Grace to you!
You may have heard the story of Saint Teresa of Avila, also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus. She is a 16th-century mystic and contemplative nun from Avila, Spain. I learn from her one of the most affectionate, but candid, expressions of the paradox of being a friend of God.
While committed to reforming the Carmelite order, she needed all the strength and good health to complete some key projects. One day, as she was returning to the convent during a heavy rainstorm, she fell in the mud and suffered terrible injuries. She complained to God why she would be left to suffer such an injury that would impede her work. She claimed to have heard God reply: "This is how I treat all my friends." To which she answered, "No wonder why you have so few of them."
Sometimes, I wonder why good people seem to suffer so much, whereas those who care less about virtuous life seem to sing the lullaby of success. God's word provides an answer: "For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov 3:12; Heb 12:6).
Growing up in a large family, I have witnessed this firsthand. That child who is always coming back late at night seems to get the pass, but when the most gentle child tries to stay out late, parents respond with the harshest punishment.
In our relationship with God, we realize that the deeper we go, the more frequent our crosses and suffering become. This kind of experience is comparable to what Saint Paul calls the mature, solid food—unlike being fed with milk meant for infants (I Cor 3:2). It seems to me that because the saintly and devout have developed more spiritual stamina, they could bear more and offer more. The Lord tells us that "to whom much is given, much is expected" (Lk 12:48).
Jeremiah witnessed this solid food, or I should say, tough love, firsthand. His conversation with God concerning his experience is one of the most beautiful reflective and honest dialogues a biblical prophet would have with God. He lamented: "O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and thou hast prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day; everyone mocks me" (Jer 20:7).
The setting of this prophecy was around 604-605 BC during the reign of King Jehoiakim. Jeremiah finds himself frequently opposed to the popular opinion, the King's political and social views, and his supporters. He was on the wrong side of the mainstream. Whereas he sought to live a normal life and get along with others, he was persecuted and treated as an outcast.
Why? The force of God's word, to which he had given consent, didn't allow him to ignore the evil around him. So when he wants to speak, he finds himself condemning the social structures of sin, which gave him a bad name in the community.
Poor Prophet Jeremiah didn't fully understand the implication of the prophetic call. Hence, he accuses God of deceiving him and confesses that he allowed himself to be deceived. It doesn't mean God lied to him. Instead, it was that he realizes that in following the Lord, it's not going to be an easy experience. The prophet is beginning to realize that not all that glitters is gold.
I remember what a spiritual director told me when I was in high school: "If you are asking for the Holy Spirit, you are looking for trouble."
I never understood the full import of this wise word from a wise spiritual director until the Holy Spirit started to redirect me to where I would rather not want to go. Good thing though, is that the trouble coming from the discipleship of the Lord is a joyful one, the way to glory.
No disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ finds it utterly easy. When Peter tried to alter God's way by telling the Lord, "God forbid, Lord! This [referring to the Lord's prediction of his death on the cross in the hands of the elders and chief priests] shall never happen to you," (Mt 16:22), did he not get a harsh rebuke from the Lord, "Get behind me Satan"? (Mt 16:23).
Then follows a powerful message for all: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?" (Mt 16:24-26).
Indeed, these words don't sound sweet and gentle. They aren't so nice for us who want to avoid pain at all costs. They aren't a feel-good gospel to speak to a consumerist society like ours.
Little surprise, those who follow the Lord in this manner are few, very few. The good news is, those who do find real joy, freedom, and life after all.
Two keys to living this kind of life are 1) Detachment. Let nothing be worth more than ultimate loyalty to God and love of neighbor. 2) Embrace the cross. Offer every suffering and difficulties of life as a gift to God for many. All these by God's grace.
I pray that God will give us the grace of courage to willingly take up our cross and follow Him. May we offer the sufferings that come our way as our intentional sacrifice for the salvation of many. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Sunday Week 22 Ordinary Time A: Jer 20:7-9; Rm 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27]
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Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.