Jesus said to the crowd: “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name” (Lk 21:12).
Each of the predictions above; being seized, persecuted, handed over, and led before the rulers happened to Jesus’ disciples as was recorded by Luke in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus did not nor does he hide or paint a rosy picture of discipleship. He consistently shared and modeled in his own life how demanding it will be to follow his lead, the will of his Father, the demands of discipleship, as well as endure the reaction of others. This continues to be true today. In fact, the number of Christian martyrs in the twentieth century has risen to a higher level than at any other time in history.
Yet, there have been those who have said yes to the invitation generation after generation. We each have to make our own commitment to Christ. It is a personal invitation and a personal response. Though the demands, the sacrifices, and the expectations are high, Jesus is present with us through the journey. St. Paul equated discipleship with the running of a race: “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we a imperishable one” (I Cor 9:25).
Any athlete, musician, artist, or person engaged in any serious endeavor, must discipline themselves to accomplish their goal of freedom for mastery, for excellence. Without any concerted discipline, fluency and freedom for the sought after goal will not be attained. The same is true with discipleship.
The discipline Jesus presents today in the Gospel of Luke is that we may and will face overt pushback if we are authentically living our faith. We are inspired to not even be swayed by family, friends, and/or peers. This is where the issue of putting God first comes to bear again. We are not to be belligerent or in someone’s face about living our faith. We are to meet others with love, mercy, and respect, while at the same time not backing down and away from what we believe. We are called to learn the teachings of our faith, share it with others, and clarify what we believe in dialogue and charity.
May we respect and allow another the opportunity to do the same. From a place of mutual respect and honoring the diversity of others within and without of our own faith tradition, as well as those having none, we grow. People are free to decide as they wish. We need to resist the temptation to water down what we believe to be accepted or liked. Sometimes people will react emotionally, rudely, crudely, or even violently. Yet that is not an excuse nor does it provide the green light to respond in kind. If we do, then we will often feed into and justify another person’s preconceived notions.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen said: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to learn our faith, know what we believe and live authentically well, while at the same time be open to constructive and respectful dialogue with others.
Being a disciple of Jesus is demanding, will take discipline, as well as a willingness to face hardship, misunderstanding, and even outright hostility at times. Yet, the prize, a foretaste of which we can receive in this life and the fullness of in the next, is the gift of deepening our relationship with the one who made us for himself. Jesus is with us every step of the way. He invites us to yoke ourselves with him. When we do, there is, even amid trials and tribulations, a joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding (cf. Philippians 4:7).
This makes the demands and trials worth all the effort. Even though we have a deep seeded hunger to belong, the foundation of our relationships needs to be authenticity, integrity and truth. May we strive for holiness as we strive to be true to who we are and who God calls us to be! No easy task but: “[We] do not fight as if [we] were shadowboxing. No, [we] drive [our] body and train it, for fear that, after preaching to others, [we ourselves] should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:26-27). We do not strive for a perishable crown, but an imperishable one!
Photo from my Freshmen year theatrical makeup class at Central CT State University. My design project was to make myself look like Rocky Balboa. “I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing :)”