|1/14/2016 9:00:00 AM|
Do not be afraid to answer
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGEROne of the first casualties that beset Adam and Eve after the fall was their fear of being summoned by God's voice.
Can you imagine? God had always been their everyday companion, their loving friend. Now they were afraid of Him and wanted to hide.
Why? God had not changed, but their attitude about him had become distorted -- no doubt by the memory of their own sin and their delusions about God that tempter had put in their minds.
We inherit this tendency (original sin), unfortunately, but we have been freed from the worst effects of our first parents' sin through baptism. Every one of us, as a disciple of Christ, is called in two ways that lead in one very good direction -- back to God -- though not necessarily in the same exact way personally.
Have I confused you enough already? Give me a moment to unpack this.
At baptism, each of us became a disciple of Christ. That means we were given a new birthright to our common home in heaven, a new Eden. Heaven is a forever friendship to treasure with Jesus Christ. When we possess Jesus, we already possess heaven. Heaven is not so much a "here" or a "there," but a way of knowing and loving God.
What was lost in Eden has been restored. Our "place" in heaven begins at baptism and lasts forever. As long as we are on Earth, however, we have a call to sink our roots deeper into Christ Jesus, so that when we die, our eternal life will be so much richer.
This is the first call at baptism: to get to know and love Jesus Christ more and more each day. It is a call by Him and to Him. But how can we get to know and love Him better?
Jesus also calls us through others. At baptism, this was clear. Whether or not we remember it, our baptism was a call from the Lord through His Church. There is really no such thing as a "private" baptism, even when only a few people are in attendance. And even if we do not remember, we have renewed our baptismal promises at least every Easter and at our confirmation.
So, God calls us personally, but we are called through the Church. Specifically, Jesus calls us each by name, as head of the Church, from the Church, which is His Body. This is what we call the "mystical Body of Christ," of which we all become members through baptism "into Christ and His Church." This is important to remember every day.
Where does this lead us? In one direction, heaven -- but the way to heaven is always through Earth. Jesus sends us into the world to make other disciples. That is known as "the great commission." It is the mission of every disciple of Christ to lead others to Christ, who is our heaven, the way, the truth and the life.
To put it another way, in order to be a disciple of Christ, there are two things we must do every day that are indispensable because they flow from the call itself, from what it means to be a disciple of Jesus:
We consciously and actively respond each day to Christ's call to know Him personally. This always includes prayer in its many forms, especially the Mass. It is not enough just to say, "Life is a prayer," as I have heard some say. It is true that all creation gives glory to God; as human beings, however, we have a consciousness; and, as Christians, we have a specific, personal call from Jesus. So, we must seek Him as our personal Lord and Savior. That means calling Him by name, just as He calls each of us by name. The number-one task of every disciple is to get to know and love Jesus more and more every day.
We must spread the Gospel in the world. Evangelization means telling the "Good News" (which is what "Gospel" means) that Jesus Christ is Lord. How we do this will depend upon who we are, our talents, gifts, and circumstances. But every disciple has the call to do this in some way, consciously and actively, every day.
Who have you led to Jesus today? I know this begs the question, "What does it mean to 'lead' someone to Jesus? Does it mean dragging a friend to church?" It might, eventually, but this is not often the first or the most effective step.
In order to encounter Jesus, each person needs to come to a real conviction that he or she is valued and loved, that his or her heart and thoughts are being heard. Some people have testified to receiving this sense through a specific person or experience. That is a special grace and it can happen anytime; I know, because it happened to me.
For others, where the awareness has not been steady or certain, it may dawn gradually. Never underestimate, however, the role you can play. You may be the only "Christ" some other person has ever known. It may be in your presence and your words that another will be led to Christ -- like when Andrew led his brother, Peter, to Jesus after being called himself!
Jesus may even be summoning you and I to do something even more awesome. Not only is He surely asking you to lead those whom you meet each day to Him, He may also be asking that you and I call another to follow Him in a special way to a certain order or ministry.
You may encounter someone God has put into your mind as a good candidate for the priesthood, diaconate or religious life. Will you answer God's call to you to invite this person?
Did you know research consistently shows as many as 11 to 12 percent of unmarried Catholic men and women have at least somewhat seriously thought of a call to the priesthood or religious life -- and that the reason most often given for not going forward is, "Nobody ever asked me"? Do you want it on your conscience that fear or hesitance in asking would deprive God's people of the ministry of a person whom Jesus depends on you to invite to "come and see"?
If you need any further evidence that it may be you whom Jesus is summoning to do the "ask," then ask Jesus Himself! He will tell you. You will know.
As I have been proposing in this column, the first task of the disciple is to go to Jesus every day in prayer, to get to know Him better. The second task is the commission Jesus gives all of us to go out and tell the Good News. A disciple of Jesus must do both of these things every day or we will dry up spiritually just as surely as the Dead Sea, full of salt and bitterness.
These two ways or tasks lead us in one direction: to the eternal life of heaven. That always begins where we are, here and now. We are in a people-rich and resourceful Diocese where many are hungering for the active and sustained presence of priests in particular, and the ministries of deacons, religious and others in the service of parish life.
Those being called are here among us. It is up to us all to call them forth. And for you who are being called, what further invitation do you need to "come and see"? Do not be afraid!
(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)
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