A farmer had been inconvenienced for many years by a large, flat rock in one of his fields. He always had to plow around it, but in the process had broken several plows and a cultivator, which annoyed him greatly. Finally one day, after breaking yet another piece of farm equipment on the rock, he decided to get rid of it once and for all. When he put his crowbar under the rock, however, he discovered to his surprise that it was only about six inches thick, and that he could break it with a sledge hammer rather easily. As he was carting away the pieces, the farmer shook his head over all the trouble the rock had caused him, thinking that if only he had done this years earlier, he could have saved himself a lot of aggravation (Roy Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book, p. 269).
Quite often it’s best to face our problems head on. A woman named Ruth wrote this reflection as a metaphor for life: “One day I was standing on a road. This road is known by many names: Life, Growth, Achievement, Faith, Happiness. . . . I was just standing there, looking at something on the road up ahead. The thing I saw was a huge, mean- looking bull. And the bull was blocking my path. . . . For a long, long time I stood still, looking at the bull, hoping and praying it would somehow move from my path so I could continue along the road. However, nothing changed, except that I heard a distant voice whisper, ‘Do whatever it is you have to do in order to continue along the journey.’ That was the day I decided to take a deep breath, gather all the strength I could muster, and take the bull by the horns. I knew that in so doing I would have to accept whatever consequences followed—good, bad, or indifferent. Having decided to be completely responsible for whatever happened to me, I set aside my doubts and fears and marched right up to that bull, grabbed those horns, and said, ‘All right, bull! You’ve got to get out of my way or fight with me—which will it be?’ Well, you’ll never believe what happened next! That crazy bull sat down right on the road, sighed and spoke to me. ‘What took you so long in getting here?’ he asked. ‘I’ve been standing here waiting to offer you a ride. Hop up on my back and show me where it is you want to go.’” Ruth concluded, “What was thought to be an insurmountable problem turned out to be a great blessing instead. All that I needed was the courage to discover the blessing” (Brian Cavanaugh, Fresh Packet of Sower’s Seeds, #84). Someone once said that “Obstacles are the frightening things you see when you take your eyes off the goal” (Zuck, p. 270). Our goal is eternal life—and as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, take up our cross each day, and follow after Him, obstacles will be removed or turned into blessings, and we will achieve the promise of everlasting happiness.
Our Lord had an all-encompassing mission: namely, the salvation of humanity—and He knew that He could achieve this goal only by being rejected, falsely accused, unjustly condemned, and put to death, thus fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy from the 1st Reading.
Then, and only then, would He be raised up in glory as the Lord of all creation and the Savior of all who believe in Him. Jesus was very clear that His followers must be willing to travel this same path of self-denial, self-surrender, and absolute trust in God. As St. Paul says in the 2nd Reading, through baptism we have clothed ourselves in Christ— which means we must try to live by His values, and not those of the world. This can be a difficult and frightening road to travel—but those who seek to imitate Jesus will be given the necessary grace, courage, and strength to succeed.
A teenage boy named Brian leaving a bus depot in New York City encountered two young men, who demanded, “Give us your wallet.” “No,” Brian said. “We’ve got a gun, and we’ll shoot unless you give us your wallet.” “No,” Brian said again. “Hey, man, you don’t understand: we’re robbing you, so hand over your wallet.” “No,” Brian insisted, to which the robbers said, “Give us your wallet or we’ll knife you.” “No.” “Give us your wallet, or we’ll beat you up.” “No,” said Brian, as he walked away, leaving the frustrated robbers behind. Later one of Brian’s friends asked, “Weren’t you scared?” “Of course I was.” “Then why didn’t you give them your wallet?” the friend inquired, and Brian explained, “Because my learner’s permit was in it” (James Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, p. 127). There can be such a thing as foolhardy courage, and what Brian did was contrary to what all the experts would advise, but even this story illustrates that standing up to our fears often has unexpected blessings. This is sometimes true in a physical or material sense, and always true in regard to morality and spiritual growth.
All of us face obstacles on our journey to Heaven: people who seek to be a bad influence on us or even harm us, bad luck, failures and disappointments, poor health and physical limitations, financial worries, doubts and fears, and our own sinfulness and personal weaknesses. All these things can make our cross seem unbearably heavy at times—but Jesus calls us to persevere, promising that “whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” In other words, if we put all this world’s enjoyments and attractions and temptations in their proper place, and instead keep our eyes fixed on Christ, we will be given the courage we need to follow Him, one day at a time. Our Lord will not abandon us; He offers us everything necessary to succeed—but it’s up to us to use the spiritual resources and gifts He provides. This means, among other things, praying on a regular basis, and not only when we need or want something; reading the Bible and other spiritual books, so as to learn more about our Catholic faith; and participating at Mass and receiving the Church’s sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
Jesus is happy to encourage us, strengthen us, and help us—but He will not carry our cross for us; this must be our choice and our commitment. If we ask for the wisdom to make good decisions, it will be given; if we ask for the strength to persevere, it will be granted to us; if we ask for the courage to do the right thing, we will receive it. Living as a committed Christian is often hard; it’s never impossible; it’s always rewarding. This is a truth Jesus invites us to discover, and live, every day of our lives.