By Fr. Glenn Jones
Last week this column spoke of encouraging youth (and everyone, really) to make those often weighty (and constant) decisions of choosing between the good and the easy … between what is popular yet lacking, and that which is virtuous yet difficult … though it possibly be even ostracizing.
This is the perpetual struggle for the Christian because the truth of Jesus’ words is often quite manifest: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) We see all too plainly how the destruction can be in this material world, and we pray it not be in the next.
Young people especially tend to fall into the trap of seeking popularity over virtue—one reason, I think, to ensure that such are taught that not all approval and adulation is good, either for themselves or for others. Much better to teach them as best we can virtue, and to cultivate the strength and courage to stand fast in it.
And yet … to be one of the “cool kids”—whether we are seven or seventy—is strong, especially in the young who long for acceptance by their peers. Once puberty hits with its accompanying hormone dump, youth naturally desire to move increasingly toward independence, exercising such desire by the invariable propensity to separate from the apron strings: the “drop me off at the corner so my friends don’t see me with you” phase … or the often brooding verbal reticence of boys, and the “MU-THER!!” with accompanying door-slamming not atypical of girls.
For we adults, this desire of popularity can easily morph into ambition—seeing within popularity or conformity the (often wide and less difficult) road of worldly success and gain—even more so when the welfare of the family is in the balance. It becomes easy to compromise values or to justify their non-observance when those values seem to be “getting in the way”.
Such temptation is ever-present. How easy it can be to simply passively disregard teachings which we ostensibly hold—the truth of scripture, for example—for that which is “easier” and garners acceptance, adulation and accompanying material gain. Take, for instance, the recent Georgian abortion law, its accompanying furor and the threats of lucrative businesses to exit the state. Regardless of your own stance on the subject, it will nonetheless be a teaching moment to watch whether the lawmakers stand by their personal moral decisions, or if they “cave” to financial, media and political pressure.
Priests and ministers especially have to take care that their preaching and teaching reflects that which they hold to be true, remembering Jesus’ Gospel words and other scriptures (Wisdom 2 comes to mind) which foretell that His teaching and other scriptures—and those who hold to them—will often be rejected by the world. But it would be a weak and poor servant indeed who betrays his Master for the paltry gain that the world can afford.
And thus we recall Jesus once again: “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words…of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38) Similarly, consider how devastated we are when a friend acts as if he does not know us … or worse, acts ashamed of, or even despises, us. How much more pain much we give Our Lord when we act ashamed of Him, His teaching or His works.
The letter of James states, rather ominously: “…that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:7-8) Yes, the faith of the Christian must be a determined and lived faith, not something that is practiced only when convenient. Like the soldier who flees the battle, how ashamed we’d be to go at judgment before all the saints who suffered and even died for their faith—even occurring today—if we buckle under at the least challenge or adversity?
Mother Teresa said: “God does not call us to be successful; He calls us to be faithful.” Like all good things, we need only stand firm in our determination toward the good even though it may be a rocky and difficult road … wary of allowing the end to justify the means, heeding that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings…” (Hebrews 13:8-9)
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. ‘I know your tribulation…Do not fear what you are about to suffer…you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.’” (Revelation 2:8-10)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.