“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Ian Maclaren
French novelist Andre Malraux once described a country parish priest who had heard confessions for many decades and summed up what he had learned about human nature in this manner: “First of all, people are much more unhappy than one thinks … and there is no such thing as a grown-up person.”
A dose of this type of “tragic realism” about life is quite healthy for those of us who strive to become spiritually mature Catholics in Australia today.
If we wish to follow Jesus in his journey, we must embrace the Cross.
For everyone who joins the human race and accepts their creaturehood (and it is amazing how many people do not!) inevitably experiences, not only the joys and exhilaration of life, but also its darkness: disillusionment, ageing, illness, isolation, loss, meaninglessness, painful choices, and death.
We are all pilgrims on the journey of faith and life. We are all in this together. And it is the beginning of compassion for ourselves and for others when we realise that each person we encounter is deep down carrying a heavy cross in their life.
That is precisely the consolation of the Spirit of the Risen Jesus even amid absence and desolation. Jesus, our Lord, has taken the same pilgrim path.
Consider where Jesus is making his way up to his death carrying the very weapon that will change all our lives. He stumbles. He falls. It was too much for him to carry on his own. In his humility he allowed another to step in, possibly to relieve but most definitely to participate in the pain and suffering he was experiencing. He allowed both himself and another to be human.
So we must all stumble and fall. And that does not mean reading or just hearing about falling. We must actually be out of the “driver’s seat” for a while. And at times we need the humility to ask others to help us on the journey of discipleship.
Otherwise, we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide – Jesus of Nazareth.
This then is the necessary pattern of Christian discipleship. Whatever happens to Jesus is what must and will happen to us. Christ has gone before us on the way of the cross. He has first said “let me go there”.
Such is the Christ poetically described by R.S. Thomas in his poem, The Coming.
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
© Kunjana Thomas. Reprinted with permission.
Jesus, our brother, has shown us the pattern of the journey of faith. In becoming human, in living a life of ordinariness, trial, faith, death, surrender, Resurrection and return to God, He is our “way”.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.