What was the most destructive day in the history of Christianity? After pondering this weighty question, one might arguably answer the day Jesus Christ was crucified, today celebrated as Good Friday.
When this challenging query was first posed to me, my questioner gave his own response: The worst day in Christianity came in February 313 with the publication of the Edict of Milan, the Emperor Constantine’s proclamation, which for all practical purposes overnight transformed Christianity in the Roman Empire from being proscribed to the religion of the state.
In the discussion that followed, my friend suggested that prior to Constantine’s proclamation moved Christianity from the shadows to the light, a positive move indeed, but it also, without intending to do so, made Christian discipleship too easy. During the centuries when the practice of Christianity is proscribed, being a follower of Jesus required determination, perseverance and a willingness to suffer. Overnight, through the Edict, many of the hardships of being a Christian were instantly removed; the challenge of the Christian life was greatly eased.
The freedom brought by the Edict of Milan in the patristic church finds new challenges from the secular, freethinking overly open world of contemporary society. Living the Christian life today requires us to have a relationship with Jesus, to know him and to be in communication with him. Once we gain sufficient knowledge and are in proper communion with Christ then we can begin to follow him through a life of dedication, demonstrable perseverance, fulfillment of responsibilities and manifestations of faith.
Our Relationship with Jesus
Relationships of any nature begin by building our knowledge of those with whom we seek communion.
If we want to have a better relationship with Jesus we need to improve our knowledge of him.
Yet, while the average person would always say they seek an enhanced relationship with the Lord, few are willing to take necessary time and effort to know Christ better. We rely far too heavily on our knowledge of the church from the last time we had any formal Christian education. We can and must do more and better if we wish to walk more closely and faithfully with Jesus. Opportunities to enhance our knowledge are all around us, but they require our time and effort.
There is no substitute for better knowledge of Christ in order to enhance our relationship with him, but must be combined with better communication, which lies at the heart of any relationship. Like everything that is worthwhile, communication takes time and so we must find, carve out if necessary, time each day to speak with God.
Knowledge of Jesus and enhancing our ability to communicate with him is central to living the Christian life, but what is necessary to be good and faithful followers of the Lord? The process must begin by our commitment to dedication.
First, dedication requires us to follow God’s law. The law, whether articulated in the Bible or through the natural law, is understood; we know what is correct and proper. Dedication will probably mean going against the flow, not being accepted by the majority, and even being unpopular or ostracized. Jesus warned his disciples about this. Dedication means total commitment. We are called to die to self so that others may have more.
Jesus summarized the dedication we must manifest in his timeless words: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide in the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)
We must be dedicated, but this great quality must be sustained with our perseverance. The road of discipleship will seldom be straight, unencumbered, and without a few chuck holes and detours. Relationships of all sorts, including our relationship with the Lord go through rocky times, but perseverance is absolutely necessary.
Remember the rather tenuous relationship between Jesus and his chosen chief apostle, Peter. The Lord persevered; he never gave up on his relationship with Peter and he will never give up on any of us. Since Jesus continually perseveres in reaching out to us, we are called to do likewise in our outreach to him.
There will be times when we do not understand what is happening; we might even question God. We must always remember, however, that God’s ways are not our ways and his time is not our time. Perseverance is absolutely necessary to be a follower of Jesus, to live the Christian life today.
After dedication and perseverance, the third element to successful Christian life today is meet our responsibilities, to ourselves, to others, and ultimately, of course, to God. Christianity indeed gives us numerous privileges, but with those privileges come significant responsibility. These responsibilities mean taking seriously what Church teaches and carrying it out in our daily lives. A responsible Christian life means frequenting the sacraments, especially confession, which is far too often neglected in our contemporary church.
The Christian life requires us to be dedicated, persevere in all our endeavors, and be responsible, but without the unifying glue of faith these important qualities, our quest will never be complete. While many good answers could be chosen my favorite response comes from the Letter to the Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." We cannot see God, but we believe; we cannot understand the concept of the Trinity, yet we believe.
Living the Christian life has never been easy, but the challenges that it presents make us better prepared and able to not only live today, but to ready ourselves for a return home to God at the end of our days. To satisfactorily be a follower of Jesus begins by better knowing the subject of our attention and finding ways to better communicate with him.
Our dedication, perseverance, and responsible attitude are wrapped together by being a person of great faith, believing what cannot be seen or touched, yet with full conviction professing our trust through all we do and say. The journey will not be easy, but the Lord never promised his followers an easy path. Rather, he promised the cross, but in a very real way the cross becomes our only hope. Thus, always live that hope in your daily walk as disciples of Jesus.
The Rev. Rick Gribble, CSC, will be giving a parish mission at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington on Sunday, March 9, at 7 p.m. And Monday, March 10, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. A longer version of this article can be found at benningtonbanner.com