They daily board the right ship
Lent has come and gone. Those 40 days have led us to the Easter resurrection. This springtime journey in our liturgical year invites each of us to enter into the paschal mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Our encounter of the paschal mystery depended on how much we were willing to journey into the darkness of our own sin and then seek the conversion of our heart from darkness and sin to reconcile our life and find our way, through “the light” — back to the path of holiness.
Jesus, the light of the world, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, they who follow me will have the light of life.” The true joy of Easter for Catholics, the Easter resurrection, can only be our joy when we first willingly embrace the Good Friday dying of our sinful ways and “come back to him with all our heart” as the song Hosea encourages. In Psalm 51, a true prayer for mercy and reconciliation, the Psalmist prays, “Create a clean heart for me O God.”
Our theme for our diocesan 2017 synod is “A Call to Discipleship: Come and See.” Jesus walked and sought out the first disciples and he invited them to what our theme suggests. The 1991 United States Catholic Council of Bishops (USCCB) pastoral letter on stewardship, Stewardship, a Disciple’s Response, reminds us of the marriage of stewardship and discipleship and how they go hand in hand. We are being called through the invitation of both our synod and the Holy Spirit to “get out of our boats” (our comfort zones) and take this step like the first Disciples did. He said to them as our synod says to us, “Come and see.” As the pastoral letter suggests, a true “conversion” to this way of life is needed.
To deny yourself is to embrace the truth that life is a gift from God. At the Easter Vigil we hear the story of creation. We hear of God creating all the wonderful and beautiful surroundings we marvel at so often: the sky, the moon, the stars, the trees, the mountains, and the animals, and the list goes on. Then he created us, in his image and likeness. Life truly is his gift to us. We are called to deny any thought or belief that we possess anything, and that all is a gift from God. In the society and culture we live in today, this will be hard for many to embrace this truth. That is why the 1991 pastoral letter speaks of a need for “conversion.” True discipleship demands this total conversion. One example of a conversion would be a parish with parishioners who believe that “when there is a need tell us and we will give.” True disciples have deep generosity within them. It is out of gratitude to God for all he has given them to enjoy that true disciples have a need to give. There is a huge difference in these two options for Catholics.
When we have “denied ourselves” and made Jesus our “all” we then can more readily be able take the second step in discipleship: to take up our cross. Jesus has already shown us the way of the cross. Having a personal relationship with this “Lord and Savior” whose true story I’ve been told and whose story I now tell, leads me to join him in bearing my cross. Always following his example, I now make Jesus the leader, and I take the third step: following him.
At the beginning of Lent the Ash Wednesday Gospel every year invites us to this living out of his call of us to discipleship, when he speaks of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I heard a wonderful priest share with me that there are four ships a true disciple needs to travel on. One ship is called “leadership.” When we were young we loved playing “follow the leader,” and yet many would fight to be the leader. With discipleship, we must always make Jesus the leader. Recall the story when Jesus tells Peter, “I must wash your feet,” to which Peter replies, “You will never wash my feet.” Peter put himself first. Christ even chastises him and says, “Get behind me Satan,” as Peter was thinking in his worldly way, not the Father’s will and way. Then Jesus tells him after he washes his feet, “As I have done (leader) so you must do.”
The second ship is “relationship” and through his challenge of becoming a person of deep prayer, we establish a personal relationship with Jesus. Through prayer we come to know and love the Lord and become more attentive to his call to love and serve him. Prayer becomes a foundation of the life of a true disciple.
The third ship is “discipleship” and our “fasting” helps to experience true formation in this “way of life.” Fasting has a spiritual purpose. It just isn’t about looking good in that bathing suit when spring gets here. We rid ourselves of all the “stuff” that keeps us from following him with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul; as we make him our “all and all.” Our intention is make “his way, truth and life, our way, truth and life.”
The fourth ship is then “stewardship.” This almsgiving I am called to share is my grateful response to God. It is not just taking my clothes I don’t need to Salvation Army, which is good. It is the giving of my total life in gratitude to the one who gave his life for me that I might have life in abundance. It is more than just my gift of treasure, which is often how many mistakenly understand stewardship — but it is the giving of my whole self, all that I am.
From our birth, in his image and likeness, we have been called to be missionary disciples. It is God’s plan for us in his very choice to “gift” us with our life. As a child, follow the leader was a fun game, but for Catholics, it is a way of life: true intentional discipleship. Look at Scripture and every passage will have a connectedness to this call to discipleship. We are called daily to convert our life to the message of Sacred Scripture. Only then can the true “Joy of the Gospel” be ours.
Another game we used to play was Battleship. Remember calling out “E-3” or “F-4”? The purpose was to sink the battleship. However, there is another ship we need to acknowledge, and that is “ownership.” If we think all we have is “mine,” then we will never be his true disciple and we (our ship and journey) will sink in misery. Making Jesus the leader and acknowledging all is his, and a gift to us is why Jesus said, “If you wish to live, you must die to yourself.”
When we see a gift as that which is given by God, received with gratitude from our heart, accepted with a desire to share, and that which transforms our heart, together we can turn the world upside down, as we build the kingdom of God here and now.
Spring is here and our synod has begun — alleluia! Join us on the cruise and let us make sure we get on the right ship.