The Disciple’s Way

Today, Christ tells us what it means to be a disciple.

Peter proclaims to Christ what has been revealed to him – ‘You are the Christ[1].  As He says this to Christ he is also proclaiming to history that we have a savior and He loves us. Great and glorious news – hearts should rejoice.

We too, say this – we know that Jesus isn’t just some famous thinker or just a great charitable do-gooder; though these are good things this isn’t who He truly is. He is the Christ, the anointed one – He is God Himself come among us.  We announce ourselves as devoted followers of God – not another person or wise thought.  We have total faith in Him – He is our savior. The heavens resound in celebration each time we proclaim this.  But Jesus tells us this is not enough. St. James writes, in another part of his letter ‘Even the demons believe that and tremble.[2]

Christ in response tells Peter, those around Him, and us – what it means to be a follower of His. ‘“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”[3] And to drive home the point Christ first tells them that He too will have to travel the same path even to the extreme end: ‘“the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…”[4]

He is telling that we are not on a bandwagon of victors, riding high with no worries; the envy of all around us. We will be, and are, abused; we are the feared – therefore the targets of those who fear us. We will be, and are, tested and tried – all the time. If we wish to follow our Lord there is no other way. He tells us this much in the Gospel of St. John: ‘If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you[5]. The history of the church has given witness to this every day of every year since.  If we wish to follow Christ we must expect this treatment? Why? Because, as St. James tells us, we are called to do; true faith moves us to works. True faith turns the title Christian from a noun to a verb – it has action.

For me this is hard – for two reasons:

  • First: most in our society don’t want to have to act on God’s Word; they would rather be left alone, not having to address both the message and responsibility. When we come along and remind them of this truth they are threatened, they doubt their ideals and so they lash out against us – the messenger.
  • Second, and probably most importantly (at least in my life): today, St. James reinforces what Christ is teaching us in the Gospel; that comfort is not the norm His followers should expect. In fact, Christ calls us out of comfort to continue His mission of proclaiming the good news with words and action. ‘”Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation”[6] He commands His apostles and us. St. James, in the second reading, tells us what true faith needs to produce – works. ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?[7] James, after some examples, continues ‘… faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead[8]  These are hard words – the call from a sedentary idea of faith to a faith of action is one we would rather not hear – at least most of us some of the time. I myself have fallen and continue to fall, time and time again, back into the ‘comfortable’, ignoring those outside.

As for the first reason: we shouldn’t fear with God at our side ‘for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.”[9]

And as for the second reason: I am ashamed! I need to change my habits! I need to move forward into the unknown and the uncomfortable.  I need to use my faith in Jesus and allow it to bear fruit in the world by my actions. These actions; mostly small and little, but at times large and great are what a disciple is called to offer! And not just when it suits us but constantly – we should live a life of Christian action – of love.

So, brothers and sisters I will close with some questions to reflect on:

How do each of us view our relationship with Christ? Do we keep it deep within not letting others know about it or do we wear our relationship openly?
How do each of deal with our crosses? Do we do everything we can to pass them on to someone else or do we embrace them, carry them and look to help others carry theirs?
Do we look for the easy way? Stay close to those who are most like us? Never leaving the safety of the community? Or do we knowingly look to go outside the box? Do we look for opportunities to bring Christ to situations and places outside our comfort zone as Christ did? Is my faith a noun or a verb?

I pray that each of us will take the time to look within and find answers to these questions.

Let’s make sure that, for each of us, faith is not a noun but a verb.

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[1] MK 8:29
[2] JS 2:19
[3] MK 8:34b-35
[4] MK 8:31
[5] JN 15:20
[6] MK16:15
[7] JS 2:14
[8] JS 2:17
[9] HEB 13:5b

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Ascension Lessons

Today, we hear Jesus tell his apostles, and us, to ‘“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”[1] And so the apostles did – with great joy. It seems they had heard their master and they understood His desire. It would be ten days later that the Holy Spirit would descend upon them and endow them with the strengths and wisdom needed; but as Christ ascended they knew what they must do.

Two points came to me as I reflected on this question:

  • 1) What type of life do I need to live to follow as a follower of the apostles?
  • 2) What type of apostolic action am I called give?

In the Ascension we are witness to the elevation of humanity to the divine.  Christ not only ascends back to Heaven but takes with Him His body.  This should point out to us that we too are meant for Heaven – completely soul and body; our lives should reflect this fact.  St. Paul reminds us of this when he writes to the Colossians: ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.[2] So, though we are born of this reality and we journey through it – we have another home – we are citizens of another kingdom and it is up to us to live a life as a member of Heaven.  Each of us needs to live our lives as citizens of Heaven – we need to continually turn ourselves from a life lived in the flesh and reach for a life of sanctity.

But along with this important and daunting task is how we are to witness to the gospel during our journey. What type of apostolic action are we to follow.  Living a life of a citizen of heaven has mostly to do with an internal struggle – witnessing to the good news is more an external activity.  At first glance these seem to be two different actions – but are they? By our witness of living a life of a citizen of heaven we are, in fact, fulfilling our commission to proclaim the gospel.  The activities of the heavenly hosts (our fellow citizens) are both adoration and celebration of God; and of constant interaction with us – by intercessory prayer.  Their upward actions of lifting our prayer and submitting them to Jesus, the great intercessor, is also a downward action of passing God’s blessings to us.  We are strengthened by their intercession and their guidance; their looking to us down here brings yet another connection to heaven.  They, in a special way allow Christ to return to us by helping us. To a degree they are putting into action what the angels spoke to those who witnessed the Ascension in Luke: ‘This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.[3]

Now, of course, the angels primarily spoke of the final coming; but they also were speaking of our Lord’s constant and always present help through His Holy Spirit, His Blessed Mother, and the angels and saints – Christ is continually returning to us through them. He is ever present in our proclaiming the Good News.  But just what is this action that we can participate in?  We can better understand this action if we look at the Ascension narrative in Gospel of Luke: ‘Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.[4] Christ left this world; physically left us; with His arms outstretched blessing His followers.  Christ left us in the act of blessing and as the angels told those at the Ascension He will return the same way – blessing.

This is how we are to view our living a life of a citizen of Heaven while journeying through this existence.  By our actions in living a holy life publically we are bringing to those around us the blessing of Christ.  By our embracing the gospel and living a life in and of love we are helping those estranged from joy, happiness, and peace because they can see and hear and almost taste this joy that we have.

Brothers and sisters, we are constantly blessed by the return of Jesus through the actions of the Holy Spirit, Holy Mary, the angels and the saints – we need to pass this forward.  Like our fellow citizens in heaven we need to participate in the same two way interaction. First by accepting the gifts of Christ and pass them to others through helping them receive God’s blessing and second by passing their needs upward through prayer. I don’t know about you but when I meet Christ in judgement and He asks whether I lived a life as a citizen of Heaven or of earth, I don’t want to admit that I hoarded His blessings.

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[1] Mk 15:15
[2] Col 3:1b-2
[3] Acts 1:11
[4] Lk 24:50-41

A True Hero: St. John the Baptist

In today’s Gospel we are witness to a scene that takes place after the Baptism of Christ at the River Jordan. John the Baptist, in seeing Christ, proclaims to his followers, his disciples: ‘Behold the lamb of god…‘ He then goes on to explain why he made the comment. I find his proclamation an act of absolute faith and an act of supreme strength and courage.

Faithful people have varying degrees of courage and strength. In many, sadly, courage and conviction are missing – they simply are followers of the norm. Others, can espouse great thoughts and grand ideas that have no life except in their minds and those of the ones who discuss it with them. There is no actually hanging oneself out there. If it becomes too hard or the social pressures too great they recant, they submit to the corporate will. They reevaluate their position.

Then there are those who take the ultimate step and offer themselves totally to an ‘other’, something that defies their understanding, their concept, their ideal. Someone who transcends the capability of everyone. As with St. John the Baptist, they offer their life to God.

In this scene St. John proclaims to his followers that I am not the answer, I am not important. Look to Him coming towards us – He is the reason – He is what matters – He is meaning for all that I have done. St. John relinquishes his importance for the truth. Many of his followers then follow Jesus, and this is not only ok with St. John but it validates his mission. His life is affirmed when he is no longer the one people look to. His mission is fulfilled and completed and he recedes; his moment in the sun is passed as the true Son begins to light up the world.

In our world of self-promotion and desire for fame I can’t think of a more foreign concept than what St. John the Baptist gives witness to. To gain the importance and notoriety and then allow it to vanish, indeed to intentionally pass it on to another; it goes against the grain of what is popular in our society. But our society is one of desperate desires for attention and fame so that we can feel validated for a brief time. Judging our worth and success by how others adore us – all the time never coming to know who we really are. And though this sad path is filled with fears and struggles; it is the easy path to take. We can always lament of our failures as we comfortably settle back down into the rest of society and wallow in the desolation of an insensate existence.

St. John the Baptist witness shows us the heroic life of giving oneself over to God. To be brave enough to allow ourselves to be part of God’s plan. To understand that our true worth is not in how we make ourselves in our own image, but how we blend our uniqueness into God’s image of man. To be able to take the ridicule and buffets from those around us who either don’t understand or are aggressively against us because of fear of the truth. Every day many of my prayers are centered around this great choice. I pray that I have the strength and conviction of faith that St. John witnessed to. My hope is that all of us can allow ourselves to blend into Christ’s message, to be able to resist the me-first instinct and follow St John the Baptist example when he tells those around him: ‘I must decrease’.