I’ll do my best to explain this simply. First is what I consider the spiritual physiognomy (or as they say in Business Schools, the KSA’s—knowledge, skills and abilities) of anyone seeking to live as an apostle of Christ (and by extension all Christians), that is, you and me. Here are the things we signed up for when we became Christian: 1) We’ll love Jesus more than our father, mother, son, daughter, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, brother, sister, nation, tribe; 2) We must love Jesus more than ourselves, our personal needs, our desires and comfort, our possessions; and 3) We must take up suffering (i.e., the cross) daily and endure hardships, criticisms, putdowns, hatred, adversity, etc., daily for the sake of Christ. That doesn’t sound like a great seller in an age of self-cult, like ours. We must wonder then why many half-baked Christians. It must be either that many who signed up for the Christian life didn’t read this memo, hence, are unaware of what the Christian life entailed or they simply don’t care, being Christians by default. Some may also be the so-called “cradle-Catholics” with their “God-degree” in RE (Religious Education) acquired at Second Grade through learning to paint butterflies with crayons and singing “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.”
Several modern egotists believe that the Christian life is intolerable utter cruelty. And when you call Christianity a religion of love they feel insulted because they can’t imagine such love that demands renunciation, self-abasement, sacrifice and abandonment to the will of Someone whom you do not even see. We spend a lot of time, energy and resources teaching our children to grow in self-esteem in order to be able to compete and successfully outsmart others in the world while Christianity turns it around asking us to develop rather, Christ-esteem. The path to Christianity appears paved with steep narrow stairs that could give a follower a feeling of vertigo: a self-destruction and deliberate denigration of the impulsive self as naught. You’ll think that Jesus would deny that this is the path to discipleship. Not so. He says, “Yes, you must carry the cross; yes, the road is narrow and steep; yes, you’ll be hated by people; yes, they’ll persecute and imprison you; and yes, some of you will pay with your lives.”
St. Paul was an apostle who understood this and speaks about the juxtaposition of love and death in the Christian life. In today’s second reading, he asks, “Do you not know that those of us who have been baptized in Christ have been baptized into his death?...so we may walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3,4). Both Christ and St. Paul aren’t saying what we do not know or even practice. For instance, consider the extent to which the sport enthusiast or the body-builder punishes her body in order to grow the abs that she desires or the amount of torment you endure from the dentist in order to have clean and healthy teeth. I hate to use such worldly analogies but the one who thinks that Christianity is all about inner euphoria completely misunderstands the love of Christ. It is called “agape” or sacrificial love, which reserves nothing to self but gives all. The emotional toll that sacrificial love exerts on the believer becomes no longer a mutilation but a transforming sincere love, i.e., love that is whole, clean, pure, unmixed, and without wax (sine-cera: Latin for sincere). Sincere love sells the disciple to the world, making them nuncios of the eternal city, drawing people to Christ. They’re effervescent couriers of grace for anyone who shows them kindness.
You need look no further than the first reading of today to notice how the disciple is an effervescent courier of grace. A Shunammite woman extended hospitality to Elisha, the prophet and won divine beatitude, becoming a mom at an advanced age. No surprise, even modern research shows that altruism, service, and going out of one’s way to offer help to others have both additive and synergistic effects on personal well-being. A research conducted with a sample of cancer survivors showed those who picked up volunteer works, service projects and community outreach having less cases of recurrence of cancer than survivors who went back to profitable work. Love and kindness heal; selfishness and hatred hurt. The disciple of Christ, in turn, loves till it hurts.