Receiving Christ is like the shout that triggers an avalanche. The voice is heard but not seen (sound has no matter, only frequency, it is not composed of material substance) and yet it brings about a cataclysmic event - real, tangible, powerful. That which is without worldly form - the voice of Jesus - effects very worldly change. The revolution of Jesus (for He is nothing short of revolutionary in every sense) brings us to the doorstep of the incomprehensible revelations He has prepared for us to receive.
I recently watched a movie in which an abandoned Viking boy, now grown to a man, was fighting the Nordic invaders who had landed on the shores of pre-Columbian America and were trying to exterminate the Native American dwellers in order to claim the new land as their own. One of the final scenes sees him clinging to the side of a cliff face as his enemy towers above him, condemning him for aligning himself with the ‘savages’ and turning his back on the race of his descent, ready to plunge a sword into him for the ‘treachery’ of not betraying the people who raised him when his own people had deliberately left him there to die years earlier (as a 7 year old boy he had refused to kill a Native American baby clinging to his dead mother and so his punishment had been flagellation and subsequent abandonment to death by starvation).
Before the Norse man could end his life, the hero of the epic cries out: "I know who my people are."
He does this several times, to the (initial) astonishment of his would-be executioner. Then a distant rumble coincides with the Nordic invader’s sudden realization of what his quarry is doing, but by then it is too late.
A leviathan shelf of ice shifts, pauses, and then sheers away from the side of the mountain high above them. Hugging the rock face, our hero shuts his eyes tight as the rushing curtain of snow hurtles over him but does not touch him. His aggressor is swept away in the avalanche.
This particular scene stayed with me long after the end of the movie, for several themes of the plot beautifully echoed the struggle of the modern day Catholics (and would-be Catholics) with crucial matters of identity, sacrifice and fear that are necessarily and inextricably interlaced with committing to a life dedicated to Jesus and the advancement of His kingdom.
We choose Christ, often to the forfeit of our happiness and even our own identity – often this means abandoning our homeland, forsaking misguided beliefs we have held fast to all our lives, losing family and friends unsympathetic on either cultural or religious grounds to our decision, being targeted by governments or militant/intolerant regimes and religions, having our civil or human rights threatened. All these things we risk when we choose to put Christ first in our lives. Our commitment to Christ necessarily transcends all allegiances to race, culture, lifestyle, beliefs, even goals. If Christ is truly first in our life, all other things either come after that primary fidelity or must be relinquished.
Declaration of devotion to Christ is a necessary step towards establishing a new identity – the hero’s declaration on the mountainside not only testified to his allegiance to the people who saved and raised him but it wrought a powerful and dramatic series of events. Announcing our dedication to Christ is not dissimilar to the cataclysmic outcome of a resonant voice in the mountains setting off an avalanche – when we testify to our alliance with Christ we are able to effect great change in the world. Our proclamation is a two-fold avowal – most importantly we are demonstrating to God that we are unafraid to declare our allegiance to His Son, and secondly the act of declaration activates the cogs of the unimaginable, life-altering machinery of a newly charged, spiritually vigorous life at work in the world. A life lived with the Holy Spirit at the helm transforms a once hollow, fruitless, meaningless existence into a spiritually dynamic, piously robust, incontestable force – for if we are for God, who can be against us? It places at our disposal the tools to effect inconceivable change in the world – prayer (undeniably the most powerful of these), forgiveness, compassion, fellowship, charity, mercy, love, acceptance, unity and joy. When we activate these things in our lives – in the world – we create an avalanche of change.
New embrace through abandonment - though the hero’s own people banished him, a new race embraced him. Sometimes we are rejected by those nearest and dearest to us for choosing to put Christ first in our lives but when that happens we find that the body of Christian believers, all the saints and angels of Heaven, and not least of all Jesus, embrace us.
Christ brings about the revolution that awakens in us His revelations. When we allow Jesus to revolutionize our hearts (and by this I mean overhaul our emotions, change the way we think, renovate our characteristic reactions and conditioned responses, refurbish our attitudes and outlooks), all of the obstructions blockading our path to the revelations of the Word and the wonder of His Resurrection become ash and smoke and are swept away without resistance.
Jesus alone is capable of instituting this epiphany of change in us, and by this I mean rouse mercy, compassion, forgiveness, love, charity and joy in us the way no other human relationship or happiness borne of the world can excite. The godly manifestation of the divine being of Jesus Christ in us when we accept the Holy Spirit into our heart is so profound, so tremendous, that nothing of our past experience or of our earthly erudition, or of our human comprehension can either describe it or compare to it. It is quite simply the reason why (to those who deny or ignore Jesus) Christians who have experienced such a revolution of identity appear to the rest of the fallen world as strange and extreme oddities given to outlandishly zealous passions. But then, becoming a true (and therefore irrepressibly evangelical) follower of Christ and His ways was always going to stand out in stark contrast when juxtaposed against a world plunged into darkness where all things are permissible, tolerable and acceptable when only measured against the fundamental human standards of ‘me first’, ‘me now’ and ‘whatever makes me feel good’.
Taking up the cross of Christ and denying the self is entirely anathema to the sensibilities of a world controlled by the enemy of Christ who advocates hedonistic indulgence of the self in order to lure the ‘chaff’ away from the ‘wheat’. Funnily enough, this chief adversary of our Lord conveniently omits to inform both his willing and unwitting followers that it is Christ who holds the winnowing sickle that will separate the good seed that has taken root in the Word and the Truth from the seed that has ‘fallen along the path’, in ‘the rocky places’, and ‘among the thorns’ (Matthew 8:4-8). Quite simply no sacrifice – not even the sacrifice of earthly dreams, worldly goals, human relationships or even our very identity – is too great when the reward is eternal life, peace, and joy in Christ, in this world and the next.
Accepting the Holy Spirit into us when we confess our sins, acknowledge our need for Jesus’ freely offered salvation and embrace the truth of the Resurrection is not a thinking response. It is not a reasoned acceptance of chronologically ordered and recorded, empirically proven facts and values based upon logical rationale, viable principles, corroborated information and authenticated evidence. In fact the revelation of Jesus Christ bypasses the intellect (which isn’t to say that it negates, repudiates or denies the element of intelligent consideration necessary to full and whole spiritual embrace), often so resistant to pure truth (especially where truth collides and conflicts with our naturally self-serving nature and needs) to reach the core of our heart.
At the crux of this lies the central, undeniable truth of humanity as it exists within and against the framework of spiritual reality: the heart does not so much accept truth as it does recognize it. Accepting something is the conscious, cogent decision to embrace it (a way of life, a belief, a course of action, a fact, etc). Recognizing something is an awakening to a universal and eternal truth we have been previously oblivious to or otherwise turned away from or else blinded ourselves to. It is an innate identification of an inviolable truth – an enlightenment. It is an ascension to a higher understanding, a heightened awareness.
Truth itself has always been, is now, and forever shall be (ever had someone tell you ‘just because you don’t believe it/believe in it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true’?). Truth is eternal. Fact is subject to conditions, to cause-and-effect, to contributing factors, to what we know at the time (ie, typically benchmarked by the extent, or lack thereof, of our scientific and technological advancement at any given time).
God’s truths are greater than the world’s facts. Eventually God’s truths will singularly and incontrovertibly sweep aside the world’s facts and a new, eternal structure grounded in universal, holy truths and sacred, heavenly canon will establish the model of the new kingdom that Christ will establish to replace our fallen world after Judgment. Our ability to embrace Truth is founded in our ability to recognize it, and to recognize Truth, we must be awakened to it. One thing alone can awaken us to pure, pious Truth – Jesus Christ.
Like the shout that razed the impermeable walls of Jericho (Joshua 5:1-27), the embrace of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, is the formless voice that triggers the avalanche of change in our hearts. First He revolutionizes – then the avalanche of revelation storms the fortress of our hearts.
Throughout the world, hundreds of thousand – millions perhaps! – teeter on the precipice of committing fully and incontrovertibly to faith in Jesus. What stops them tipping and plunging into the euphoric embrace of our forgiving Redeemer? What makes them balk, second-guess, question, hesitate?
Fear. Fear that in choosing Christ we may be required to forfeit anything that obstructs our relationship with Him, including our happiness and even our very identity. Fear of the mockery, persecution and exclusion that our declaration of devotion to Christ may very well provoke. Fear of the abandonment of family and friends who have chosen to reject Jesus and remain in the seductive embrace of an epicurean, illusory, temporary world.
We must combat this fear! We must conquer Satan’s stranglehold of fear planted deep within our troubled and trembling hearts. Doubt is the scythe with which he cuts down the tender reed of budding faith. Fear is the inferno by which he renders it unto ash utterly. Those of us confirmed and resolute in our faith – we have an irrefutable responsibility to those who teeter on the brink of commitment to Christ. We are called to mentorship in our pledge of allegiance to the Prince of Peace. We must take up every opportunity to encourage, embolden and enlighten our brothers and sisters, urge them to courage and conviction, to ‘take up His cross’, for the heart that commits to Jesus in spite of a fear of persecution, isolation and abandonment will be revolutionized. The heart that invites Jesus to reside within will have its doors flung open by His Holy Spirit and flooded with the light of revelation, Truth and hope. It is our indisputable responsibility to those who want to believe, but are held back by a plethora of fears, to support, hearten and champion them. Invite them to attend Mass with you and allow them to witness the restorative jubilation and perfect peace that the celebration of the liturgy brings to those who joyfully celebrate the Eucharist each week.
For those of you who hover at the periphery of faith, who linger on the fringes, curious but timid, compelled but diffident, I urge you to seek out even just one person with a knowledge of and deep love for Christ, with whom you feel you can freely and openly discuss Christ and your need to seek Him. A neighbor. A friend. A relative. A colleague. Your local parish priest. Ask many questions. Confide in them your fears. Invite their counsel. Request their guidance in prayer. If you chose to step off the precipice in faith, if you elect to boldly court persecution and ridicule in this world in order to be reconciled in love, grace and forgiveness with Jesus, He will do the rest. He alone can snatch away the fear that His enemy implants in hearts. He alone can clothe you in the armor of boldness and courage required to live for, in and through Him. He alone can reveal to you His truths, His mysteries, His revelations.
It takes but a little faith on our part for Him to entirely revolutionize our hearts and our lives.
Step off the edge, those of you who believe and yet still doubt, and those of you who doubt and yet want to believe.
Shout out your own bold declaration.
A single shout razed the walls of Jericho.
A single shout triggered an avalanche.
A single shout will bring about the revolution in your heart that awakens it to the revelation of Jesus.
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