The Brotherhood of the Belt
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." (Jesus) said to him, "Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." St John 21: 15-18
I have a close friend who is going through a protracted time of struggle and difficulty. I can relate to his situation. I feel as though I have been living from crisis to crisis for a very long time. As I walk through my own experiences and try to help my friend with his, I have been reflecting a lot on the call to lovingly surrender to God’s will and trust in the goodness of His plan. Let me share some thoughts with you.
The Apostle Paul reminded the Christians of Rome that “….all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). However, there is an important thing to remember about this truth, it is God’s good of which the Apostle writes. Sometimes, that does not, at least in the first instance, feel like our good. However, it always is.
There is confusion in some circles concerning both the source of - and the proper response to - struggle and difficulty in the daily life of a Christian. There are those who insist that obstacles, struggle and pain are opposition from the enemy of our souls, the devil. Well, evil is real and, because we are joined to the Lord through our Baptism, we do encounter attacks as we participate in the spiritual warfare that is arrayed against His loving plan. Yet, the truth is that difficulties and struggle are more often than not simply a part of the human experience, rooted in the rupture in the order of the world that was caused by our individual and corporate separation from God.
Then, there are those whom I have referred to in the past as “friends of Job.” Like the “friends” of that great figure of the Old Testament, they blame difficulties and struggle on the behavior of the one who is experiencing them, accusing him or her of not “having faith” or not doing the right thing. These folks speak as though they have God figured out, as though He were some kind of puzzle to be solved. They present the Christian faith as though it were a formula to be followed rather than a gift and mystery to be received. They minimize the Christian vocation as a call to some kind of “success”, rather than a rugged road to be walked in the footsteps of a Savior whose greatest act of Love was deemed by most who witnessed it to be a complete failure.
Let’s be honest. Life is often difficult, even when you are praying, being as faithful as you can, and really believing. Pain, failure, opposition, hardship, struggle, disappointment … all just seem to be a part of the program. In fact, the great saints of old, such as St. Paul, grew so accustomed to difficulties he began to “boast” of them, writing to the Church at Corinth. “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”(2 Corinthians 12:9 - 10)
The question that we should ask ourselves when we face struggle, difficulty, disappointment and the frequent pain of life is how will we respond to the invitation that they offer to us? Every difficulty, struggle and experience of opposition or pain is an invitation to exercise our freedom, informed by our faith, to believe in the loving plan of God. To the man or woman who is sincerely committed to following the Lord, embracing these experiences in the surrender of authentic discipleship paves the path to holiness, forms the raw material for continued conversion and equips him/her more fully for the work of the Gospel.
The account with which I began this reflection is from the last chapter of the Gospel of St. John, the “theological” gospel according to the scholars. Probably the last to be written, it reveals the mature reflections of the early Church concerning the deepest meaning of the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and teaching of the ...
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