In what is called the third Servant Song, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of the messiah’s sufferings in these words, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not hide from buffets and spitting.” The messiah does not waver in His determination to fulfill His mission despite all the opposition, humiliation, and suffering that He experiences. He is resolutely determined because He is fully aware of His Father’s presence with Him at each moment, “The Lord God is my help; therefore, I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right.”
St. Luke aptly describes how Jesus set his face like flint: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). If Jesus, the suffering servant and messiah, is so resolute and unwavering in His mission to die for our sins, why are we so fickle in our attempt to follow Him? Why do we shrink back from the mission that we know that God has called us to fulfill? Why do we lack that firmness to follow Him to the very end come what may? The Good Shepherd is flint-faced but His flock is fickle.
There are two main reasons why we waver in our determination to follow Jesus Christ. The first reason has to do with our painful past experiences. We feel unworthy of being His close disciples because of our past sins and failures. We may have experienced criticism, rejection, and abuse from others, leaving us with low self-esteems. We have our past hurts and regrets that make us feel we are not good enough. We have been badly discouraged by the scandalous behaviors of those whom we looked up to inside and outside the Church.
The second reason has to do with how we imagine our life as disciples of Jesus will look like. We become afraid of the challenges and difficulties that may come with following Jesus faithfully in an aggressively secular society. We are afraid of what Jesus may ask us to sacrifice for His sake. We are afraid of what people may say or think about us. We dread facing the imagined pains and sufferings that think would come our way as we follow Christ. We are afraid of failing Him and abandoning Him altogether.
We fail to realize that being fixated on our past or future opens the door to the devil’s diabolical schemes in our lives. When we are preoccupied with what was or what may be, Satan seizes this opportunity to tempt us to be fixated on our past and imagined future, to the point that we become so paralyzed with regrets about the past and fears about our future that we cannot move forward in a life of faithful discipleship and mission with Christ.
Satan continuously magnifies our past mistakes, sins, and failures and will make our future seem so bleak and hopeless, full of unsurmountable challenges and difficulties. His ploy in everything is to make us discouraged, wavering in our commitment, and finally, to abandon our commitments to Jesus and His saving mission.
How can we stop lamenting the past or fretting about our future? How do we avoid the scheme of the devil to trap us in the past or in the present?
Venerable Pio Bruno Lanteri (1759-1830), the founder of my Congregation, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, gave us a very succinct and practical advice to help us cultivate resolute determination and overcome the discouragement that can arise from being preoccupied with the past or the future: “Leaving the past to the mercy of the Lord and the future to His divine providence, consider everyday that the God Lord has entrusted you with a mission.”
Jesus’ conversation with the Peter and the disciples in Mk 8:27-35 shows us how this advice can help us set our face like flint, resolute and unwavering in our mission, just as Jesus did.
Firstly, we must leave the past to the mercy of God. Peter seems to have forgotten that his vocation in the first place was an act of divine mercy. He had experienced deep unworthiness after the miraculous catch of fish and had even begged Jesus to leave him because of his sinfulness, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus did not reply to Him, “Oh, sorry, I did not realize you were a sinner. I made a mistake in calling you. Have a nice day.” No, on the contrary, He confirmed Peter’s vocation, “Do not be afraid, from now on, you will be catching men.”(Lk 5:1-11) We overcome fickleness only when we surrender our past failures, sins and regrets to the mercy of God, knowing that Jesus has indeed come to call sinners.
Secondly, we must leave the future to divine providence. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be convinced that Jesus is the only person who knows and accepts every detail of His own past and future perfectly. The details of His passion and death are as sure to Him as His glorious resurrection, “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”
We waste so much time imagining what our future may be but fail to realize that Jesus alone knows what the future holds for us. Peter was apparently preoccupied with the future suffering that was to come. He unknowingly opened the door for Satan to entice him to respond to Jesus’ mission out of fear of his future and even regret of his past allegiance to Jesus, “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” The Prince of Apostles thus rightly earned Jesus’ rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Thirdly, we live in the present moment. This last step allows us to connect with the grace that God is offering to us at each moment and circumstance of our lives for our resolute fidelity to Him and His mission. The God who knows our past very well also knows what we are going through now and the exact graces that we need to be faithful to Him till the very end our lives. In Jesus Christ, this same God offers us His graces in the concrete moments of our lives to move us into a better future irrespective of what our pasts may have been. This is the promise that Jesus made to Nathaniel who came to Him despite his past or imagined future, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, you will see greater things than these; you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”(Jn 1:51) We cannot enter into the glorious future God has willed for us without responding to the particular graces that God offers to us at each moment of our lives.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must be conscious of the inner battle raging within us that determines our steadfastness or fickleness in our mission in life. Enticed by the devil, our wounded nature, and world, we are easily preoccupied with our pasts and futures. We are preoccupied with the projected deaths from Covid-19 and destruction of our environment from climate change. Sadly, we seem completely oblivious to the graces that God is giving to us to be faithful to Him and His mission at this each given moment in time.
Are our faces set like flint when it comes to the mission of saving souls for Christ? Do we not see more of rebellious attitudes towards God, a lame compromise with our confused world, constant dialogue that sacrifices saving truth for vague consensus, a turning back from our mission, an abandonment off our vocations and a gross neglect of our duties towards God and others? We waver in everything today, even in our faith and morals. We are not sure any more about the meaning of the Eucharist as Jesus’ Real Presence. We even waver in what it means to be male and female today. Indeed, we lack nothing of the resoluteness of Christ.
A soul that is not resolute in doing the good that God has inspired in it can never hope to enter into heavenly paradise, “But he who endures to the end will be saved.”(Mt 24:13) Grace is given to us in the Eucharist for our faithfulness to our mission in each moment of the day. Grace is not given to us for our pasts or futures. God is present and active in the present, with all its joys and pains. His grace is also given to us for the present moment so that we too can have our faces set like flint in fulfilling our God-given missions, just like Jesus did.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!