First Reading: 1Kgs 19:16b.19-21; Psalm: 16. R. v. 5a; Second Reading: Gal 5:1.13-18; Gospel: Lk 19:51-62
IT’S NOT AN EASY WAY
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Today, by way of anecdote, I would like to divulge a little secret about my journey to the priesthood. I was about six or seven at that time when I first heard a very fearsome tale of hell in the gathering of block rosary devotees. I was so nervy and scared that I vowed I wasn’t going to end up in hell. I then thought of the quickest route to heaven. There you go – it was the priesthood. In my naivety, I believed priests can’t go to hell. My mind was made up on this. Admittedly, when I was eighteen, I did not apply to the seminary with this exact mentality. But I conjectured that at least I had 50% chance of making heaven if I became priest. But you know what? My seminary formation and experience taught me otherwise. God progressively opened my eye to see that priests are very susceptible to end up in hell if unfaithful to their call. And unfaithfulness is the easiest path to tread in the priestly life. It was then that I saw the priesthood for what it really is – a very delicate vocation. At this point I had to make a choice whether to stay or to leave. Here I am now.
Generally in life, realities are apparently beclouded by accidents and mirage. By ‘accident’ I mean ‘external appearances’ and by ‘mirage’ I mean ‘optical illusions’. Things may appear physically attractive but are illusive to realities. At first glance we may not see the whole truth of a thing but perhaps just 1% of it. The other 99% are hidden in what that thing truly is. It may sound dispiriting to hear Jesus say to this man who desired to follow him “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58). But Jesus was only opening his eyes to reality. Peradventure, this man was attracted by the glamour and fame surrounding the ministry of Jesus which consequently blurred his vision from seeing what the life of true discipleship really entails. Jesus did not say what he said to him to scare him away but that he may make a well discerned decision.
Jesus is not an assertive idealist but a pragmatic realist. He does not sugar-coat reality to gain acceptance. He says things as they are. Sometimes he even sounded hyperbolic in emphasising certain truths. When his death was imminent, he disclosed it plainly to his disciples. When he set his face towards Jerusalem, the twelve knew what awaited him. When it comes to following him, he lays down the required costs and demands. He does not entice to entrap. So Christianity is not a coercive religion. St Paul captures this well in the second reading. For when Christ called us, he called us to the life of freedom. He lays down the principles; we make the choice. We don’t know if this enthusiastic would-be disciple eventually accepted to follow Jesus notwithstanding. But what we are sure of was that Jesus left no stone unturned in telling him how high the stakes are in following him. So whatever choice this man made thereafter will not pop up complaints later on; for he knew the truth from the onset.
A lot of people in our world today plunged into relationships, marriages, occupations and pursuit of wealth without thoroughly paying attention to certain realities and details. We followed the grandeur of appearances and attractiveness without rigorous discernment. We fell in love, chose a spouse, started a business and treaded some dangerous path to riches only to be stuck in the mud. We suddenly discover that our lovey-dovey relationship was just mere infatuation. And that our spouses are not whom we initially thought they were. Our businesses begin to nosedive and all our supposed perceived realities all of a sudden become an illusion. At this point, decision making becomes very crucial. We will either begin to find a way out or accept certain realities we cannot change.
However stuck we are, there is always a way forward. If the relationship isn’t clearly working, perhaps God has opened our eyes to what we overlooked under the guise of love and we may just have to end it and move on. If the marriage is becoming sour, maybe we just have to let go of our illusive expectations and begin to accept the new bitter reality by finding a way to cope. If our business is crumbling, we still have the chance to begin again but this time around wiser and stronger. It is true that no one can actually conceive the whole truth before embarking on any vocation or enterprise. But the point is that patient and thorough discernment gives us a sketchy vision of the future and predisposes us to latent possible realities. We mustn’t learn the hard way. Certain mistakes or regrets could be avoided.
Jesus’ warning to this man also portends that challenges lie behind every positive goal in life. Some people don’t like to hear this. People who believe there should be smooth ride to everything. The reason why some people are sad today is because of their indisposition to accept the intermittent dots of imperfections and the numerous challenges apparently existent in the human life cycle. Nothing is perfect in this life; only God. When we are executing a set goal, everyone knows that we set out to succeed but not without the possibilities of challenges and failures. Likewise the Christian vocation. Jesus is letting us know that it is not completely a smooth journey without temptations and challenges. Being a Christian comes with certain inevitable markings; necessary markings that separate us from the world.
We need to be at home with the challenges of the faith and not looking for an easy route just like I did in my narrated story though innocently. The first step towards overcoming challenges is accepting them. A cure begins when we accept that we are sick. Becoming a follower of Christ is not a sickness though but it comes with a cross. We need to accept this cross. Once we choose Jesus, we may not have all the happiness, money, mansions, comfort, connections, influence, power and glitz. But we are sure of the ultimate prize of eternal life because overcoming these challenges is part of our investment to that life of heaven. Jesus set his face today towards Jerusalem. A place of suffering but also of glory. This illustrates the journey of faith. If we persevere in our challenges, we shall receive the crown of glory. Following Jesus is not a gamble. The end is absolutely certain.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, grant us the courage and fortitude to face the challenges that comes with following you so that we may remain united with you in heaven. Amen.