I was just reading about a teacher who asked his students to imagine that they were living in the South during the height of slavery. He asked all of them if they would have publicly opposed this evil institution. Naturally, all of them raised their hands and said they would. But then he asked them for evidence of this courage in their own life today. He asked them when they have publicly opposed something that would cost them their job, their freedom, and the disdain of the powerful forces in the culture.
When we read about history, we all like to believe that we would have had the moral strength to stand against the tide, especially when it comes to things that moderns have clear moral certainty about. Every rational modern person recognizes the evil of things like slavery and the Holocaust. If we ever imagine ourselves in those circumstances, we often concoct an image of someone unbowed to these evils and giving aid to those who are oppressed.
But is that how we behave now?
In this age of “cancel culture,” do we have the courage to say things that are out of the mainstream, even if they are true. Do we dare speak the Church’s truth about human sexuality or the sanctity of human life, even when it is unpopular? This is not about political sides. As someone who adheres to the Church’s pro-life principles, I must speak out in defense of all human life. This means I could incur the wrath of the political left when speaking against abortion or the political right when in opposition to the death penalty.
However, all too often we reduce these questions to things in the public sphere. This also applies to our personal lives. When you are sitting with your co-workers at lunch and they are badmouthing a fellow employee, are you going to be the unpopular one who says, “Maybe we shouldn’t gossip about other people?” It’s something that sounds so easy in principle, but can be difficult for many.
And being true to the Gospel will cost you.
Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)
We often think of the cross in terms of pain, which is perfectly valid. But we should also remember the cross as humiliation. The condemned person is forced to carry the implement of their own death. It is like being forced to carry the rope to scaffolding where you will be hanged or carrying the bullet that they will use to shoot you. All the while, He was crowned with thorns because He told them that He was the King. Because of this, they mocked Him as King.
Can we endure to be mocked? If we cannot then we are less like Christ and more like Satan. St. Thomas Moore once wrote “The devil… the prowde spirit… cannot endure to be mocked.” No one deserved mockery less than Jesus, but He allowed it to happen because He trusted that His love would shine through. Do we have that same trust? There is nothing wrong with defending yourself, but do we do so for God’s glory or our own wounded pride.
The price of discipleship can be high.
My wife and I prayed for children since the day we were married. After many years, we prayed about adoption. We worked through several avenues, but with very few results. If you’ve never gone through the process, you may not know that before you can do almost anything, you have to have a space created for the child. We had a baby’s room with a crib all ready. Our home was inspected, car seats and strollers were purchased, parenting classes were taken, and several other things. And for years, the nest we furnished remained empty.
Until one day, we were chosen by a birth mother for an interview. We both dressed as maturely as we could and we went to the agency to meet her in the presence of the social workers. When the birth mother saw me in my red bowtie, she commented how I looked like the Doctor from Doctor Who. At this, I produced a replica of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver from my pocket. For the next 20 minutes, the three of us bonded over our love of all things pop culture. We learned about her life and her circumstances and she learned about us. Then after about an hour or so, she said this:
“Religion was sort of forced on me growing up. It’s very important to me that whoever adopts this baby lets them choose their own religion and doesn’t have it forced on them.”
I looked at my wife and without saying anything, we both knew the choice we were about to make and what it would cost us.
I replied, “We will love our child completely. And if they choose a different religion than the one we share, nothing will change our complete love and acceptance. But the Catholic faith my wife and I share and our relationship with Jesus is so central to who we are that we couldn’t withhold that relationship from our child.”
And that was that.
We were not chosen. I am not saying that if we told her what she wanted that she would have chosen us. But I do know that standing for our faith cost us consideration.
As the years went on and we go older, we looked at other options like fostering. But between health issues between us and other family issues, we discerned that these paths to parenthood are now closed to us.
Please don’t misunderstand. My wife and I are very happy and have been blessed beyond words in our marriage. We have nieces and nephews upon whom we can lavish our affections (and then give them back to their parents). But we know what standing up for our faith cost us, especially when we pass the empty room with the dismantled crib.
We would make the same choice again in a heartbeat. This is key to understanding why we sacrifice for the kingdom. We sacrifice not because we disdain what we give up. We do it because we love Who we receive.
So many of us sacrifice as a form of penance, which it can be. But the sacrifice is an emptying of the self so that we can be filled with God’s presence.
I am not innately strong or brave. But I pray by His grace that I could endure the loss of all things so long as I have Christ. And because of this I know that no matter what I give up for the Kingdom is nothing compared to what is waiting for me. As Jesus said:
“No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10: 29-30)
Copyright 2020, WL Grayson