Grace to you!
You may have heard the story of Saint Teresa of Avila, also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus, a 16th century mystic and contemplative nun from Avila, Spain. From her we learn 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 carry out her reform and building projects to completion. 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 which would impede her work.
She claimed to have heard God reply, “This is how I treat all my friends.”
To which she replied, “No wonder why you have so few of them.”
How true this is. 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 not being fed with milk meant for infants (I Cor 3:2).
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 introspective 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 the day; every one mocks me” (Jer 20:7).
The setting of this prophesy was around 604-605 BC during the reign of King Jehoiakim. The prophet finds himself constantly opposed to the popular opinion, the political and social views of the King and his supporters. Whereas Jeremiah 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 happening around him. So when he wants to speak, he finds himself condemning the social structures of sin, and this 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, as well as confesses that he allowed himself to be deceived. This doesn’t mean God lied to him. Rather, it was that he realizes that in following the Lord, it’s not going to be a cozy experience.
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 discipleship of the Lord is a joyful one, the way to glory.
No disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ finds it easy. When Peter tried to alter the way God works 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).
Certainly, these words don’t sound sweet and gentle. They aren’t so nice for us who want to avoid pain at all cost. Definitely, they aren’t a good gospel to speak to a consumerist society like ours.
Little surprise those who follow the Lord in this manner are few, very few. Good news is, those who do, find true joy, freedom and life afterall.
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.
Praying that God will give us the grace to willingly take up our cross, the sufferings that come our way, and offer them back to Him 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]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.