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Saturday, fourth week of Lent

March 12, 2005

Blessed Saturday!

Readings: Jeremiah 11:18-20 (Jeremiah’s life is threatened)
Psalm 7:2-12 “Lord, my God, I take shelter in you”
+John 7:40-53 (the people are divided over Jesus, but nobody arrests Him)

Again we see the plotting of the wicked and the protection of God. Jeremiah knew it was safe to entrust his safety to God, since God was the very One who’d warned him of the danger! And again in our Gospel, no one lays a hand on Jesus, although the temple guards had been sent to arrest Him. Jesus didn’t defend Himself with physical violence, counter-accusations or deception, things we’re often inclined to try. He defended Himself by persisting in speaking the Truth. Light overcomes darkness simply by being itself, by shining. The guards who had come to take Him captive, were themselves captivated. “No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). Listening to Jesus gave them the courage to return to their employers empty-handed. Even Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus under cover of night (John 3:12), grew brave enough to challenge his peers to give Jesus a fair hearing.

We too will face situations in which living the sacred order will require that we stand up to our peers and even to our superiors if they tell us to break God’s law. Unity within the community and obedience to earthly superiors are both very important elements of the sacred order (John 17:20-21 & Romans 11:13, among others), but obedience to God is even more fundamental. The Catechism says, “Citizens are obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order. ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2256). This same preference for God’s Law holds regarding others in authority over us, although we must make absolutely sure that the command is indeed morally wrong. If there’s doubt that we can’t resolve, we need to give the authorities the benefit of that doubt (concept found in the Baltimore Catechism, Volume 4, question 362).

Careful discernment is necessary. On one hand, we may not abuse our privilege of appealing to God’s Law in order to get out of doing something we find personally distasteful that isn’t actually sinful. On the other hand, we may not hide behind a command, or our doubt over the morality of a command, to justify participating in sin (i.e., we will be held accountable for refusing/neglecting to determine the morality of a questionable order).

It takes a great deal of courage to risk the consequences of displeasing our friends and/or boss or legal system. God supplies that courage, and our Holy Father, echoing Scripture, urges us repeatedly to “Be not afraid” (his homily from May 29, 1988 is just one example of many).

Also known as fortitude, courage is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2) that are given to us in Confirmation. That doesn’t mean we can just sit back and wait for God to make us feel bold. We have a part to play, as usual. First of all, we need to accept the gift and learn how to use it. We need to realize that having courage doesn’t necessarily mean feeling courageous. Courage, like all of God’s gifts, hinges on our will. It’s the choice to do the right thing despite our fear of the consequences. God has given us that ability. We need to take His Word for it and step out in faith to act on it, especially when our feelings aren’t helping.

One way to strengthen the gift of courage is to make small sacrifices regularly, to take on ourselves small, unpleasant consequences that aren’t strictly necessary so that when a larger sacrifice is required it won’t seem so foreign. Even as our bodies grow stronger with exercise and our skills become easier to use with practise, so fasting and other sacrifices provide exercise and practise for courage. They make it stronger and easier to use. This is part of the idea behind fasting and other Lenten disciplines.

Another important way to strengthen the gift of courage is to spend time with those who used it well. We can study Jesus’ courage as recorded for us in the Scriptures. Time and again He faced threats and abuse without wavering. We can study the courage of the saints, especially the martyrs. On a more personal level, we can spend time with Jesus and the saints in prayer. This is a version of what Nicodemus and the temple guards did in today’s Gospel. They drew their courage from spending time with Jesus, from listening to Him. We can most intimately spend time with Jesus at Mass, especially when we receive Him in Holy Communion. Eucharistic Adoration is another excellent way to spend time with Him.

May God help us to strengthen and to act on His gift of courage, that we may not let fear prevent us from living up to our high calling.

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