Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Spirituality: At least try!
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
Recently, while stopping by a friend’s home for an unannounced visit, I was the unexpected party to a brief, tense moment between father and son. Seems Dad wanted to get the back yard fence painted before fall and son, a pre-teen, had been solicited to help. The son was not too eager to engage in the project, not because of laziness but because of inexperience and fear of failure. He offered every possible excuse. (“The paint will burn my fingers” was the one I liked best.)
In the end, an increasingly impatient Dad screeched through gritted teeth, “At least try!” Fearing for his longevity, the young lad tried — and, though not perfect at it, soon began to show self-satisfaction with his hidden talent as painter.
All of us have had the experience of not wanting to do something because it was different, appeared too challenging or seemed impossible at the time. We, too, have hesitated and offered our litany of excuses.
Discipleship with Jesus can face the same dynamic — especially if we truly are attentive to his demand to walk faithfully in the way of God’s Kingdom. Like the disciple in one Gospel scene, we can question, “Will just a few people be saved?” It appears that sanctity and closeness to God can be achieved only rarely. Why bother trying if such blessedness is a gift for only the few?
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus does not respond to the querying disciple with a threatening “Just do it! Because I said so!” He simply responds to the disciple’s cry of exasperation: Try!” (I wonder if he gritted his teeth?)
There’s a special significance in the word “try” for the disciple of Christ. A direct command on the lips of Jesus to “just do it” (implying, or else) certainly would strike us with its impossibility. Every one of us is familiar with the history of our failures and lack of success in pursuing a spiritual life. We know we are incapable of possessing perfectly the Kingdom. “Is that not a blessing for the likes of saints? Certainly it’s beyond the realm of possibility for us!” — our pre-teen insecurities in the spiritual realm may lead us to object.
Our culture is so success-oriented that we fear failure even in the relative privacy of the spiritual life. Knowing from the start that we will likely fail and certainly are no match for the Lord’s criteria for faithful discipleship, we don’t even want to start. We may go through the motions of pursuing a spiritual life (attending Mass, saying prayers) but not with that kind of generosity of heart that reflects the dedication and conviction of a true disciple of Jesus. Often we don’t even try. It’s easier not to.
To be a disciple of Jesus is a challenge. It is hard. There’s no doubt about it. To follow Christ means to pass through the narrow door. Jesus never once promised an easy path to those who would follow him — but he does even now promise fullness of life to those who do. He does promise the blessedness of walking in God’s way, but it will not happen by osmosis. It takes more than going through the motions of religious activity and ritual. It will not happen by merely attending Church, hearing Scripture with our ears and going though the Communion line. Jesus’ challenge to try is satisfied in action, yes, but action that is born of a willing heart. Trying is rooted in desire that is not intimidated by possible (even likely) failure, ridicule or rejection. For the disciple, trying is not just a matter of having a good intention of doing something (someday, of course). Trying requires that good intentions translate into action! The disciple of Jesus at least has to try.
Translating the Lord’s challenge into our contemporary situation, what would give witness to the fact that we are at least trying to follow faithfully in the way of Jesus? A few real possibilities may capture our attention: finding a specific time each day for personal prayer, a heart-to-heart time with God; making a conscious effort to attend Mass with special attentiveness of heart to the Scripture readings and prayer; taking care that conversation and decision-making are truly enlightened by the Gospel and not just opinion or personal preference; dealing with the reality of sin, using some form of daily examination of conscience and the frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance.
None of these are easy to do. They are difficult, practical challenges to discipleship. They give shape to the “narrow door” identified by Jesus. Is there an easier way? Easier ways seem to lead to self-deception and loss of spiritual muscle tone. Difficult as discipleship may be, at least we followers of Jesus have got to try.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish, Spokane.)
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