TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
It's a Friday during Lent and you know you are not supposed to eat meat, but you are riding home from campus with friends who all want to stop at Cook-Out for dinner and there are no non-meat options. The food smells so good. Do you eat that burger, or walk across the street to Taco Bell and order a veggie bean burrito?
The school is sponsoring a weekend trip off campus to do a service project. You'd really like to go, but you look at the itinerary and find out there is no opportunity for you to make it to any Sunday Mass. You would not be able to fulfill your obligation before God if you went. But you'd be helping people on the service trip, and God would want that, right? So what do you choose to do?
Your boyfriend is pushing you to take your relationship in a direction that you know is counter to Catholic morals. In your head you know it is wrong, but you are afraid of disappointing him. And a part of you really wants to... it is so easy to forget about your faith.
God knows it is hard. That is why He enjoins us in the scriptures today to "remain faithful to what you have learned and believed" (2 Tim 3:14). St. Paul tells us to "be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient." This is an important reminder for us. Most of us have no trouble practicing the faith so long as it is convenient. But as soon as we are challenged, as soon as we face difficulties, or as soon as we are tempted, we falter. The examples I mentioned above may seem frivolous to some. But they include some very serious matters. Attending Mass on Sunday is a serious obligation, and missing Mass for anything less than a serious reason (such as illness) is a grave sin. Our duty to offer corporate worship as a member of the Body of Christ is a serious duty before God. Are we too willing to neglect that obligation in favor of a lesser obligation to school, work, or a friend?
Sexual ethics have consequences for us both in this world and in the next. What the Church teaches carries with it the 2000 year wisdom of the saints as well as natural law moral principles. We know sex is for building union and for the gift of procreation and so belongs within the context of marriage. Yet how easy is it to let that go in exchange for temporary satisfaction of our own impulses?
We know in our heads and in our hearts what we ought to do in all these cases. But we too often lack the will. We drop the ball, not only in these matters but in so many other ways. Failing in our faith is so easy. Staying true to our principles is hard. Sometimes we may wonder why we bother at all.
We need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that staying true to the faith is hard. And that's ok. That's how it's supposed to be. Anything truly worth doing comes with some difficulty. Any goal worth achieving has to be earned. If you want to win that marathon, you need to train. And you don't just train when you feel like it. You train every day, rain or shine - when it is convenient and inconvenient. If you want to earn that degree you need to study, and not just when you feel like studying. That's a sure way to fail out of college. You need to study when you absolutely don't feel like doing it. Developing that discipline is how you get the high GPA.
The same is true of the faith. It requires discipline. It requires persistence. It is hard work sometimes. But it is worth it. Practicing the faith only when it is easy requires no faith at all. Practicing the faith when it is inconvenient, when it is hard, is a real virtue. God sees your struggle in these cases. He understand the uphill climb you may be facing. And He rewards the effort, even if you stumble and make mistakes. He knows you are trying and will help you do better the next time you find it inconvenient to stay true to Him.
So stay true to God, not only when it is easy but even and especially when it is hard. Follow the example of Moses in today's first reading. He knew that as long as he kept his hands raised, the battle would be won. But his arms grew so tired. Thankfully he had Aaron and Hur standing on either side of him, holding up his arms. With the help of faithful friends, Moses remained persistent. So too you need to have faithful friends who will lift you up and help you to remain true to God in times when you are tempted to give it all up. You need to have friends who will "convince, reprimand, and encourage" you, as St. Paul says, with patience and with love. And you need to be that friend to others.
In this way we can each help the other stay true to our faith. The gospel reading today gives us the famous line when Jesus asks if He will find any faith at all on earth when He returns. God knows how easy it is to loose faith. But it is precisely because the faith can be difficult that it is so rewarding. It is the chance of failure that makes success so sweet.
Your life is a contest; one with the highest stakes. The reward you stand to gain at the end if you live it well is ever so much more than a trophy or a diploma. It is nothing short of perfect and eternal happiness; unending love and joy in full communion with the God who made the Universe. This is what you were made for. So don't screw it up. Be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient - and especially when it is inconvenient. Ask for help if you need it; from good faithful friends who can be your support and encouragement, and most of all from God Himself. Ask for His strength; He will lend it to you. Ask for His wisdom; He will teach you. Ask for His love; you already have it. And if and when you do fail, ask for His mercy; He will forgive you.
And then get right back up. Shake it off. And go on training to be a saint. It is your destiny.