Some time ago I was talking to a friend of mine in my home-town of Galway and we were discussing how much our society has changed. She was saying how it is acceptable now to be just about anything, but not Catholic and I think she is right. If you try to live as a Catholic it will cost you, and the Lord said it would. He was very clear about it.
Today’s readings are all about this. They are saying that following the way of Jesus Christ comes at a price. The early Christians were known as followers of ‘the Way’. Strange as it may seem, I think it can be a very good thing when it becomes more difficult, because sometimes it is only when you feel a bit of persecution that you begin to think about what you believe in and why you believe it. That is very healthy.
In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah is having a bad day. He is complaining about how difficult it is for him to be God’s spokesman and how much persecution it has brought him. He has had enough and he wants to quit. In fact he reminds me of being a priest. It can cause you a lot of grief and you meet a lot of people who turn their back on you, or are openly hostile to you, just as Jeremiah experienced. However, God continually encourages us to keep going, to speak about him and it is as Jeremiah said, like a burning fire within which is irresistible. I always find it consoling to remember that many of the great figures in the Bible also wanted to quit. The prophet Elijah after working an extraordinary miracle, is now running for his life as the queen wants to kill him and he sits down in the desert and says, ‘Lord I’ve had enough. Take my life. I wish I was dead.’
Sometimes people ask me why I became a priest and did I not want to get married? Of course I did, but just like in the reading, the call of God was stronger. It is hard to resist and it is like a burning fire inside. The strength of God is what keeps pushing me on, pushing all of us on.
Jesus spoke harshly to Peter, when Peter objected to the fact that Jesus was going to be arrested and killed. I’m quite sure any of us would have too, but the reason Jesus was so harsh with him was because Peter wanted what seemed easier. Our world will usually suggest what seems easier, but it is not always the right thing to do or a good thing to do. The Lord will take us in ways that we would sometimes rather not follow. So why bother to follow them? Because the way of Jesus Christ is the way that leads to life. It can be hard, yes, but it is so worthwhile. It is the pearl of great price, which is worth giving up everything for.
The world around can offer us many attractive things and some of them very nice indeed, but it cannot offer us a life after this one. Only God can offer that. ‘What then will a person gain if he wins the whole world, but ruins his life?’ And so Jesus tells us not to be afraid of it, not to be afraid of being different, or following a way that is not always acceptable.
St. Paul says ‘Do not model yourselves on the world around you, but let your behaviour change.’ We cannot follow the way of the world and the way of Jesus at the same time, because the two are radically different. But how can we follow this way if it is so difficult? The answer is, by relying on the Lord himself. That’s where we get our strength from. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, that’s why he gave himself to us in the Eucharist. That’s why he invites us to come together every Sunday to listen to his words speaking to us and encouraging us, to build us up. I have always found that it is the people who really live their faith who are least disturbed by things going on in the world. They have an inner strength that that they get from their relationship with God, and that is there for all of us if we want it. I’m sure many of you experience this already. The Lord gives us everything we need, everything. All we have to do is reach out our hand and accept it.