I didn’t read the Bible growing up. The truth is, aside from Sunday Mass, holy days, weddings and the occasional greeting card or crossword puzzle, I was never really exposed to Holy Scripture. As I became friends with other Christians of all denominations, I was often amazed at their command of God’s Word. I also felt somewhat cheated by my own church for leaving me so ignorant of the Word of God.
Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Deborah, Josiah, Esther, Jairus, Zacchaeus, Mary (wife of Clopas) ... all names I had heard, sure, but they were just names. These characters in history meant little to me, and the same is probably true for you. Then there are the other characters in the story, the “extras.” The Bible doesn’t even give their names: Naaman’s servant girl, the woman at the well, the man born blind, the woman with a hemorrhage, the boy with five loaves and two fish. The extras in the Bible make brief appearances and disappear. What role do these people play in this huge ethereal storybook, and what am I supposed to learn from them? What difference does it make to me how many loaves this kid had or how many husbands the woman at the well had gone through?
What it comes down to is perspective: They were not extras and you are not an extra, either. There are no extras. In the mind and heart of God, you are in the Garden of Eden, faced with the choice of trusting God or submitting to sin. You are among the olive trees in Gethsemane, staring evil in the eye, deciding whether to choose death to self, which will bring life, or preservation of self, which will ultimately bring death.
But everything we’ve talked about so far—making that shift from cradle Catholic into postmodern, relevant, Jesus-loving Catholic Christian—actually involves much more than a change in perspective. Change takes faith, abandonment and courage. The perspective shift is mental. The next shift is far more difficult because it requires action, and that’s where courage, the willingness to act from the heart, comes into play.
My favorite scene in the film Braveheart depicts Mel Gibson (Wallace) rallying his countrymen on the plains of Stirling, admonishing them to fight for their freedom. When Wallace poses the question, “Will you fight?” one nameless extra retorts, “No, we will run and we will live.” The ensuing speech transforms their fearful hearts into courageous hearts. The heavily outnumbered, undertrained army of farmers rabidly took to the battlefield, knowing that the blood about to be spilled would very likely be their own. A close look at the extras in that scene always gets my adrenaline going. Maybe it’s a guy thing, I don’t know, but when the extras armed only with pitchforks begin shaking their farm tools and screaming at the opposing army like madmen, it really pumps me up. We don’t see that kind of courageous passion anymore.
Isn’t that the same kind of passion that Christ showed for us with his life and in his final eighteen hours on earth? Isn’t that the same kind of passion that all Christians, regardless of denomination, are called to live out still today? It’s a total abandonment of self and a complete renunciation of everything that renders our hearts blind, numb or fearful. Why do we fear anything with God on our side (Romans 8:31)? We need to heed the rallying cry of our Lord and follow his command: “Do not fear.” (In the gospels, Jesus tells us not to fear more than he tells us to love!) Our hearts, if bent on him and directed toward him, will lead us back to him.
Remember, God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. If you believe in God but are not willing to take action about your lifestyle, then you are not letting Jesus be your Savior. You cannot believe the gospel and still live your life the way you want. Maybe you are so desperately afraid of the un-fun lifestyle you think God will give you that you’d rather wade in the kiddie pool of life than take a run off the high dive. But regardless of what changes it means for you, Jesus Christ is bigger than anything.
For example, he’s bigger than suffering. When our lives are full of pain, when everything is blood, sweat and tears, whenever we feel abandoned and left to suffer, we have to turn to God. Not partially, not halfway, but completely and totally. When the waves come and the sharks circle, God isn’t one option; he is the only option. At times like that, we need to remember what Saint James penned, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). God is alive. He is active. He is closer than you think. Through an act of your will, turn to him and you will not be disappointed.
When we give God control, he reaches out to us just as Jesus reached out to Simon Peter as he began to sink after his steps on the sea. His Holy Spirit is just one prayer, one movement of our heart away. Christianity is not about immediate gratification; it is about immediate grace. Christ is a Savior, not a Santa; a God of faithful fulfillment, not an ATM of “quick change.”
“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). This verse is beautiful in its simplicity; it’s a great one to know by heart. The next time the storms of life come your way, trust in this promise. It will change your perspective in the midst of suffering.
Open yourself up to the Holy Spirit. Invite the Spirit to move within you and to change your perspective toward life and suffering, to give you the courage to respond in faith. The Bible reminds us that the Holy Spirit leads us to truth (John 16:13), helps us to avoid sin (1 Corinthians 6:11) and gives us unparalleled understanding of the mind and heart of Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:6-14). Tap into the Spirit’s power more fully, fan the flame of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation that stir within you and watch as not only your vision but also your approach to Catholicism become more focused and active. Let your tomb become a womb for his dazzling new life.