Keep the faith…don’t give up!

Photo on 2011-09-24 at 13.15

St. Paul, in today’s First Reading, gives some very good advice to the Hebrews and subsequently to us, exhorting all to persevere and not lose hope. That sounds pretty laudable, but what exactly are we to persevere in and not to lose hope of?

It is nothing less than to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves with the certain hope that such behavior will merit us everlasting life. Loving God above all things seems doable, yet how often do we witness our own weakness and how does it take us away from serving the Almighty and giving Him the praise and thanksgiving that are His due?

If that wasn’t enough, we also have the exhortation about loving our neighbor, which we all know is frequently difficult. It simply isn’t enough that we merely avoid overtly offending our neighbor, but also, that we don’t withhold anything that might assist him on his way to the Kingdom of heaven.

Taken all together, it is a big bill to fill and no wonder we need God’s grace to accomplish it. Yet, praise be to God, His grace is not lacking for those who seek it and utilize it as the freely given gift that it is. Persevere then; don’t lose hope. It was good advice then and it certainly is now.

Satan is always trying to get us to surrender our confidence, to draw back, to give up, to commit spiritual suicide. To keep the faith, we have to endure “a great contest of suffering”. This contest lasts a long time. Relief in our sufferings seems indefinitely delayed. Any benefits from our sufferings seem to be invisible or negligible.

Under these circumstances, we naturally feel like giving up. Satan will even let us give up without appearing to give up everything. He’ll let us keep the trappings of Christianity as long as we’re lukewarm in our commitment to Jesus. So it’s very easy to give up and not even look bad to other Christians.

How many church-goers are just going through the motions? We can look like a Christian while actually being quite unlike Christ. How many spouses are divorced in heart and spirit although not on paper? How many parents have long ago given up discipling their children? How many churches have given up on trying to evangelize?

If you’ve given up on life and on God, repent. The Lord will take you back. If you’re keeping the faith but wondering how long you’ll have to suffer, fix your eyes on Jesus, and you will rejoice in the measure you suffer for Him.

And so when St. Paul encourages us to “keep the faith” by not forgetting the ways in which we shared in the sufferings of those in prison, it really reminds us to keep demonstrating our faith by continuing to share in those confinements, however they are created for our sisters and brothers.  And when we are told we have joyfully accepted the confiscation of our property, I think it really means to be mindful of the need to detach our true selves from the wondrous bounty that surrounds us, and to realize that the true gift we have received is not physical things that will fade away, but the salvation we receive from trusting in the Lord.  We keep our faith by keeping our focus, by committing our way to that of the Lord.

And so my prayer today is twofold – deep gratitude for the many gifts I have received that enable me to live the life I enjoy, and resolve that I may share more fully in the sufferings of my sisters and brothers and detach myself more intentionally from holding my gifts too closely and selfishly.


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