Here are three separate scenarios I encountered recently: A devout Filipina Catholic lamented to me, “I am really troubled because Philippines’ President Duterte’s does not like us Catholics and Catholicism. His recent rants show that he has nothing but hatred and contempt for the Catholic Church, its bishops and priests, and its teachings.” Secondly, an elderly man who was active in his parish chose to abandon his parish for another one close by because he felt that his parish priest and his pastoral council did not like him or appreciate his hard work for the parish all these years. Lastly, a newly ordained religious priest is about to abandon his community because he believes that the other brother-priests dislike him.
I felt their pain at not being liked or appreciated. It is natural to want to be liked and accepted by others. But are we not setting up ourselves for unnecessary and useless suffering when we expect all people to like us and to accept us all the time? Is it part of our mission as individuals and as members of the Body of Christ to win the acceptance and esteem of others? More importantly, does Jesus give us His gifts so that all people accept and like us all the time? Aren’t we today taking lightly Jesus’ assurance that “we will be hated by all because of His name?”(Mt 10:22)
Jesus Himself shows us that He bestows gifts on us so that we belong to Him and that we give witness to Him whether others like us or not, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good work and give glory to your heavenly Father.”(Mt 5:16) St Paul adds, “It is not ourselves that we preach but Christ Jesus as Lord.”(2Cor 4:5) We cannot have His gifts and then be contending with Him for the glory that is due to Him alone from all people.
We are told that “the word of God came to John the son of Zachariah in the desert,” and he “went throughout the region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” so that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “all flesh may see the salvation of God.” John did not use the gift of the divine word he received to win the esteem and affection of the people but He used this powerful word to help them recognize the coming Messiah. He called them to repentance by the power of this word because sin blinds us to the presence and action of God in our lives. Those who received his baptism of repentance were disposed to recognize Jesus when He began His public ministry but those who refused John’s baptism or received it with the wrong disposition could not recognize Jesus despite His own powerful words and miracles.
Clearly John the Baptist, his message, and his style were despised and hated by many. He was clearly not a fashionable figure. The Pharisees and religious leaders questioned his authority, accusing him of being “possessed by a demon”(Lk 7:33) Herodias hated him and wanted to kill him because he had the courage to tell King Herod the truth that it was wrong for Herod to have her as his wife while her husband, his brother, Philip, was still alive. Herod was willing to murder John in prison to save his own face.
John’s fidelity in proclaiming Christ no matter the cost and in the face of so much dislike from others towards him disposed him to recognize Christ, His exalted dignity, and his (John’s) own unworthiness when Jesus came to receive baptism from Him, “It is I who should be baptized by you and yet you come to me.”(Mt 3:14) We too can recognize Christ and His grandeur in our lives to the extent that we make use of all His gifts to give Him glory and make Him better known and loved, instead of trying to win the liking and acceptance of others all the time.
From the moment of baptism, we are the lamps which Christ has lit with His grace and truth and placed in this world for His own glory alone. It is not possible that, bearing this light into the world, we will be liked and accepted by all people always. If we are liked by everyone all the time, and all people speak only glowingly about us, then there is something seriously wrong with us! Jesus put it this way, “What is of human esteem is abominable before God.”(Lk 16:15)
As God’s people gifted by Him to be His witnesses in this world, we owe this world only three things whether we are liked or not. Trying to go beyond these three things so as to win the liking of others is a waste of time and energy.
First, we owe all people our undying love. We love them and desire their good, praying intensely for them and readily making any sacrifice for their eternal and temporal good. Our prayers and sacrifices obtain for them the divine grace that alone can open their hearts to the transforming power of divine love.
Secondly, we owe them good examples of Christian life and the joy that it brings. We are to show them what it means to really live a life of ongoing conversion, holiness, service, selfless charity towards all, and fidelity to God’s commandments and our commitments to each other. This is making present the ever liberating example of Jesus in every age and time.
Thirdly, we owe them the truth of God’s word. We do not proclaim our convenient opinion because it has no power at all to enlighten minds or to change hearts. We speak the words that Jesus has spoken to us in the Church and in the silence of our hearts, “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.”(Mt 10:27)
St. Paul was not a stranger to being disliked but he still offered this beautiful prayer for the Philippians from his prison cell, “I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you…And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” What an example of universal undying love that prays for all people that they may know and love God more? What an example of fidelity to Christ and joyful living even in the midst of suffering and pain? What an example of one who speaks the truth that He has received from God whether he is liked or not? Can we ever doubt that the Apostle Paul was deeply conscious of Christ’s abiding presence with him even in prison?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we prepare for the coming of Christ in this Advent season, may we not be blind to His abiding presence with us in the present moment. Despite His presence with us, we feel abandoned by Him when we fail to use His gifts to give witness to Him. We question and doubt His loving presence with us because we are so fixated on winning the esteem and acceptance of others with His gifts. We can recognize His abiding presence when we are rooted in our mission to be His witnesses in the world today, helping others to recognize His hidden presence with us now, love Him more, and thus long intensely for His glorious return.
Our Eucharist is always an encounter with the grace of Christ through communion with His blood. What are we going to do with this gift of His blood today? Are we going to still try and win the liking of others? Or are we going to use this gift to become ever more faithful witnesses of His who love all people, show them good examples and courageously share with them the saving truths of the gospel? Whether we are liked or not, our choice to be Jesus’ faithful witnesses will surely open our eyes to see that the God who always comes to save us is truly with us today.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!