A few years ago, I had a student who, while not Catholic, was taking a theology class. She expressed to the class a desire to become Catholic, once her parents permitted her to do so. Her peers, as a whole, were shocked.
“Why would you ever choose to become Catholic?!” they asked in disbelief.
These students were thinking of the rules of the Church, I am certain. They were mulling over how we need to make sacrifices (particularly at Lent), how we have to go to Mass on Sunday, how we have to confess our sins to a priest, and the list goes on.
They were thinking of rules; I think she was thinking of life.
If we haven’t encountered Christ or if we have forgotten the encounter(s), we are quick to view life as a series of following God’s commands. It is simply something we ought to do because it is asked of us. Yet the commands the Lord gives are meant to give life. They aren’t hoops to jump through but are instead a path to an abundant, rich life.
Just the other day, a man in prison was talking about how his perception of a family member has completely changed. Before, this man considered the relative a “Jesus freak” and found it hard to swallow when seeing the person post Scripture passages or encourage him to go to church. Now? I’m not quite certain what happened in between, but the man ended up in prison and that changed his perspective by giving him time to really see how his life was going. He said now this relative is the only one he wants to spend time with when he gets out of prison. Instead of annoying, he sees this person’s life as something he wants for himself. This person’s joy, relationships, and success–all of it showed him that life in the Lord can change you. What is more: he desired the change that he witnessed in another.
For many, they don’t see the life and joy that can come from following the Lord. As Christians, we ought to reveal that new life and joy that comes in living entirely for the Lord. Now, I’m not a fan of homilies that say we need to smile through all of Mass because we should be joyous. My natural disposition isn’t very enthusiastic or grinning broadly. However, I like to think that my normal ordinary life can reveal the new life I have in the Lord. Sometimes I get worked up over things, sometimes my students make me upset, and sometimes I’m not cool and collected but anxious and worried. Yet, usually, deep inside, there is a calm, like the stillness at the bottom of the ocean even in the midst of a tempest.
The student I had saw something in the person of Jesus and wanted to draw nearer. It was surprising to students because they saw chains where she saw freedom. The man in prison wanted to live life his own way, without regard for the Lord. His way landed him in prison yet the witness of his relative set him free in the Lord. It was a glimpse into what life could be for him and he wanted that because he had seen where his own path led.
It is inevitable that we will bow to something. It may be money, appearance, honor, fame, drugs, education, or pleasure. Or it may be the Lord. The first promise freedom but actually enslave. The latter asks for service and surrender yet permits us to experience a freedom that is unthinkable without the Lord.
Who or what will you choose to serve? Will you willingly choose slavery to lesser things so that you can say you are free and follow no one? Or will you bow before the Lord and receive a newness and a freedom that will transform?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30