Monday, February 12, 2018

The great gift of courage that Christ gives his beloved.

Courage is a virtue that is universally prized and admired.  It is a quality that is desired across the board – from leaders of nations to prospective spouses.  Parents across the world would like to see their progeny grow and become brave and courageous adults, being fearless when facing the many challenges that life can bring, as it often does.

God, who is our ultimate parent, is even more intent on wanting to see his children live and flourish with courage.  Many times in Jesus’ ministry to his disciples and the crowds that followed him on his walkabouts did he tell his listeners to have courage and to not be afraid.  Yet, if we are honest about it, we find ourselves limited and even paralyzed by the many fears that grip us in life.  As a result, we oftentimes fail to make much headway to reach the potential that we are capable of attaining. 

The kind of courage and the nature of the courage that Jesus wants to give us has a different depth and essence that is not on the same level as the courage that most of us think of when we refer to courage.  Our frame of reference is more often than not limited to the tests and trials of this life, which is understandable.  So, when we speak of having courage, the challenges that we have in mind are often the things that we can overcome by our own efforts, skills and talents.  Students study hard to face and overcome the challenges of tests and exams; friends who experience betrayal and hurts overcome and deal with them by exercising forgiveness and extending mercy, and people who have suffered losses in their business ventures and investments are courageous when they pick themselves off the ground and with tenacity forge on and do not let their failures cripple them.  These are very legitimate and evident displays of courage that can also often inspire other folk who suffer similar trials and setbacks in life to face them with a similar tenacity. 

But the courage that Jesus ultimately wants to give us isn’t so much resilience against what confronts us in this life but what is our final bastion that we all must face – the end of our lives.

St Paul understood this so well when he asked brazenly “death, where is your sting?”  No matter the kind of challenges we may meet in this life, they pale when put against the ultimate challenge that each one of us inevitably has to face when our time on this side of heaven ends.  The courage that Jesus comes to give us is the kind that enables us to be fearless beyond the precipice of death.  When Jesus said that he comes to give us life that we may have it to the full, he didn’t limit it to merely what this life here accords us.  The fullness that he wants us to have extends past the flat line of the ECG machine, and this is where the courage that this world and all it stands for meets its limit.

Each of the canonized saints of the Church who had died a martyr’s death is a vibrant testimony of a life that had this kind of courage in an extraordinary way.  It’s not that they didn’t value or love this life, but they knew without a doubt that what Christ came to give us all is much more than what this life can give and what this life can promise. 

I would err on the side of insensitivity if I dismiss the reality of the pain of separation that all deaths entail.  To not fear death does not mean that one’s loved ones and relations who remain should not experience the reality of the vacancy one leaves behind in their hearts and lives.  This ‘gap’ is real, causing sorrow and grief.  We too, will do well to handle this with the courage that Jesus gives us, making real what Shakespeare said of death’s parting being a ‘sweet sorrow’.

When we waver in our belief in the promise of Christ, it reveals itself in the ways that we are afraid of death, or the many forms of little deaths that life brings – some examples that come to mind are the dying of the ego; sudden and unexpected humiliations; and the ways that we may be asked to be generous with our possessions, time and skills, often at the most inconvenient of times.  The courage that Jesus wants us to have when facing our ultimate Death (with the capital D) extends to and includes the courage to face these little deaths that we meet each day as well.  If we don’t do the latter with ease, we will hardly do the former with much conviction either.

Praying for a happy death necessarily means that we are also ready to be happy with these small deaths as well. 

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