November 17, 2019

Are We Couch Disciples?

In the Gospel of Matthew (11:29), we read: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. Contrast this with the opening statement from the Gospel of Luke (12:49) for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Or still yet, contrast the following: (Jn 14:27) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid and (John 17:22) …so that they may be one, as we are one, with this statement also from today’s Gospel (Lk 12:51):  Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division, or its equivalent from the Gospel of Matthew (10:34): Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.

Will the real Jesus, please, stand up!

Jesus is truly meek and humble of heart. Jesus is the good shepherd who goes looking feverishly for his lost sheep and rejoices when he finds it again. But Jesus is also the one who cannot stand the duplicity and the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Jesus is also the one sent by the Father to show the Father’s infinite love for humankind without stopping to consider the personal cost before doing the Father’s will to the very end.

When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem. (Lk 9:51)

The only way to reconcile these seemingly contrasting statements is by realizing that being genuine disciples of Christ is the result of a radical choice that has to be renewed daily and be ongoing—without slacking off. It is a choice that, by its very attempt to be consistent with the teachings and the actions of Jesus, has to burn like fierce fire, cut like a sharp sword and plunge one into the same baptism of anguish and pain that Jesus underwent.

Here is the proof that if we choose to be true disciples we must be plunged into the painful baptism of the cross.

Jesus said to them, [James and John] You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mk 10:38)

To simplify, to understand and to live out this difficult Gospel passage without any softening agents added, I thought of the following terse, simple choice: we have to choose between being “couch disciples” or “cross disciples.”

I do not have to tell myself and you which type of disciples Jesus wants.

Couch disciples routinely, without any inner struggle or qualms choose mediocrity, non-engagement and care not to make any waves; they choose avoidance of confrontations, lukewarmness and the constant attempt to desperately blend in with the amorphous mass of non-committed people.

Cross disciples instead have etched in the back of their minds this phrase from Galatians (2:20): Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.

  • For love of Jesus they endure the fire that burns away their evil inclinations.
  • For love of Jesus they accept division, incomprehension, criticism, ridicule, persecution, ostracism even from their closest family members because they dare to bear witness to Christ boldly, openly, without compromises.
  • For love of Jesus they embrace a prolonged baptism of pain with courage, perseverance and tenacity.

Do you realize that in our country we have examples of cross disciples even nowadays?

  • I am thinking of those pharmacists, who chose to defy the shameful impositions of the Health and Human Services mandate; who opted to lose their job rather than trample upon their consciences.
  • I am thinking of nurses and doctors who have done the same rather than participate in the dismemberment of innocent preborn babies.
  • I am thinking of florists, photographers, bakers and other professionals who have forfeited their whole livelihood and are now homeless not to defy the concept of true marriage.
  • I am thinking also of all those who are making these excruciating decisions quietly but most resolutely and are seen by God, for sure, and perhaps by a few close friends.

Across the world we have myriads of cross disciples who, literally, shed their blood for Christ.

By now we understand the message that this difficult page of the Gospel is proposing to our reflection as a most extreme challenge. We are getting also the idea that the peace which Christ, the Risen Lord, is offering to this world comes with a steep price to be paid by each cross disciple who welcomes the fire that Jesus had brought and plunges into the baptism of our Lord and Savior. The Letter to the Hebrews (12:1-4) brings into sharper focus what Jesus proposes in the Gospel passage.

So, if upon careful reflection, we find out that we are couch disciples, this could be the last chance given us to reflect on this explicit statement from Jesus: Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mk 8:38)

This means that couch disciples can expect Jesus to disown them when all the chips are down.

Now, if we can honestly say that we are decent cross disciples, we still must admit that in the struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. (Hebrews 12:4)

We have to intensify and deepen our love for Jesus (as St. Paul and countless others did) and persevere in our struggle to eradicate our flaws, shortcomings and sins within and to engage bravely the forces of evil which are all around us until they are vanquished.

We must realize simply this: the situation in which our world verses is so worrisome and dire that, unless we enlist wholeheartedly in Jesus’ army with the real possibility of shedding our blood, the resurgence of this world will still a long way off.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin
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