Could I Have Done More?

    Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison. Before that he was on the run for a couple of years of which he later wrote: "It wasn't easy for me to separate myself from my wife and children saying good-bye to the good old days when I could look forward to joining my family at the dinner table at the end of a strenuous day at the office. Instead I took up the life of a man hunted continuously by the police, facing the continual hazards of detection and arrest. This was a life infinitely more difficult than serving a prison sentence" (Long Walk to Freedom, 1994). What drove him to make such great sacrifices was his love for his country. This was the ‘cross' he carried because of his love for his people.

    In today's Gospel Jesus shows his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. The Apostles, especially Peter could not accept it.

    It is a common experience that people try to be in their comfort zone, and try to dissuade those who struggle to come out of it. Because it involves risk; it means daring into the unknown; it brings a lot of challenges, and it causes suffering. St Paul wrote: "Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (Rom 5:3-4). Suffering is not the last thing in life. It leads us to something greater as long as we are ready to accept its challenges. "A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn."

    A true disciple examines his or her conscience every day asking three questions about discipleship:

  1. Did I practice self-control over my thoughts, words, deeds and use of social media, and put loving restriction on the cell phone and Internet activities of my children?
  2. Did I train my children in my faith of a loving, providing, redeeming God? For example, by teaching and encouraging them to spend some time together as a family to pray, to read the Bible, to pardon each other and ask for God's pardon for the sins and failures, to thank God for his blessings and to participate in the faith formation classes and youth participation?
  3. Did I sacrifice a part of my time, talents and income for my parish and the activities of the Church?
    An editor of a religion column from a local newspaper came to a church to interview a man who organized a conference on religion. At the end of the interview, he asked if she (editor) went to church. He assumed she did, since she was a religion editor. She said, "No, I am a Buddhist. I was raised in the church," she went on, "but about ten years ago, I became interested in Buddhism because the highest value of Buddhism is the value of compassion." Her next comment made the man feel as if she had put her hand in his chest and squeezed his heart. "The people I grew up around in the church," she added, "were some of the least compassionate people I ever knew."

    In this social media world, people are not compassionate because it demands sacrifices. It costs something. Jesus is compassion made visible. His compassion cost his life. But having Jesus' name, not his heart is a dangerous combination. It can make us turn away people that Jesus is calling us to embrace.

    Christians are pleased that Jesus died on the cross on their behalf, but they seem to try studiously to avoid taking up a cross of their own. I wonder if one day you and I, as followers of Christ, will ask ourselves, "Could I have done more? Have I truly bore the cross of Christ?" That is the first question on today's test: is our faith sacrificial? Is it costing us something?

In the Service of the Lord,
  Fr Thainese Alphonse


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