In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and Paul “…strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.’” They did not tell them that God would make things better for them in this life; the focus was on eternal life, the salvation of their souls. As we know, some disciples gave up everything to be in the company of the Apostles and follow the “New Way” of being in relationship with God. Many disciples were persecuted and some were martyred.
This message from Peter and Paul was not only for the Christians of the early Church, it is also for us today. It is expected that our faith will influence all the important decisions we make and sometimes those decisions will be difficult. Are we willing to make sacrifices and put other people’s needs before our own desires? Jesus himself tells us we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. We cannot allow our appetites and desires to dominate our life. If we live only for our self, we close our self off to the graces God wishes to give us and are destined for unhappiness. If our lives are not ordered to God, they are disordered.
What are some of the hardships you have endured? What is your most difficult trial? These come to all of us naturally; we don’t have to look for them. No matter how bad we had it on our worst day, there will always be others who will have had it much worse. Some will allow their trials to overwhelm them. They continue to look at their problems and in their imagination they become bigger than reality and they become bitter and depressed. Others, instead of dwelling on their trials look at Christ on the cross and find the strength to persevere. Those who draw close to Christ can even experience joy in the face of adversity.
The challenge is to experience our hardships in the light of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. If we unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ it becomes redemptive for us, and others as well. Not only that, Christ also lessens the weight of our burdens just as he promises. Hardships are necessary because they help us to become dependent upon Jesus Christ, to discover “his strength in our weakness.” There are some people who would never have turned to Christ except for their hardships.
In the Gospel, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” When Jesus tells us we must love one another he makes it a new commandment because he says we must love one another as he has loved us. In other words, we must love with a supernatural, sacrificial love. It is only possible to love in a supernatural way if we love God first above everything else, because He is the source of all love and everything that is good. If God is our first love, it will be possible for us to reach our potential in loving ourselves and others.
We can only love as Christ has loved us if that is the desire of our heart. If that is our desire, we ask for the grace to be faithful to what has been revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We make a commitment to pray every day, to live the sacramental life and to continue to be formed in the Faith.
God has great plans for all of us that require us to surrender our will to His will. In His will, we experience unconditional love and mercy which lead to happiness now and forever. If our will is in opposition to His will, we are destined for unhappiness.
Lord, give us the grace to put our total trust in you so that you may be our hope in adversity and victorious in our struggles.