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There is No Growth without Struggle

James 1:2-4

Life is hard.

Does anyone reading these words have any question about that? I didn’t think so.

Because we live in a fallen world, nothing works the way it’s supposed to. Sin has stained every part of the physical universe. And sin has deeply infected the human bloodstream. Things break. Our bodies wear out. We grow old and die. People kill each other. Marriages break up. Children get hooked on drugs or alcohol or sex. Or all three. Babies are born with defects that cannot be corrected. Priests molest children. Pastors commit adultery. Our friends disappoint us. And we disappoint our friends. One day we wake up to find out that we’re being sued by a former colleague. Or the boss decides that we aren’t the right “fit,” whatever that means. And so it goes. “Into each life some rain must fall.”

Our faith journey brings us face to face with the reality of the cross. Whoever said that the Christian life is easy. It isn’t. Jesus talked about taking up your cross daily, denying yourself, and following him. Nothing easy about that.

To know Christ is to know God and to know God is to have eternal life. Jesus himself said that anything you give up will be repaid many times over in this life, and much more in the life to come (Mark 10:29-30). The paradox is this: If you follow Christ, you have to lose your life in order to save it. You have to go to the cross every day in order to discover the power of the resurrection. You have to die to find abundant life. You have to reckon yourself dead to sin in order to experience the fullness of life in Christ.

None of this is easy to do. If you think it’s easy, it’s only because you haven’t taken the Bible seriously. Romans 7 speaks of a “war” going on in the inner life of the believer and Romans 8:13 commands us to “put to death” the deeds of the flesh. Galatians 5:17 tells us that the flesh and the Spirit are continually at war with each other. Christians traditionally have spoken of three great enemies they face: the world, the flesh and the devil. The world is “out there” and all around us. The “flesh” is inside and loves to answer the call of the world. And it seems like the devil is everywhere, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8).

No wonder the Bible says that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ESV). And that’s why Paul told Timothy to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 2:3 ESV). The most beloved hymn of all time ("Amazing Grace") contains a verse that teaches this same truth:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Truly, there are “many dangers, toils and snares” along the road that leads to heaven.
There are no shortcuts on the road to glory. As football coaches have said for generations, “No pain, no gain.”
Here are four principles that help us think clearly about our trials:

1) Because we live in a fallen world, bad things happen to all of us.

2) We have no control over many things that happen to us or to those around us.

3) We do have complete control over how we respond.

4) Our response to our trials largely determines our spiritual growth—or lack thereof.


1) Be a Student, Not a Victim

Someone once said. ”when hard times come, be a student, not a victim.” The more I have pondered those simple words, the more profound they seem to me. Many people are professional victims, always talking about how unfair life is. A victim says, “Why did this happen to me?” A student says, “I don’t care why it happened. I want to learn what God is trying to teach me.” A victim looks at everyone else and cries out, “Life isn’t fair.” A student looks at life and says, “What happened to me could have happened to anybody.” A victim feels so sorry for himself that he has no time for others. A student focuses on helping others so that he has no time to feel sorry for himself. A victim begs God to remove the problems of life so that he might be happy. A student has learned through the problems of life that God alone is the source of all true happiness.

To be continued
 

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