by Elaine Tan
With his hands outstretched, the priest greeted the congregation: “La paz del Señor esté siempre con vosotros.” (The peace of the Lord be with you always.) In the same loving manner, he echoed the words that Christ said to His Apostles: “La paz os dejo, mi paz os doy.” (Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.) (John 14:27)
Like in any other Spanish Mass during my Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) walk, I was somewhat clueless because of the language barrier. Yet, as I stood there and as I looked around at the pilgrims of different nationalities responding in their own languages, I understood that this is a universal peace which Christ has given us.
Oftentimes, there is great temptation for us to let people and situations take our peace away; we may become bitter, angry, spiteful, and unsettled. But Christ, in His relentless love, wants to remind us to keep His peace in our hearts. It is a peace that the world cannot give, a peace that flows from the grace of His love for us, and a peace that transcends all understanding. He also adds: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” He wants us to know that there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18) and that though we will have trouble in this world, we can take courage for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
A takeaway from the Camino walk was that a heart that is alive is a heart that knows how to love and, therefore, a heart that knows how to suffer. As St Bernadette Soubirous put it: “It is in loving the cross that one discovers his heart, for divine love does not exist without suffering.” Just like our life in this world, the walk was a long and arduous journey. In life, we go through many trials and difficulties; some may seem to have the ability to break us and when we think that all is over, there is still more. Yet, in our sufferings we must recognise that as long as God is within us, they are not going to break us as His grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This world is a vale of soul-making, a great sculptor’s shop; and we are His masterpieces. He is moulding us, chiselling away our imperfections, and refining our broken edges.
In his book Three Philosophies of Life, Peter Kreeft states: “Job is God’s masterpiece, and his sufferings make him even more of a masterpiece. His objective happiness, or perfection, or blessedness (which includes his wisdom and courage and maturity) is in fact attained precisely by means of his subjective unhappiness, or suffering.” In trials and tribulations, we wait in faith like Job, believing in God as real and faithful even when experiences and appearances seem to show otherwise. Faith must remain even when understanding fails.
As we contemplate Jesus on the Cross – who felt forsaken by God and without any consolation – we learn to also believe in God out of sheer faith. And as God’s masterpieces, we are blessed in the waiting and are doubly blessed in the end as “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). We do not have to be afraid of sufferings because God is with us and in the end, we will find the glory of God.
Fearless Apostles of Christ
Jesus has a calling for everyone – different and unique to each of us, and according to our charisms – “by which he makes the faithful ‘fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church’” [CCC 798].
For Peter, it was to evangelise, and Christ was making him a fisher of men. Jesus said to Simon Peter: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10) Peter was generous and opened himself to grace; He took up the cross and made the effort to let God stretch him and enlarge his heart. On the other hand, sometimes we respond to His call with fear, pleading him not to call us.
In his address to thousands of young people at World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis urged: “Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to ‘vegetate’, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark.” He also added that if we let our fear fester, we will experience paralysis – thinking that happiness is convenience and comfort, staying put and doing things that we already know how to do. If we confuse happiness as such, we pay a high price by losing our freedom and our happiness becomes hollow.
We find freedom and happiness in listening to Jesus, who whispers to us: “Be not afraid, do not stand still, for I have created you and called you.” In following Him and seeking Him out, He will open to us opportunities to transform the lives of others in a true and generous way, through which we bear fruits that last and reconcile men with eternity.
As the Holy Father said: “My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal ‘more’. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security, and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy… This means being courageous, this means being free!”
Above All, Remember Love
We need to know deep in our hearts that we are loved – that we are His beloved. I once met a Sister of Charity who gave me an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At the back of it, she wrote: “Sacred Heart of Jesus I trust in You! Jesus in my Heart, I believe in Your tender love for me.” We need to remember God’s deep love for us and pray that God opens the eyes of our hearts to see Him and His great love for us. His Sacred Heart burns for us and His love for us is unending. In His love, there is no fear. In His love, we find courage. In His love, we are unafraid.
In remembering His great love for us, let us also be Ipse Christus (like Christ Himself), holding nothing back from ourselves. As St John of the Cross puts it: “Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.” Love is the only thing in this life that is stronger than death. It is the only thing that is infinite – that becomes more fulfilling the more we practice it. It never gets boring and it is never exhausted. This is because God is love and God is with us. The heart that is alive is a heart that knows how to love and, therefore, a heart that knows how to suffer. It is a heart that is willing to be involved in the lives of others and share in their hurts, just like the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
God spoke to Mary through Archangel Gabriel who appeared to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30) Out of great love and obedience, Mary went beyond her fears and responded to God’s call by pronouncing her fiat: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Jesus was thus incarnated within her. Her fiat of love made in surrender to God reminds us that, with humility, each of us can say “yes” to God and participate in the very life of God, in whom we find our deepest identity and real selves. We become an ark wherein God takes up His abode. And with God in us, we love others with His love.
We ask our Immaculate Mother to intercede for us.