When I read the life and struggles of the Prophet Jeremiah, I cannot but relate and sympathize with his vocation, especially his reservations about having to endure so many struggles as God‘s messengers. As a priest, I can relate to the prophet’s struggles as having to preach the unpopular messages of faithfulness, repentance, and conversion of heart. However, I cannot imagine the loneliness, distress, and personal struggles he had, having to face many ordeals and threats as people tried to silence and take his life. As a matter of fact, there is a beautiful rendition of the prophet in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo weeping for his people’s hardness of heart. One can see from the painting that he is tired of all the pains and hurts, loneliness and distress, but there is hidden love and hope as well. Perhaps his life speaks to us, serving as an important reminder that we will not be accepted at times and that we ourselves will have to weep for the love of the people around us, too.
Jeremiah was a peaceful person; however, his message shook people’s comfort. He told them of the near destruction of Jerusalem by the might of the approaching Babylonian armies. He called them to put their trust in God instead of the usual confidence in military efficiency and power, political maneuvers and alliances. Who would like to listen to someone who foretold of the people’s imminent destruction and exile? No one likes a prophet of dooms and glooms! No one likes to be challenged and shaken from their comfort zone. Hence, his life and vocation reminded us that to speak the truth is to be unpopular. To speak the truth and call out people for their wrongdoings is hard because it will put us into situations that would even endanger our very own lives.
Yet, we have seen similar exhortations from the Lord Himself. For example, in Luke 12:49-53, He reminded us that fidelity to Him is bound to be a sign of contradiction, division, and hatred — even from the people who are our family and close to us. Contrary to many popular beliefs where we think Jesus’ main purpose is security and comfort, granting our heart desires, He reminded us many times that He is often the cause of division.
Of course, for those who are with one mind and heart, seeking His will and conforming their lives to Him in humility, His presence will bring true peace and harmony even though they might have to endure the usual struggles. Even though there is unity among those who are united in Him, especially those who truly live by the truth and choose the life of discipleship, their lives will be hated as they are despised by others. Nonetheless, the Savior knew why and what He said!
He knew that His teachings will always be counter-cultural, different than what society wants, and oftentimes too radical for those who want an easy or plushy way of life. Hence, each and every one of us is still being challenged by His teachings today as the people of His time! If we truly want to conform our lives to Him, we will also be challenged, disliked, or even hated by others. We are not preaching a message of hate or arrogance; however, this discomfort is caused by the gentle and heart-tugging truths that we profess (instead of simply saying and doing whatever is popular for all).
Over and over again, the Lord reminded us that even the most valuable earthly ties are less important that our loyalty to Him. Everything in this world is less important than our vocation of being His disciples! I remembered a few years before my priestly ordination, as I was getting closer to the “finish line,” my parents sat me down to give me some personal and parental pieces of advice on how I should dress, act, and plan out my priesthood as to “secure and advance” in my ecclesiastical state of life.
Even though they were good, secularly sound, and ambition-oriented information, they were the ways of the world. I remembered having to muster all of my courage to tell them that was not what I want to do as a priest! They said that I am naive, foolish, and hard-headed because that is not how the world works. I remembered crying a lot after the conversation… First, they were tears of sorrow because my own parents did not understand me; but most important of all, I felt a sense of joy, freedom, and liberation because I knew what I have to do as a future priest. This was extremely hard for me because we do not talk back to our parents in Asian culture. Nonetheless, I knew that I can only be honest to the Lord Jesus Christ and try to live as He wills for me. I knew that I can only be at peace when I live as a priest He wants me to be, dependent on Him instead of what others wanted or expected, to love Him instead of trying to win the praises of others.
We are called to discern all things according to the truths revealed to us by Christ, rejecting what hinders and turns us away from Him in order to love Him more each day. (cf. Hebrews 12:1-4) Even though we might feel like a person who is tired and exhausted from the race, we keep trying our best to keep going and not lose sight of the Leader who is in front of us. At times, we will feel in our life of discipleship that things have not been easy and challenging, but we aim for the same joy and love that the Lord had when He endured the Cross for the love of us. Do not be weary and lose heart when there are oppositions, sorrows, and hardships! He is always with us and will not give us more than what we can endure. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Leader and Perfecter of our faith.”
We are invited to persevere and endure the race, even in the midst of trials and hardships! It is hard but we must not give up. Believe me, or at least believe in the saints and their lives who are finished with the race, that it will all be worth it when we see God face to face. If we have tried, no matter how much we might fail, we can honestly tell Him that we have truly done our best in loving Him and His people, even at times when we have to weep because it gets too much.