By Bishop Joseph N Perry
“Rabbi, where do you stay?” “Come and see,” Jesus answered…. and they stayed with him that day.
I wager you would agree with me that life is lived best with devotion. Devotion supplies meaning and purpose to all things important in life.
Devotion means that I am focused upon duty and responsibility and obligation so that life for me and others I come in contact with might be blessed and fortunate. I bestow dignity upon others if I can be devoted to them in service and love.
In the times within which we live where there exists all kinds of choices and lifestyles, some good and others bad, we need to sort out what helps us live devotedly to our spouse and children, to our friends, to the church, to studies in school, to the people for whom I work and from whom I take a salary. It is the Christian way.
Devotion supplies that personal energy needed to build a worthwhile life.
What inspires a life of devotion is the inspiration we receive from the life and death of Jesus Christ – whose Incarnation –becoming flesh- in this world set him on a path of stellar devotedness that saw him give up his life so that you and I might have Life. We witness so much tragedy in life and read and hear reports that usually unravel a story of a person’s lack of devotion, infidelity, immaturity or disorientation.
Another way of explaining it might be our desire to be “intentional” with our lives. Success in life is spelled by being intentional with what falls to us. Married couples cannot remain faithful to each other unless they are intentional with their vows to remain true to each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health till death do they part. Priests cannot remain faithful to the Church unless they are intentional with their vows to remain personally sacrificial while serving people and leading others to God. Young people cannot grow to be responsible adults unless they learn early on what it means to subtract from themselves in order to add to someone or some thing else, taking to heart the wisdom received from influential adults in their lives and learning early on the importance of religious observance.
We need intentional living in order to navigate the mixed messages and false advice we pick up from the culture so that we can improve on the many ills that our society suffers today. Notice, the popular culture speaks to us loud and clear especially through the lives of celebrities and stars of stage and screen and sport that: ‘You should commit to nothing and no one, so that you might have everything!’ But, there are those who commit to nothing and lose everything. Christian philosophy has always set forth that life is lived best if there is some thing or some one we are willing to live for, even die for. For the Christ we love and admire did just that with us in mind. The saints and martyrs of Christianity lived in such a way.
This passage from John’s gospel sees several young men advised to transfer their allegiance to a rabbi from Nazareth, having first been students of John the Baptist. In those days it was customary for young men to come under the influence of a tutor, a master who would lead them along the paths of wisdom and maturity and religious observance. Meeting Jesus, when they ask him, where do you stay, it usually meant ‘Master, where do you teach from, where is your classroom, in other words.’ Jesus answers, “Come, and see!”
For you and me, Jesus’s classroom is here in Church where we meet Him, hear his lessons from the textbook of the scriptures, learn the mysteries of life and spirit and the wisdom involved in living well in order to understand the kingdom being prepared for us.
From time to time, it helps to reflect upon our willingness to be intentional with our faith and other obligations, renew our attitude with our commitment to live as Jesus teaches.
Most of us inherited our faith. It was bequeathed to us by previous generations. We were brought to the baptismal font as infants. We grew up in the church. We were tutored in the basic truths of the faith. We were fortunate if we saw those truths exemplified in our families. Loving parents, fellow Christians, clergy and other model adults made the idea of a loving God believable. The necessity of sharing with our brothers and sisters – siblings – planted in us the seeds of generosity and sharing. Receiving fair treatment along life’s way helped us to learn to trust. By being forgiven we learned to forgive others while learning that we are loved by God despite our mistakes. In other words, Christian faith was a part of our development. It was natural to become a follower of Jesus Christ. We cannot remember when Christianity was not a part of our lives.
Nevertheless, some of us may have had the opposite experience. Some of us may have grown up in homes where there was little love and much dysfunction, little mutual acceptance and a lot of hurt. Consequently, faith and trust may not come easy for some of us. What does the church have to offer those of us with that kind of experience?
The gospel passage from John today tells us about the first ones to become followers of Christ. One day John the Baptist pointed them to Jesus, saying, “Look, there is the Lamb of God… you should go and be with him now.” These young men followed Jesus and spent the rest of the day with him. Andrew goes and invites his brother, Simon. Then two other brothers, James and John join them as well right from their fishing boats. For these young men this was the beginning of a new adventure, their new life, their Christian life.
Faith’s starting place is wherever we are at the moment. We must start where we are with all our doubts, our wounds and scars and failures. This is what Andrew and Simon and the others did. Vocationally, these young men were fishermen. Religiously, they were Jews, some of them as we heard under the tutelage of the prophet John the Baptist. Obviously they knew very little about Jesus. They did not recognize Jesus until John pointed him out to them. But the young men started right there where they were and ultimately became among the most admired young men of all time whose names are enunciated to this day in the scriptures and among the litany of the saints. Faith’s starting place is wherever we are.
Where we find ourselves initially may not seem promising. Some of us admit to knowing little or nothing about our Catholic faith or of having been lukewarm or some-time with our practice. Some of us may have lived lives that Christian faith cannot endorse. Others of us may have tried to follow Jesus and had little if any success. We may be reluctant and a little embarrassed to try again. Others of us may not be sure we want to try. We have doubts. We are like that man who said to Jesus: “I believe Lord, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9, 24).
Some of us may be like that young man who asked Jesus directly what he could do to have eternal life and Jesus challenged him to get rid of everything he possessed and come follow him (Mark 10, 17). But the young man backed away from Jesus incredulous for, as the gospel explains, he had many possessions.
All these things are problematic but none of them prohibits us from following Jesus Christ. Certainly, Jesus confronted people with a way of living and challenged them to try it. This is not to suggest that Jesus’ way is easy, but it is a proven way of living if you can be intentional with it.
Our religion, over two thousand years old, bears a wisdom for us in face of the constant questions life presents:
Can marriage work? Can a man and woman share their lives, be faithful to one another and build a stable home for their children? It is hard to say. Millions have tried it. Many have failed at it, but more have succeeded. The evidence suggests that marriage can indeed work. But you are not wondering about marriage in general. You are wondering about a particular marriage, your marriage, or the marriage of one of your children or that of a friend. Can this marriage work? You would be wise to give it your best energy. Avail yourself of the finest counsel. Be as devoted and intentional with it as you can, else you will never know. “Come and see!” Jesus says.
Is the Christian lifestyle worth it? Can Jesus Christ transform people, put meaning into their lives and sustain them in their struggles? Once again, it is hard to say. The faith of some people seems utterly real. They live it every day. It works for them. They’re strong in their struggles, kind and sober under stress and hopeful in adversity. But the faith of some others appears to be mere formality. If it makes any real difference in their lives the evidence is hard to see.
But what you were wondering is whether faith will be worth it for you. Will it work for you? Study can help provide some answers. Discussion can clear up some questions. Reading the scriptures can afford some valuable insights. But in the last analysis we will never know until we try it. This is faith’s starting place for the Christian, where our blindness can be restored, our hunger fed, our cynicism diluted, our sickness healed and our sinfulness absolved. “Come and see!” Jesus says.
To sum up then, living a devout Christian life means that we turn everything over to God loving Him with our whole heart, our entire mind and from the depths of our soul – a very intentional posture I might say. It means extending indiscriminate, compassionate regard to every person who enters our space and then some. It means scheduling regular religious observance each week in order to be fed and instructed in Christian discipleship. Living a devoted Christian life means that we live sacrificially for those assigned to us as spouse and children, siblings and others whom God has placed along our path. It means gifting from our resources a charity that works to improve on the existence of others less fortunate.
Life at every turn for the Christian involves an unquestioned gift of self. Living intentionally and with devotion is what its all about. It is the only way to live and find fulfillment and blessing!