“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” ~ Psalm 145
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who took Psalm 145 to heart with greater fervor and fortitude than Saint Paul, who barely escaped with his life in today’s 1st Reading (Acts 14:19-28). It was here, fresh on the heels of his evangelical exploits in Antioch and Iconium, that Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city, left for dead by the angry mob who underestimated his resiliency, the powers of his salvific message too, for we’re told that Paul converted a significant number of disciples.
“The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” Saint Paul once said (1 Corinthians 1:18). “But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” It was through the power of God that this tireless prophet would survive countless attempts on his life until finally succumbing to the martyr’s death that was clearly to be his destiny. “It is necessary for you to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God,” Paul proclaimed, serving perhaps as the ultimate example for the difficult lesson he was trying to impart. The notion of carrying one’s cross remains a tough sell to this day, especially in these days as a matter of fact, as the always-popular promise of convenience, comfort, and ease is promoted all the way from Madison Avenue to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In divinely-inspired countercultural fashion though, Jesus has a different message.
“Take up thy cross,” Jesus would say time and time again, leading of course by example and in doing so trampling death and hell underfoot. Saint John of the Cross once said “The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.” Jesus himself teaches us in no uncertain terms the simple reality of our earthly journey: No cross, no crown.
In today’s Gospel (John 14:27-31), we find Jesus offering words of peace and comfort to his friends just hours before he is to be arrested, violently beaten, and crucified. “I am going away and I will come back to you,” Jesus tells his Apostles in a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.”
As I read these words, I couldn’t help but reflect upon another seminal moment in our Salvation story, one wherein Jesus’ words would also ring true, one which we’ll celebrate in a mere nine days, Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. For just as Jesus would die and be raised from the dead, so too would he ascend into Heaven at the will of Gos the Father to assume his place at the right hand of the Father, to one day come again in His glory.
Jesus goes on to say “I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.” The ruler of this fallen world, the one who has no power over the Son of Man, is of course the evil one Satan himself.
Our time here on Earth can at times feel like a prodigious tug-of-war between Satan and the mighty gift they would replace Jesus’ presence here on earth, I speak of course cod the Holy Spirit, that which would be poured forth at Pentecost shortly after Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is more powerful than Satan; it’s not even close. But in our fallen state, we relent and capitulate to sin. Boredom, loneliness, vanity, selfishness, impatience, narcissism. These are but a few of sin’s triggers.
But through the cultivation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-seven-gifts-of-the-holy-spirit, we can overcome sin, get on with the work of evangelization ~ much like Saint Paul in today’s 1st Reading ~ and achieve the peace that Jesus promises in today’s Gospel, a peace that can at times feel far too elusive https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/The-Elusivity-of-Peace.
Through our witness, through our prayer life, and through a sacramentally focused, truth-filled existence rooted in love, mercy and charity, we too can make known the glorious splendor of God’s Kingdom. For as Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.”
“O God, by whose grace, though sinners, we are made just and, though pitiable, made blessed, stand, we pray, by your works, stand by your gifts, that those justified by faith may not lack the courage of perseverance.” ~ Amen