Faithful under Fire
October 16, 2021 (readings)
- Saturday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
- Fr. John Bartunek, LC
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.”
Opening Prayer: I come before you, Lord, to praise and bless you. You have filled the earth with your glory, with signs of your goodness, your power, your wisdom. I want to live with an awareness of that, of your presence and your love reaching out to me at all times. In this time of prayer, please grant me the grace I need to grow in the faith that will open my eyes to your glory.
Acknowledging Christ: Jesus encourages us to acknowledge him before others. He promises that if we deny our allegiance to Christ, we will break our connection with him—he will not acknowledge us to the angels in heaven. What does it mean to “acknowledge Christ before others”? It means so many things! Everything we do that indicates to others our faith in Christ is a way of giving witness to Christ. Pausing to pray and make the sign of the cross before a meal at a restaurant or in the cafeteria is a way of acknowledging Jesus. Arriving late to a social engagement because we attend Mass on Sunday is a way of acknowledging Jesus. Speaking calmly but clearly about the Church’s teaching on moral and social issues, even defending those teachings when they are attacked, that too is acknowledging Jesus. Having religious images in our houses is a way to acknowledge Jesus to those who come and visit us. If in our own minds and hearts the core of our identity is that we are disciples and messengers of Jesus Christ, almost everything we do will in some way announce to those around us that he is real, that he is the Lord, and that we belong to him. And the more we do that, the deeper our bond with him becomes, and the greater our joy will be, now and forever.
Resisting God’s Grace: God’s mercy is infinite; we can never sin so badly that he cannot forgive us. And yet, Jesus says in today’s Gospel passage that those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. How to explain this apparent contradiction? The one thing that impedes God’s mercy is our persistent refusal to accept God’s mercy. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, is active in the world communicating God’s love and grace to human hearts. To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to refuse, over and over again, the love and grace he offers. To die in that state of refusal is to die outside of friendship with God. We all need God’s mercy and grace—the “gift” of “righteousness,” as St. Paul puts it in today’s second reading. Refusing to receive what we need for salvation means we won’t experience salvation. This is a sobering thought. Somehow, although we can’t save ourselves without God’s grace, God still respects our freedom so deeply that he won’t force us to live in that grace. Here is how the Catechism (1864) puts it: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”
Preparing for Persecution: Jesus makes it clear that if we are faithful to his friendship, we will at times find ourselves in situations where it will be difficult, costly, to acknowledge our faith in him. Many of his first disciples, including the Apostles, were taken “before synagogues, before rulers and authorities,” because of their Christian faith. This fallen world and the diabolical powers at work within it are not fond of the truth of Christ and the demands it makes on us. And so those who proclaim and bear witness to that truth will run into opposition and be called to give an account of their counter-cultural beliefs, standards, and actions. We are not to be afraid of that. We are to trust that God will actually use that opposition and persecution to further this Kingdom. The Holy Spirit will guide us in those times of crisis and suffering and will work through us to allow the Gospel to penetrate hearts that otherwise might not be reached. This wasn’t just the case for the early Christians. This isn’t just the case for Christians who live under violently anti-Christian political regimes. This is the case for all Christians who stay true to their friendship with Christ. Sooner or later we will face a choice to acknowledge or deny our Lord in a stressful situation. Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about that: …do not worry about how or what your defense will be… (Luke 12:11). But neither does he want us to be blindsided. He wants us to be ready, to be unsurprised, and to trust that the Lord will be with us making all things work together for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28).
Conversing with Christ: I am sorry, my Lord, for the times when I have hidden my Christian identity. You know how weak I am, how vain I am, how anxiously I want to be accepted and welcomed. And sometimes I fear that acknowledging you as my Lord will lead only to ridicule, or even to rejection. I know that you can handle those situations, that you will never abandon me, even if others do, even if they persecute me. Holy Spirit, make me strong in my faith, joyful in my trust, and courageous in my love for Jesus Christ and his everlasting Kingdom.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will look for an opportunity to acknowledge Christ to others that I normally might not take advantage of, and I will take advantage of it.
For Further Reflection: Pope Francis’s Message for World Mission Sunday, May 31, 2020.
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