of returning to Bethlehem, they went to Nazareth. All of this fulfilled the prophesies about him and were never rooted in human will. The Holy Family never chose comfortable and safe, according to their own wisdom.
Creation has always been about community and the Church has always reflected this reality of the Trinity in that it has always been about being family. Christ did not fully take up His mission until he established the community of believers and began the work of salvation with the help of the apostles. From them was formed his mystical body the Church. Every disciple, as a member of His Body, is invited to share the Gospel always and everywhere, and from among us He is still calling those He chooses to send.
Our response ought to always be “here I am Lord, send me’. We ought to become eager to leave behind all that the Lord may have blessed us with and follow Him into the mission field. If our will and God’s will have increasingly become one in desire, we will be ready. If our prayer life is healthy, our reception of the sacraments is frequent; if we are actively serving others and sharing the Good News; if we are continually growing in relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… we cannot fail to hear and understand His voice when He calls.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.