On one of my past trips to Lourdes, I found a very touching scene of an elderly woman, most likely with a hunchback, fervently praying in one of the pews of a side chapel inside the (lower) Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. Her gestures and attitudes were so childlike, simple but filled with so much love for the Lord and His Mother. I was so captivated by her presence that I felt an invitation to sit down to pray as well. Her humility deeply affected me, and I could feel her genuine prayers radiated and captured my heart. Even though I did not know what she was praying about, I felt connected to her and was deeply moved by her presence. I took a picture of it because it was an important lesson and reminder of faith for me.
In order to have a personal, intimate, and living faith, I believe we need to have the willingness to enter into a covenant with the Lord. There is a difference between a contract and a covenant though. The first one is made out of mistrust, the latter one is made willingly out of love. A contract is made because one or both sides cannot fully trust the other. The parties are afraid that the other side will fall through and not keep us to the promised agreements. However, a covenant is made when both sides trust and willingly enter into a treasured and important promise. Over and over again, we see that Almighty in the Sacred Scriptures always wanted to enter into an everlasting and personal covenant with His people, not just a temporary contract. Nonetheless, we have also seen how His people failed to live their covenantal promises with Him. Nonetheless, no matter what happened, He was always faithful to them.
In similar words, G.K. Chesterton once said that there is a difference between travelers and citizens. Tourists or travelers tend to see the nice side of things and move on when things get uncomfortable while citizens choose to stay with the creative tensions and growing pains because their towns are parts of who they are! The citizens choose to stay and embrace reality because the people, its history, its surroundings, its pains and imperfections are personalized. Everything has a meaning and a connection to those who choose to live and be parts of the town.
In the journey of faith, too, we can see the difference between bystanders and disciples. While bystanders choose to stay when things are interesting or appealing (when things intrigue or fit their lifestyle) but leave when it gets challenging, disciples personalize and take on the mission of the Church and make it their own, even if it means to embrace the failures and imperfections of her members. When God asked Abraham to look up at the sky as to see the promise of his numerous descendants, it was not at night when the stars and constellations were easily visible. It was during the day so that Abraham learned to trust in the divine promise when he cannot see the hidden stars covered by the brightness of daylight. (cf. Genesis 15:5-18) When the Lord Jesus Christ asked His disciples to come and follow Him throughout the Gospel, He did not promise any concrete or materialistic riches right then and there, He asked them to trust in Him.
God oftentimes will ask us to look and trust in Him! Even though we cannot make sense of what is going on in life or at the moment, especially why He would allow such things to happen, we are reminded that this faith journey is not based on a contract or something temporary. Our faith in Him is based on the covenant that will require much trust and the giving of ourselves, even at times we do not feel or understand why. In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, eight days before His transfiguration, Christ told His disciples that He will go to Jerusalem to suffer and give His life for the salvation of the world. Many of His disciples questioned the plan, and Peter who represented the disciples rejected and opposed the idea. However, He reminds us through His revelations that sufferings go hand in hand with glory, trials with the promise of the Kingdom. The life of Christian discipleship is not about the either/or option where we preach only about the “doom and gloom” negative message of continuous suffering or something that promises abundant riches and glories where one is set for life.
Just as life has its different seasons, it also has its own ups and downs, trials and blessings. Furthermore, there is a difference between happiness and joy! While happiness is based on apparent sentiments and passing emotions, joy is found in the in the deepest sense of belonging and loved by God. Even in the midst of the storms, we are not alone and joy is never gone. The Saints went through much oppositions and sufferings in their own lives, yet their joy in the Lord was never gone or taken away.
Our Christian joy is one of knowing WHO we belong to and who we are, especially through the relationship with the One who loves us. Furthermore, this personal, intimate, and heartfelt relationship defines and strengthens us in trying to understanding WHY everything that is going on in our lives is worth it and that this world has no power to rob it from us!
While many people can sacrifice and choose to train hard — at times, for years — for what they set their minds on objectively. Our faith journey and its objectives are much more than some passing glory or temporary satisfaction. It is much more than some jobs, careers, appealing choices, short-term goals, or contractual terms! Our faith is a covenant, the act of receiving and giving ourselves fully and completely in a personal, genuine, and intimate love to the One who loves us, even in the midst of trials, sufferings, ordeals, temptations, and hardships. The glory that we will receive at the end of the journey is the glory of love, one that is tested and tried, for we have chosen to stay, abide, and try to be faithful to love when times were hard.
The Lord Jesus Christ came, lived like us in all things but sin, to show us to truly be children of God through His very own life and examples. He taught us the real examples through His very act of self-sacrificial love! Therefore, if we are His disciples, we cannot separate ourselves from His path and mission. We cannot run away from our very foundational baptismal vocation. We cannot simply choose to separate sufferings from glories! Saint Francis of Assisi reminded us of this very reality in his own prayer, especially the part that that we often prayed but easily glanced through the words. Thus, let it reminds us of what is truly worthwhile, especially in deepening and enriching our loving desire and relationship with the One who loves us. Take the time to reflect on the words of his prayer again:
O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.