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 rose to a higher level than at any other time in history.
Yet, there have been those who have said yes to the invitation to be a disciple of Jesus generation after generation. Each of us has 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 an 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 required that Jesus presents in today’s Gospel of Luke is to remain firm in the face of pushback for authentically living our faith. This pressure may not just come from those who would seek us harm, but from 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 back down and away from what we believe. We are called to learn the teachings of our faith, live them, share them with others, and clarify what we believe in dialogue and charity.
We are to also 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 to appease. 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, it is our job to: know our faith and what we believe, live it out authentically, and clarify as needed through respectful dialogue with others, and above all to be icons of hope and love. We need not be afraid. The Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak as well as the ears to hear another. The gift of respectful dialogue within and without of our faith tradition will result in the deepening of our relationship with the one who made us for himself and one another; for where there is the truth, there is God.
Photo: Fr Frans Van der Lugt SJ was assassinated five years ago outside of his home in Homs, Syria, where he served for over 30 years as a bridge between Christians and Muslims. He refused to abandon those who could not leave.