Setbacks and disappointments are a part of the Christian’s journey. Today’s Gospel reminds us that even Jesus experienced such things, and the Son of God who knew and made manifest the Divine Plan “withdrew” at the news of the murderous beheading of John the Baptist; he who came to make way for Him. But like Jesus, and just as the Gospel illustrates, we cannot be thrown or “derailed” in our Christian mission.
There are many challenges to us as Christians. There are especially many challenges to men and women who contemplate religious vocations; men to priesthood and women and men to religious & consecrated life. As we discern, we discern from the heart and we ask God and ourselves whether we’re strong enough in mind, body and soul to give ourselves totally to God (and not to God and another human being as in marriage). But then we experience the “human” side of a religious vocation. That is where a vocation is tested. The human dimension of a religious vocation will expose, if even only to ourselves our own weaknesses and shortcomings and we ask God often in lamentations, where do we go from here? The human dimension can often reveal the dark side of humanity. John the Baptist was a popular preacher and led many people to Christ Himself, but before his work was fully accomplished, his life was taken from him. Even though this surely was Divine Providence, because here we are more than 2,000 years later drawing strength and courage in our own Christian lives and vocations from the Baptist, it was a great blow to the “Divine Mission”. Jesus withdraws and finds strength; He is called forth because the People of God need Him. So too for us.
Canadian society and the laws of the land are becoming harder and harder to understand; being a good Catholic and playing an important role in Canadian society seems to be becoming harder and harder. And this seems to extend worldwide. The “culture of death” seems to be permeating the minds and social conscious of many places in the world. Many who are outspoken see the Church as “irrelevant” in our times. Even within the confines of our own Catholic Christian Church we have seen horrible abuses by clergy and evils by many of our people which seem to contribute to a sense of this irrelevance. We feel a need to withdraw, to retreat and to regroup; to refresh ourselves in Truth, in catechism, in theology, in apologetics and IN LOVE & MERCY. But like our Lord, we are called to go back out into the mission fields and bring the much needed, most important message of salvation to all! We are all called to do that as Disciples of the Lord. Most especially those the Lord calls to religious vocations cannot be afraid. Dedicated men and women cannot be afraid of what the world “villanizes”, even if it’s the priesthood or a religious vocation. I highlight these vocations not to take anything away from the married vocations, which have suffered too – we need dedicated Disciples of Jesus entering the sacred bonds of marriage as well. Through them, religious vocations are founded and grow.
We also need perspective. This is NOT the worst time for us as Christians; it is a trying time, but so was the time God chose to enter the world – John the Baptist and Jesus had it harder than we do. Darkness and sin has attached itself to the Church throughout the ages and the Lord’s words to St. Peter must be words of hope for us: “the gates of Hades” will not prevail against the Church. Our Church may be leaner at times, with less committed members, but as Disciples, we are calling forth others to be dedicated to the mission – and we can be assured they will come.
And we must remember, that although setbacks can be demoralizing and we may retreat or withdraw to prepare ourselves; we cannot remain there. Like Jesus our Lord Himself gives witness especially today: we are here in this world for others, and outward and onward we must go for the good of us all! May God bless you.