A consistent theme of late has been: “Don’t give in to discouragement.” I had this in mind for today’s post, and then at Mass this morning, our associate pastor, preached about not getting discouraged – which had no direct connection to the readings. Ironically, perhaps as a shot from the Evil One, today three of my scheduled clients today cancelled or no-showed.
My wife Mary and I try to pray at some length every Sunday for whatever the Lord puts on our hearts (a spiritual practice I’d heartily recommend for every couple – it has been indispensable in our marriage!). Last Sunday, the passage that came up during prayer was Hebrews 12, which includes the words, “Surrounded as we are by this cloud of witnesses, let us not lose heart in running the race. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” The Lord also put on our hearts Eph 3:14-20, which concludes with, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”
These were words Mary and I needed to hear. Over the last few years, especially, we have seemed to get a leading from the Lord; we would follow it up; and it would seem to dry up. Sometimes we’ve sympathized with Jeremiah – “You have deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived” (Jer 20:7). Mind you, we don’t try to go it alone: we each have a spiritual director; we run our situations past brethren in the Lord; we are cautious about overreliance on private revelation; we ask the Lord to confirm and reconfirm through external circumstances; everything has to jive with Scripture and Church teaching. So it’s not that we chase after passing thought as a word from the Lord. But the temptation, ever-present, is to think, “Are we doing something wrong? Have we misheard the Lord?”
It is reassuring to know that if we’re sincerely trying to follow the Lord, He will use even our mistakes and mis-hearings. My ever-patient spiritual director has repeatedly assured me that if I’m not getting a particular leading, my task is to wait: to continue to carry out the duties of my station in life and trust that the Lord will let me know the next right thing to do. I’d remind myself of a wonderful talk I heard back in 1977 at a Steubenville youth conference: the speaker noted that we tend to see discernment as a “find the 15 hidden monkeys in the jungle scene” exercise. He pointed out that in fact, the Lord is all too delighted to find people actively seeking His will; He is eager to guide such seekers. He will reveal His will in His time; our “work” in the meantime is patience and trust. “Jesus, I trust in You; Jesus, I trust in You; Jesus, I TRUST in You.” How powerful, how necessary, those words have been to me.
But a shift has happened over the past few months. This blog is part of it, but in general, there’s a very strong sense Mary and I have of “It’s HERE: the new springtime of evangelization in the Catholic Church and the Body of Christ as a whole; the fulfillment of many years of preparation for Mary, me, and so many others in the Body of Christ who have been earnestly praying for renewal in the Body of Christ – ‘who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in [Jerusalem]’ (Ezek 9:4); the time of tremendous grace and tremendous suffering prophesied by the Blessed Mother, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict, and many others whose testimony we find reliable.” Signs of renewal are everywhere; the grace I see poured out in my practice, in my parish, and that fellow Christians from all over the U.S. tell me of, is astounding. God is doing something new, something powerful. “The light shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5).
Accompanying this great hope and excitement is a sense of increased spiritual warfare: we and the brothers and sisters in the Lord with whom we’ve been drawn together over the years are experiencing more temptations and palpable spiritual resistance amidst increased consolation and confirmations. The showdown is here. The alarming political situation in the U.S. and Western Europe, in which Christianity has become the whipping boy for so many, and the stage for unbridled persecution is being set, is one sign; the rise of Islamic persecution of Christians all over the world, glossed over by the mainstream media, is another; the apostasy of so many of the mainline liturgical denominations, in their race to run lockstep with the spirit of secular humanism while calling it “listening to the Spirit’s voice”, is yet another; the murder of millions of children in the womb brazenly touted as a positive good, as a fundamental maternal right; vitriolic denunciation of those who dare to support marriage as a lifelong union of one man and one woman; the spiritual carnage wrought by sex, drugs, and “absolute relativism” and loss of faith among the young; the list goes on.
So now of all times, we need to stand fast; to remain resolutely confident in the Lord. “Jesus Christ is the Lord of history”, one of the Vatican II documents says. “All things work to the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28), St. Paul tells us. God foreknew all of these developments; God in His mercy foreordained that we live in just this epoch of history; God, in His mad love for us, chose US, made of dust and ashes yet shot with His glory, to fight the battle of love and faith and perseverance in this best and worst of times. He TRUSTS us; He EQUIPS us. I am so grateful that the Lord, in His graciousness, chose me, chose us, to live at just this moment in time. He knows what He’s about; He holds all times in His hands; and we are utterly safe so long as we stay in His will, in His Son’s pierced Heart, and under the Blessed Mother’s loving protection (who takes all Christians as beloved daughters and sons).
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom should I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1). Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Let us begin, brothers, for up to now we have done little or nothing.”