By Fr. Michael Hollings
When Christ said to his disciples: "Ill be lifted up, I will draw all men to me", he may not have been understood immediately by those who heard him. In hindsight, the evangelist could tell us that by this he was signifying the death he would undergo, but I am left wondering how much they grasped . . . any more than we who are human also grasp the message of the Gospel today.
One of the troubles with being human is that we arc so good at failing to face up to reality, if that reality is unpleasant or &madding. We edit out of our lives the thought of death; we anaesthetise pain wherever possible, we can ever get to a mental attitude where we come to believe that good is what we think it to be — that anything is moral if we can say it is fulfilling a person, or making him happy..
Over against this first trouble of our nature is the trouble that it is for this very reason that Jesus Christ took on that nature.
He lived it out, with all the I costing and demand. And in the midst of it, through it and beyond it, knowing the cost, he deliberately called human beings to follow him.
It was not a call to prosperity and an easy life: it was not a call out of pain into drug-induced bliss; it was not a call to a warm, Technicolor cotton-wool-cloud-cuckooland. Christ said: "If any man will come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.'
It is important for us today to face up to the way Christ went about ailing his first followers, so that we do not "edit out" the hardness. They discovered the hard way! They left home and family for him; he said that he was a person who, though the birds of the air even had nests, had nowhere to lay his head.
The disciples took on the following ... and then they said in effect: "It's all very well, but now that we have done it, what do we eet out of it?"
The reply of Jesus was, first ... here and now, materially, all you get is a cross, homelessness, persecution. death; secondly, you get a sort of lightness in carrying the burden, and a certain joy in you which no one can take away; thigdly, you have in the future a being which is beyond all your dreams of earthly wealth and comfort and love ... because you will inherit the Kingdom of God.
• But how human they were! They still could not face it all. Peter the leader did not want him to "go up to Jerusalem" ... because this meant danger, even death. Few people can have had such an outspoken denunciation for stupid thinking, tempting God-man to worldly points of view . . ." Get behind .me Satan!"
When Jesus was busily engaged in teaching and healing, some people wanted him to take time off for his mother and cousins .... it is too much not even to have time for your mother! They personally were tested in loyalty beyond the strength of their love, and ratted on him when he was arrested.
Yet eventually . . . and hopefully for us . .. each one in the end came through with joy in the Spirit, despite difficulties, misunderstandings and persecution . . . came through with joy to die in and for him.
We are now approaching Passiontide, and the climax of that 40-day period given to us annually to face Christ, ourselves and the choices in the life which lies ahead. Remembering you are baptised in Christ's suffering and in his death and in his Spirit, will you with me face a short examination of conscience?
Each one baptised is immediately part of the Church — men, women and children, there is no distinction. Or is there? In theory all are equal before God; in practice there is hierarchy, for bishops and priests manage to discount the "royal priesthood" of the unordainedbaptised. Be honest . . don't we?
Then are not women in the Church second-class citizens in a male-dominated kingdom?
And could not many of us examine our attitude to young people who are (hopefully?) to be seen in church, hut not heard in the Church?
Jesus did not think it beneath him to empty himself and become a servant, learning in the school of humility. But the more each of us goes on, the more difficult it is to accept advice, criticism, the movement of the Spirit in unexpected people and places. But the time is past when consultation can be satisfied by setting up structures, when ' lipservice can be paid to renewal, and the holy logic of renewal and its uncomfortable consequences ignored. "I came," said Christ, "to cast fire upon the earth . . . and what would I but that it be kindled."
They said of Christ that he was unlike others . . . he spoke
with authority. The depth of this power was threefold. First, however disquieting, what he said had the ring of truth; he spoke for his Father; he spoke eternal truth here and now in his own time and life.
So, secondly, he authenticated what he said by the way he liJed.
And this, thirdly, was because he spoke authoritatively with love, and lived love.
Dare I ask myself if my "pronouncements, whether as bishop, priest, religious, parent, teacher, young person or friend, have lost either or both authority and authenticity? Authority . am I really rather in a muddle, rather afraid, not altogether confident in the Spirit guiding the Church?
As for authenticity, am I practising what I preach as a Christian, exuding the poverty, humility, love and Care of Jesus Christ himself? If I am not BEING CHRISTLIKE, it will be better not to preach his Good ,News in words! A hard doctrine... yes! And that is why Christ asks me to face him and life and death and resurrection in Lent and Passiontide.
For we are all to die, and all arc called to die in Christ so as to rise with him; the pattern he set is that in order to achieve this we must now follow him and live in him, and he in us.
Try sitting emptily with and in God. Let him infuse you widely and deeply with His love which is all-demanding; and then, in the example of Christ and Our Blessed Lady, try to say and live "YES".
Pre-publication sales of Michael Hollings's latest book ("The Shade of His Hand," published by MayhewMcCrimmon) have already reached 20,000 copies. The coauthor is Etta Gullick.