Pope Francis: Following Jesus Requires Sacrifice

As we move into the post Christian world, we are going back to a time when the Way was indeed “narrow” and “few were chosen.”

The cheap grace of following the world in Jesus’ name is not grace at all. It is a lie we tell ourselves to keep from having to “chose this day whom” we “will serve.”

Sadly, it is also a delusion. Trendy jesus, pragmatic jesus and all the other false messiahs these theological snake-oil salesmen are selling having nothing to do with the real Jesus Christ Who was crucified on Calvary and calls each succeeding generation of Christians to “pick up your cross and follow Me.”

Following the real Jesus exacts a price. As the Light is smothered by the ever-encroaching darkness of humanity’s fealty to its own passions rather than the living God, the price for those who do not accede to the darkness goes up exponentially.

We may be willing to be friends with those who serve other gods, but they will not be friends with us. We may find our careers truncated, our friendships forfeit, our lives troubled in many ways when we follow Christ. He told us this would happen. If the world hates you, remember that it first hated me, He said.

The anger directed at us is just a side-blow, a glancing near miss of the object of the real hatred, which is satan’s hatred for the Savior of Humankind. Those who attack people for following Christ, even if they only do it with rudeness and exclusion, are the unwitting pawns of this evil.

Our task is always to be the witting servants of the good. God has no use and no desire for “unwitting pawns.” We can blunder into following satan, but we always chose to follow Christ.

Life in Christ is an intentional, moment by moment, living out of the faith. It can only be done through grace, and that grace does not come from us. There is no intelligence, courage or intuition we possess in and of ourselves that can equip us for following Jesus in a post Christian world.

The capacity to follow Him is a free gift of divine grace. He equips us to run the race that is before us if we ask Him daily and trust Him constantly. When we fail, all we have to do is reach out to Him and ask for forgiveness. That’s all there is to life in Christ: Just say “yes” to Him, and keep saying “yes” as each new challenge arises.

This is the Living Lord Who stood before Pilate, endured the blows and humiliations, hung from the cross and died. He understands everything He is asking of us because He has already endured all of it and far worse for us. He can help us on the Way as someone who has walked it Himself.

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Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 8

St Michael

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is day 8 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

For today’s meditation, let’s think about the onlookers at Calvary.  

Every year on the Sunday before Easter, we re-enact the Gospel of Mark. In my parish, it’s the custom for the priest to take the role of Jesus and the parishioners to take the role of the condemning crowd that yelled “Crucify Him!”

But the actual crowd of that day when they crucified Our Lord was more mixed. The onlookers ranged from the holiness of Our Lady and the faithful women, to the taunting cruelty of the priests. 

These priests were not satisfied with what they had wrought. They followed Jesus to Golgotha and stood at the foot of the cross to taunt Him. 

“If He is the messiah,” they said, “let Him come down from the cross. He saved others. Let Him save Himself.”

This taunting mockery tells us two things. It demonstrates how completely these fallen priests were in the grip of satan, and it also shows how afraid they were of Jesus. 

This Jesus they were murdering had raised three people that we know of from the dead, but the one that upset the priests the most was Lazarus. In fact, it was the resurrection of Lazarus that pushed them into moving forward with their murderous plot. Now, they stood at the cross where Jesus hung, helpless and in agony, and mocked Him. He saved others. Let Him save himself, they said, as if to reassure themselves. 

But the priests were not the only ones who mocked Him. All along the way to the cross, the road had been full of gawkers, mockers and a smattering of genuine mourners. Most of these people probably left once the show of watching this desperately injured Man attempt to drag his cross up the hill was over. After he’d been nailed to the torturous device and, as He foretold, “lifted up,” there was nothing left to see but the slow dying of a totally humiliated human being. 

Most of them probably left, because they got bored. 

There were two groups to whom this whole affair was so deeply personal that they shared in His agony with Him. The first, oddly enough, was a group of people who were, by their own choosing, not there. The disciples who had followed Him, lived with Him, been taught and loved by Him, had run away from Him in His hour. 

Anyone who doubts the veracity of the Gospels should consider the raw and unflattering way these men described themselves. John Mark was in such a panic that when one of the soldiers who arrested Jesus grabbed his garment, he jerked free of both it and the soldier and ran away into the night naked. Peter suffered the ignominy of denying and cursing Jesus while Jesus looked at Him. The others fled like bunny rabbits into the darkness. 

They all went into hiding. They left Him to His fate. 

The other group stayed with Him throughout the ordeal. They stood at the foot of the cross, they buried Him in the tomb, and they came back a few days later to anoint his body for burial. 

This group was led by His Mother and included the women who followed Him, plus one disciple. John ran away with the others on the night He was taken. 

But He came back.

And he stood there with the women all that day long. 

Let’s consider what these faithful followers witnessed. The crucifixion of Our Lord did not resemble the prettied up presentations we see in the art that hangs on our church walls. 

It was ugly.

It was meant to be ugly. This kind of death was not meted out to Roman citizens, because Roman citizens were exempt from being reduced to the level that crucifixion took people. 

The cross was a protracted, humiliating death in which the person died alone, naked, in terror and in agony. 

The cross was then, and it is now, the full and complete message of how much God loves us. It was also then and is now a scandal and an embarrassment to those who want to follow a good-times god of prosperity and social acceptance. 

Those onlookers who gawked, mocked, ran away from and stood faithful before the cross can teach us a lot. It is not so much a question of which one of them would we have been back then as it is which one of them are we today. 

Christians are dying for Christ all over the globe. They suffer persecution, discrimination and terror on a daily basis. They are carrying their cross. 

But what of us? 

There is a large group of people who deny the fact of Christian persecution. They mock and jeer if the topic comes up.

There is another group who shrugs and says, What can we do? “What can we do?” is a fair question, if it is a question. “What can we do?” can easily be re-phrased to mean “How can I help?”

Put like that, as a beginning of a search for what we can, in fact, do, the question is both honorable and positive. 

But if it’s a dismissal, as in “What can we do,” said with a shrug and a turning away, then it is both dishonorable and deplorable. 

We are the onlookers as Christ is being crucified in our persecuted brothers and sisters today. 

Our first task is to pray. We need to pray for them, and for God’s guidance about what we can do for them. Our second task is to tell their story. Lift them up as the true martyrs for the faith that they are. Give them the respect they deserve by respecting their sacrifice for Our Lord. 

Never shrug and turn away from Christ crucified right in front of you. 

Pray and speak for them. Pray and witness to their witness. Pray and refuse to be silenced by the sneers and jeers of satan, speaking through the mouths of those who support this murder of innocence with their demands that we say nothing and do nothing for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Christ is crucified in the world today. We are the onlookers.

Mocker, gawker, run-away or faithful: Which one are you? 

 

Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 8. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 7
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 6
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 5
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 4
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

I Believe

Apostles creed

I taught my kids the Apostles Creed when they were little.

During the homeschooling years, we prayed the Apostles Creed after our daily Bible study every morning. We were Protestants at that time and I wanted to prepare them for the marketplace of ideas and ideologies that make up the wide world of many denominations. I told them that if a church did not believe what the Apostles Creed teaches, then it was not a true church and they should not join it.

If I was raising my kids today, I would have to take on a plethora of attacks on the Gospels, many of which are more subtle than simply denying the basic tenets of the faith that the Apostles Creed teaches. However, I think my original way of looking at the subject is still valid. A church — or a person, for that matter — who denies the basics contained in the creeds is missing the essentials of what constitutes Christian belief.

I view the Apostles Creed as the bedrock statement of the faith, the non-negotiable foundation on which everything else the Gospels teach is built.

What do you believe?

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Freedom Isn’t Just about Fireworks

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Today is the 5th of July and everyone in my family is back at work.

I asked my husband and sons why they weren’t taking today off and got explanations that amounted to one thing: Habit. They go to work. Every day.

It wasn’t until I got up this morning, and started … um … working … that I realized I’m just like them.

However, less habitual people all over this country are enjoying the second day of a four day weekend. It’s baseball, apple pie an hot dogs all around.

The questing arises: What are we celebrating? Is it freedom from the tyranny of foreign powers? Or is it freedom from the tyranny of our own government? When the signers put their names to the Declaration of Independence, they didn’t have an argument with the Czar of Russia who was trying to invade these shores. Their argument was with the government that had planted them here and that had governed them for over two-hundred years since.

They, every single one of them, was born under the English flag, had grown up under the rule of the English king, and had, until very recently, regarded themselves as English.

What changed? Distance and time had given them the freedom to think for themselves. They were inspired by the Gospels that taught that all human beings matter, that ever hair on our heads are numbered. This ethos of human dignity which began when the Son of God had chosen to be born in a stable rather than a palace had been the mustard seed of the Kingdom that was growing and expanding throughout the world.

Paine

Thomas Paine

The times were right, of course. Political philosophers had moved on from the cynical practicality of The Prince to the cynical idealism of Common Sense. If you haven’t read these two documents, I encourage you to do so, and then to compare them. The change in outlook of a few hundred years and one ocean is striking.

There is a whole world of difference between “If an injury is done to a man, it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be considered,” and “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the sufferings of supporting it.”

The difference between these two outlooks is the experience of living free. Distance from England and the rigors of the frontier had worked a kind of magic on these American colonists. They had learned the power of thinking for themselves. While no one would ever claim Thomas Paine as a devout Christian, he lived in a Christian society, breathed Christian air and was influenced deeply by the Christian call to the value of each individual human person.

Machiavelli

Machiavelli

Machiavelli, on the other hand, while an observant Christian, lived in a Christian world that was half-caught between the call to human dignity that the Gospels demanded and the entrenched and cynical society in which he lived. Despite living in a faith-filled world, he was unable to realize the true meaning of Christian faith, which is human freedom.

The question I have, is which direction are we going?

Does Thomas Paine’s statement:

“I have always strenuously supported the right of a man to his own opinion, however different that might be from mine.”

Or Machiavelli’s claim:

“Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.”

Reflect our current way of thinking and living?

Are our minds and hearts governed by the singing phrases of our founding documents, or have we sunk into a mire so deep that Machiavelli would abhor it?

Machiavelli was not nearly as Machiavellian as those who’ve never read him would lead you to believe. His treatise was common sense politics of his day and in many ways of any day, including ours. On the other hand, Thomas Paine was a young revolutionary with a young revolutionary’s hot-blooded fervor.

This country was birthed by thinkers who believed in the power of the individual to think for himself. But I wonder if it is not more and more being governed and educated by thinkers who have gone past Machiavelli and into some new dark realm of governance by means of lies and propaganda that was an impossibility in yesterday’s pre-tech times.

Thomas Paine said, “A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

I do him the honor of holding my own opinion, including disagreeing with quite a few of the things he said. However, in this, as with a lot of his thinking, Thomas Paine was exactly right.

 

This is the Gospel: God. Our. Sins. Paying. Everyone. Life.

This is an extraordinary interpretation of Scripture in poetry by Dare to Share Ministries. Watch it and be blessed.

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Book Review: God’s Favorite Place on Earth

To join the discussion about God’s Favorite Place on Earth, or to buy a copy, go here

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Frank Viola, who blogs at Rediscovering the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, is offering 25 free books or audios to those who buy his newest book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, in the next week. To learn more, go here

That offer makes a good book a good deal, as well.

God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a combination first person fictionalization/meditation/teaching on the Gospel stories surrounding the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This family lived in the little town of Bethany, and Gospel accounts make it clear that their friendship with Jesus was both personal and on-going. 

These people knew Jesus in the intimate way that friends know one another. They also recognized Him as more than just another rabbi. They got Him at a time when His own disciples were often confused the things He did and said. 

This is the same Lazarus who died and was dead four days when Jesus stood at his grave and, with the words Lazarus come forth! raised him from the dead. 

DrawingsofFaith2

First, Jesus meant it when He said that being his disciple means taking up our crosses and following after Him. The message in Viola’s fine book is three-fold. 

Second, God’s ways are not our ways. He doesn’t work according to our time-table or our human goals. He has His own plan and our part in it is to follow Him and do what He tells us to do.

Third, (and most important) Christian life is Christ-centered living. It is not about our missions or our apostolates. It is not a function of how many hours we spend at church or how we vote. Following Christ means following Christ and Him crucified.

Frank Viola has written a fine book that gave me meat for thought about my own Christian walk and the ways in which I put things ahead of Him in my life. It was a convicting and uplifting read, both at once. 

I heartily recommend it. 

Pope Francis to People of Boston: “Resolve Not to be Overcome by Evil.”

JesusName 1


I have no words. 

It’s really as simple as that. These tragedies that keep pounding our nation’s heart, one after the dreadful next, leave me speechless. It happens that way every time. I learn of it, and, confronted by such senseless evil, I have no words.

Fortunately, the Holy Father was able to find words for all of us. Pope Francis sent a telegram to Cardinal O’Malley of Boston in which he gave the only advice Christians need at these times — “resolve not to be overcome by evil.” 

How do we “not be overcome by evil.” What good does a “resolve” of this kind do us?

The truth is we can’t fail to be overcome by evil if all we do is try to handle it under our on strength. Evil is stronger than we are. It can and will shatter us like crystal if we try to resist its destructive force by our own power, through our own understanding and our own will. Evil will break you every time if you fight it alone. It will leave you bitter, angry, hate-filled and self-righteous. Evil, of itself, has no redeeming qualities.

It is only when evil is filtered through the prism of the cross that it becomes light instead of darkness. Evil, suffering, senseless cruelty and death take on a new dimension when we view them through the light of eternity. In truth, there is no death. There is nothing so senseless that the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ does not give it meaning.

“Resolve not to be overcome by evil,” the Holy Father tells us and I would guess by “resolve” he means to give our fear, anger, hate, rage, and in many cases, our blinded numbness to the One Who has defeated evil once and for all. We are not chained to our grief. All we have to do is realize that and walk forward from it.

Pray for the people of Boston, and for this country. Pray and trust God. Know that the dead did not die and that Jesus is Lord always, and everywhere.

From Vatican Radio:

The full text of the telegram is below

His Eminence Cardinal Sean O’Malley 
Archbishop of Boston

Deeply grieved by news of the loss of life and grave injuries caused by the act of violence perpetrated last evening in Boston, His Holiness Pope Francis wishes me to assure you of his sympathy and closeness in prayer. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, His Holiness invokes God’s peace upon the dead, his consolation upon the suffering and his strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response. At this time of mourning the Holy Father prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State

See mother, I am making all things new

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Pope Francis, Holy Thursday and Us

For I was in prison, and you visited me.

Pope Francis will wash the feet of incarcerated young people tonight. Some of them have no faith. Others are Muslim. Many of them did not even know who the Pope was when they first heard he was coming.

Many Catholics, particularly those in prison ministry, are overjoyed by this act. But there are others who find it off-putting, even a bit scandalous. They expect the Pope to wash the feet of other priests, or at least other men, who are Catholic, Christian and probably important. I’ve read comments emphasizing that the young people whose feet the Holy Father will wash are nondescript boys and girls, many of whom are of no faith or Muslim.  They are people who won’t even appreciate the honor they are receiving.

But the Pope is only doing what Jesus did. He is seeking out those who are lost. It appears that this deep equality of all humanity that Our Lord lived and taught is as scandalous to some of us today as it was 2,000 years ago. But a failure to live this will kill the Church. We are not meant to be a closed-off, self-congratulatory faith that despises rather than serves those Jesus died to save.

People didn’t “appreciate” the honor of having God made flesh walking among them 2,000 years ago. The drama of Holy Week is a re-enactement of just how profoundly they didn’t appreciate it. Not even His own disciples really appreciated the honor they were receiving. No one, except His mother, understood what was happening.

Holy Thursday drives us back to the night when He was taken, to the moment when He gave us the Eucharist and instituted the priesthood. But He did not give us a priesthood created for palaces and fine things. It was and is and will always be a servant priesthood. It is priesthood of the kind that goes to prisons and washes the feet of young people who do not understand the meaning of what is happening any more than Peter did on that night in the Upper Room. When it ceases to be that, it ceases to be a priesthood of Christ and becomes a priesthood for itself.

The foot washing is a sign signifying that these young people — and all of us along with them — are children of the living God. It is a living memorial of the servant priesthood Jesus instituted in the upper room 2,000 years ago. If Christ The Lord could go down on his knees before a group of itinerant fishermen and tax collectors and wash their feet, why shouldn’t the Pope do the same for a group of incarcerated young people?

If the Son of God can submit to betrayal, false arrest, verbal abuse, beating, mockery, and a hideously painful, lingering death, then what makes us think that we’re so special?

When Jesus was asked questions similar to the ones that have been raised by those who oppose the Holy Father’s plans to go to the prison tonight, He answered them with a simple statement. The Son of Man came to save and seek the lost. I think He’s saying the same thing to us today and that Pope Francis is His voice.

At last, I get to meet someone who says he is my father!

One of the young people said that when they heard of the Pope’s plans. That statement, speaking as it does of a young person who has most likely led an unloved life, breaks my heart. It also fills me with gratitude that he or she can feel that way about our Holy Father. I am in awe of a Church whose leader can wield the power of a Pope yet move to touch and heal ones such as these. Only a Church whose true head is Christ Jesus could do that.

Two thousand years and counting, and the Gospel message of love, forgiveness and hope marches on to the ends of the earth.

Christian Persecution and Blood Red Shoes

Pope Francis is the Pope. If he decides to go for all the pomp his office allows ….

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That’s fine with me.

Because he’s the Pope.

If on the other hand, he decides to wear sandals and walk rather than ride – or some black-shoed something in between the two extremes — that, too, would be ok with me.

Because he’s the pope.

It appears that most Catholics are like me: Over the moon about our new papa. But, you can’t please everyone. Human beings are too contrary for that to ever happen in this world. In their displeasure with our Holy Father, some of these displeased ones have fixated on one thing: The color of his shoes.

The red of the red shoes refers to the blood of the martyrs they tell us.

I’ve been thinking about this for days, largely because I don’t understand why we need to see red shoes to think about the blood of the martyrs. The blood of people dying for Christ is not an ancient artifact from a long ago history that has passed. The blood of the martyrs is soaking into the ground in a hundred places around the world as I type this.

This is the blood of the marytrs:

Nigeria

 

BurntNigerianChristians

India

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North Korea

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I have interviewed survivors of Christian persecution in Uganda and Nigeria. They are different from us. Their faith has been through the fire and this fire burned away the impurities of trivial concerns.

One of the many things about these people that impressed me is their gentleness; that, and their absolute faith in heaven. I never heard anything from them about the people who persecuted them being damned to hell. The harshest thing I heard was from an Anglican bishop who called them “ignorant.” Their focus is on Jesus. It is not on the ones who attacked them. They see past the persecution to heaven and the gift of eternal life.

More than once when I asked them how they got through it, they said two words: The cross.

They are different from you and me, these people who have been purified by the fires of persecution for the name of Jesus. I never asked any of them about red shoes. But if I had, I imagine that the response would have been incomprehension.

What Jesus Told Us

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