Monday, December 21, 2020

“But it’s so hard, Father!” Yes, but so was the first Christmas.

 This is such a common response by people who show some interest in improving in their spiritual lives. It’s so common that if I don’t hear this lament from them, I wonder if they have really heard what it was I was asking them to do when it comes to putting in effort to live a converted life.  This is most common when I am trying to impart the importance of things like forgiveness, making effort to pray, making confession a regular feature in one’s life or doing all one should be doing to overcome a habitual sin in life.  But the very common and persistent one that is met with this response has to be forgiving those who have hurt them.

There seems to be a mistaken notion (and a very commonly held one) that the spiritual life should be easy or something close to a walk in the park.  No one said that it would be easy.  Even if Jesus did say that his yoke is easy and his burden light, it is still a yoke that needs to be borne, and a burden that needs to be carried. What he does promise is that he would be carrying it with us, but not for us


The truth is that nothing in life that is meaningful and has a great positive effect on our souls is easy. Easy things are never the deep and life-changing things.  Watching Netflix is never a challenge, but it also doesn’t do much to bring our souls closer to God.  An afternoon spent at a soccer stadium watching our favourite team playing against a rival team doesn’t require much effort on our part (at least not in the intellectual sense) but it also doesn’t impact the way that we mature to becoming better human beings.  In fact, sometimes it has a negative impact on our spiritual lives, when football turns into footbrawl.


So why does it surprise anyone then, that forgiving those who give us grief in life should be something that is very difficult?  That’s because being able to come to that point in our lives that we are putting a lot of effort and energy to show mercy and forgiveness to them shows that we are also willing to be Christ to them.  And more to it, it is imitating Christ at his most vulnerable and most powerful as well, which is the time when he gave himself up so humbly and willingly on the Cross of Calvary for sinners who were unrepentant.  This happens when we will ourselves to love those who do not love us back.


We need to remember that the entire mystery of the incarnation of Jesus becoming man, and entering into sinful humanity with love and effort, saving it by dying on the Cross WAS NOT EASY. Of course he is God, but he is also fully man, who also has human feelings and sentiments, who felt tired and hungry and thirsty like any normal human being.  The incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas is real acknowledgement that we are appreciative of just how much trouble God went through to become one of us so that we can become him (I’m paraphrasing St Ireneaus here).


I don’t think that wanting things easy is something that is only seen in entitled millennials.  This is something that lies deep inside every flawed and sinful human being.  Even Mary who was conceived without original sin had to go through so much hardship for her to be used so effectively by God in the whole plan of salvation for humankind. 


Here in Singapore, we have been able to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus to a large extent with many of us cooperating by practicing social distancing and wearing masks, and being responsible in enabling contact tracing.  This has also enabled Christmas Masses to be held, albeit in very limited numbers.  Those wanting to come for Christmas Masses are required to make online bookings for available spaces and when the time for booking came, all Mass bookings were filled and taken in a matter of mere minutes, leaving a large majority of Catholics disappointed, irate and frustrated.  


I could hear the chorus of “it’s so hard” coming from the ground up.  Yes, it was, but so was the first Christmas for Mary, Joseph and most of all, Jesus. The incarnation was something that truly changed everything for all of humanity, and it was also truly difficult. 


Let us not hope for things to be easy for us when it comes to matters of our souls getting shaped and readied for heaven.

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