At Christmas, we meditate on the total self-emptying of the Son of God made flesh and the invitation He extends to each one of us to follow Him. From the poverty of the manger to the agony of the Cross, He calls us to follow Him on the path to eternal life. The entire mission of Jesus is the salvation of souls. Our mission is to follow Him on the path He gives to us. This path is not necessarily what we want right away or would have chosen from all the options, but it is the path we need and others need us to walk. It is the path ordained by God for our sanctification and the sanctification of others.
We struggle in our Fallen state to accept everything God asks of us. We want to retain some level of control. We still want the path to be on our own terms, rather than the cold cave on Christmas night or the narrow way of the Cross. Our response to His call is much the same as the disciples who walked with Him during His public ministry. We don’t fully grasp how radical it is to follow Him. How unlike are our own desires, dreams, and wants His way is, but that is because the path He calls us to is not about what we want. It is about what we need.
Many of the saints struggled at times with everything God asked of them. They often suffered physically, mentally, and spiritually. There were times God asked difficult things of them others did not understand or believe. The saints discovered that if God is calling us to love like Him, as He did as a baby lying in the manger and crucified upon the Cross, then He is truly calling us to give our entire being to Him in order to cooperate with His saving work in our own day.
This begins with a relinquishment of our own will over to God’s will. We have to abandon the image of our lives we have for ourselves and others have for us. We cannot compare our path to our neighbor’s. We are all one Mystical Body, but we all have different parts to play in God’s plan for the salvation of souls. We must answer the call He is giving to us, not anyone else.
Are we trustworthy?
As we surrender to His plan for our sanctification and the sanctification of others, He will ask more and more of us. There will be things we are asked to do that we do not understand and others will not understand. It is in these moments that Christ tests our trustworthiness. Are we serious about following His will or do we still want to be attached to our own will or the opinions of others? “This is how we should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).” To be true disciples, we must be dependable and steadfast in answering His call.
A mission is not simply given to us, and we go on our merry way. Once we have discerned where He is asking us to go, we must demonstrate that we are trustworthy. This is why Christ permits adversities to rise up on our path. There is not a single saint whose path was smooth. There are many difficulties along the way. If we cannot persevere through difficulties, then we will not be trustworthy in our mission. We will abandon it when it becomes difficult or when we encounter people who do not believe us. The mission remains despite difficulties.
There is a great deal of interior development that must occur within us spiritually in order to answer God’s call repeatedly throughout our lives. The mission He has entrusted to us will require proof of our trustworthiness. We must demonstrate that we want to follow Him. That we want to be emptied of self in order to go wherever He asks us to go.
We are not promised an easy path. We are promised the Cross. God, in His infinite mercy and love, allows us to undergo hardships for His sake and for our own progress in holiness, as well as the spiritual progress of others. We need adversities in order to be refined in the fires of God’s love that lead to strengthening in the Holy Spirit, so we can demonstrate greater and greater trustworthiness as our mission unfolds throughout our lives.
Are we strong in faith?
He not only tries our trustworthiness, but He tests our faith. He allows us to encounter disbelief and outright hostility as we walk the path He asks us to walk. There is not a single mission given by God that won’t encounter some lack of belief or hostility from others. Anyone who has served in ministry knows there is adversity in even the smallest of matters. If we don’t persevere through these difficulties, then the mission we have been given will not continue.
For the saints, this hostility came through every source imaginable, including parents, spouses, siblings, friends, other family members, co-workers, townspeople, and even priests, religious, and bishops. As long as we are following God’s will and seeking proper spiritual guidance and direction, we must keep walking the path Christ asks of us, even if others do not believe us, cast us off, or even get in the way. We pray and sacrifice for those who do not believe, but we do not allow their lack of faith, spiritual blindness, ignorance, or hostility get in the way. It is up to God to remove those obstacles in others, not us.
This can be a deeply difficult test for us, but throughout Sacred Scripture, Christ is constantly testing the faith of people. Some, like the Canaanite woman, are severely tested, even to the point of being called a dog. Christ is not tormenting this woman, rather, He is demonstrating her great faith. She is willing to endure harsh words and treatment because she truly believes He can heal her diabolically possessed daughter. Christ wants to use her great faith in order to edify those around her who lack faith.
Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus in order to be healed of his blindness, but he is mocked by the disciples. So often we cry out to Jesus and seek to follow Him, but it is our own brothers and sisters in Christ who try to keep us from Him or His will. It is one of the difficulties we face in our Fallen state. He uses these difficulties to draw out our faith, which then, in turn, helps to strengthen the faith of those around us who doubt or refuse to submit in faith. He wants us to live with great faith in an age marred by unbelief, especially within the Church. A faithless Church cannot evangelize a faithless culture.
We must go where He asks us to go.
This is why we must look at the mission we have been given through the gift of supernatural faith and trust. In order to answer the call He gives to each one of us, we must be wiling to go wherever He asks us to go. This means that He will often not give us what we want, He will give us what we need. He will test our faith, teach us humility through humiliations, show us what love actually looks like—which is nothing like the sentimentality of our day—allow us to be betrayed in order to learn how to forgive, and require us to love difficult people, including our enemies.
Oftentimes we become most discouraged and frustrated on the path to holiness because we lose sight of how God works in order to bring about greater holiness within us and those around us. We think that God’s love means getting what we want out of life. No, it’s about what His will is for our lives and following Him from Bethlehem to Calvary. In order to do so, He gives us what we need to become saints and a lot of times that looks like suffering.
He entered into the world through hardship, suffering, and difficulty. There was no room for the King of Kings, except in a cold, dark cave. He came this way because we are ultimately called to the same path. In order to follow Him and live the mission He has given to us, we must be emptied of our ego, selfishness, pride, worldly addictions, and lack of faith. We must abandon the lures of the world, the flesh, and the devil in order to embrace the littleness of the Son of God lying as an infant in a manger and the narrow way of the Cross.
He shows us through the trials and temptations of this life that He loves us enough to give us what we need, rather than what we want. In time, as we submit more and more to His will, we will discover that He was right the whole time. What we need and what we want are the same thing because that is the path to holiness and the unending joy of eternal life with Him.
image: Mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator, photo by Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock