ADOLESCENTS IN FAITH
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 COR 5:14-21; MT 5:33-37 ]
When St Paul says, “And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.” Are we truly a new creation? We are told that we are so, and feel like one especially after emerging from a retreat or after a special encounter with the Lord. Yet the reality is that it does not take long for us to fall back into sin, much as we struggle against the temptation of the Evil One. But more often than not, we succumb especially to the sin of the flesh and not just of the world. As a consequence, we think that the conversion experience was merely a sentimental one. It did not bring about the radical change of life that we hoped.
This desire for a radical change of lifestyle, living a perfect life of holiness, seems to be the demand of Jesus too for those who wish to follow Him. In the gospel, He expected His disciples to live a life of integrity and holiness, without wavering or compromising. He says, “All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.'” A true Christian is one who is like Jesus who does not compromise the truth when it comes to both teaching and particularly living. Jesus was a man who was faithful to Himself and to His Father even unto death. No human being, not even the religious leaders and political leaders, could make Him do things against His conviction. Jesus was truly a man of integrity.
The fact that we are required to take an oath implies that we cannot be trusted. Or rather, it is a recognition that we are weak. We need the Oath to help us to be responsible for the truth and also to give our fellowmen assurance of our fidelity. Yet we know that vows and promises are often broken in spite of our good intentions. This becomes a great scandal especially when a solemn oath is broken. This prompted Jesus to say, “You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfill your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is Gods throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king.” Of course, it would be ideal to be, and known to be, men of our word. However, the ideal remains the ideal. We need structures and laws to help us reach the ideal.
The truth is that we are still on the way to the ideal; the perfection of Christian life will take a life-long process. We must realize that the promise of being a new creation is a reality and yet a promise. It is something we can experience already but only as a foretaste. Those times when we are able to live the life of Christ according to His gospel values, we live out the new creation in us. But there will also be times when we will fall back to our old ways, as the Old Adam keeps resurrecting; since the Church teaches that concupiscence remains even after our sins are forgiven. That is why, the growth to holiness is a matter of making progress, and sometimes retrogress.
Growth in holiness is likened to a young man in his adolescence. Those who are in this stage of adolescence are often confused. They are searching for their identity. They are not exactly adults but they are no longer children. They want independence and freedom. At the same time, they do not know how to handle freedom very well. Often, they make a mess of things, of their own lives and of others’. Emotionally, they are confused as well, wanting to love but often confused as to what is love. As a result, their friends and loved ones get hurt. Sometimes, they are so contradictory in their lifestyle and their needs that they confuse the adults too. They are going through an identity crisis.
We, too, in our spiritual life will also go through this roller coaster as well. This is the frustrating part of wanting to be good. On one hand, we so desire to live the life of Christ. We want to give our lives to the Lord. On the other hand, we have our human needs for love, emotional and sexual needs; pleasure and physical needs. After all, we are not pure spirit. So there is a constant struggle of wanting to be disciplined and go beyond the earthly to the spiritual, yet to repress our desires is even worse than to admit them. For what is repressed will surface in ways beyond our control when the situation permits it. Denying our human needs will not heal us and make us whole.
What is important to realize is that God does not expect us to achieve perfection overnight. St Paul wrote, “From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh.” God is patient with us. He allows us to make mistakes so that we can learn and grow. Grace does not destroy nature. Even in sin, grace is operative. That is why St Paul says, “Where sin increases, grace abounds all the more.” (Rom 5:20) Life is itself a pedagogy. Through mistakes and failures, we learn to grow and become wiser and disciplined. Again, the letter to the Hebrews tells us that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Heb 12:5-6; cf. Prov 3:11-12) Even Jesus, we read in Hebrews, learnt obedience through suffering. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8-9)
Secondly, we must remember that perfection in life is solely the work of God’s grace, not our efforts. It is Christ who makes us perfect, not by our own merits. So we must not fall into pride because of impatience. Rather, in our endeavor to grow in integrity and holiness, we must simply rely on His grace.
And when we fall into sin, let us not be discouraged. Precisely, the invitation to be reconciled is always given to us. St Paul says, “In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled.” Let us turn to the Lord whenever we fail and know that He is there ready to forgive us and raise us up to walk in the right path again. Like the psalmist, we are called to remember that the Lord is compassion and love. “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills, who redeems your life from the grave, who crowns you with love and compassion. His wrath will come to an end; he will not be angry forever. He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults.” So it is with this confidence in His everlasting and unconditional love and mercy, that we can gradually heal our brokenness.
Although justification and holiness is pure grace, we on our part must cooperate with His grace as much as we can. We must never go to the extreme of cheapening the cost of grace that Jesus won for us. We must not take His grace for granted, as St Paul also warns us, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom 6:1-2) So let us take courage and be full of hope. We must not allow the devil to make us fall into despair just because we have not yet arrived at the fullness of a holy life. “So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.”
In humility, we turn to the Lord so that encouraged by His love alone, we too can choose to die with Him and for Him. “The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves but for him who died and was raised to life for them.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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