by Father Mark Goldasich
This past April 15 was a tough day for me. And it didn’t have much to do with taxes at all. (Heck, I’d sent my return in several whole days before it was due.) No, my struggle came after I’d read a commentary, written by Gloria Hutchinson, on that day’s Mass readings.
She told a story about a man named Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist preacher who founded an interracial Christian community in Georgia back in the 1950s. Obviously, that would not have been a very popular thing to do. In fact, it was downright dangerous.
As you might expect, someone filed a lawsuit against him. Clarence approached his brother Robert, who was an attorney, and asked if he would represent him. Robert refused, fearful that racists might put him out of business. Upon hearing his brother’s answer, Clarence asked his brother if he followed Jesus.
“Yes,” Robert replied, “I follow him up to a point.”
“Would that point by any chance be the cross?” asked Clarence.
When Robert admitted that that was probably the case, Clarence said, “I don’t believe you can call yourself a disciple then. You are merely an admirer.” (Adapted from the April 15 “Weekday Homily Helps” from St. Anthony Messenger Press.)
Wow, that story made me squirm. It’s awfully easy to be an admirer of Jesus; it takes the power of the Holy Spirit, though, to become a disciple, a real follower, of Christ.
Adding to my discomfort on April 15 was the fact that I was celebrating Mass for the Catholic residents at the Tonganoxie Nursing Center. Over the years, I’ve found it harder and harder to give a homily there. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable in that environment. In fact, the residents and the staff are always very welcoming and supportive.
No, I’m uneasy during the homily because I feel that the real “preaching” is done by those in attendance at that Mass. When they come into that room to pray, with their walkers or wheelchairs or canes — quietly bearing their crosses of aging and sickness — I see “living sermons.” These people are not just admirers of Jesus; they truly are his followers. And I have a lot to learn from them.
When I examine my own journey of faith, it’s tempting to get discouraged. Probably a lot of us feel we’re so very far from consistently being the saints, the lights of the world, that Jesus calls us to be. How many Lents will pass before we really change our lives for the better? How many prayers will it take before we really trust the Lord? How many Masses must we attend before we really understand what God wants to teach us?
At those times when I think I’m stuck or going backwards in my spiritual life — when all I want to be is an admirer, not a follower, of Jesus — I take comfort in the Scriptures, especially in the stories about St. Peter. We can all relate to the guy. So many times, when the going got tough, he got going . . . in the wrong direction. But he never gave up, and it’s that stubborn persistence (and God’s grace, certainly) that transformed him from admirer into disciple.
So many times we want to be comfortable, not challenged, in our life and in our faith. It’s understandable that we’re more attracted to messages of blessing than to messages of sacrifice. It’s easier to concentrate on what we need, rather than on what others need — to pursue our personal good over the common good. Such attitudes qualify us as admirers of Jesus. As followers, though? Not so much.
And that’s why St. Peter is so important and helpful to me. Real transformation into disciples doesn’t happen overnight. Our work of conversion, begun during the season of Lent, continues in this season of Easter . . . and beyond. We’re called each day to practice our faith — to be people of prayer and people of action.
One of the most difficult, but potentially most effective ways to do this is to put another’s needs before our own — maybe just once or twice a day, for starters. Things like listening to a colleague’s heartaches, spending time with the kids, doing a chore for a spouse, greeting a homeless person, or refraining from complaining may not do a whole lot to change the course of the world. But these small actions will go a long way toward changing our hearts and the hearts of those around us.
While it’s nice to be an admirer of Jesus, I suspect that heaven is only filled with his followers.
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