In her book, “Who Does He Say You Are?”, Colleen Mitchell gives us this prayer: “Help me to remember the young girl who stood to lose everything and still gave herself to you, offered herself as maid, servant, dwelling place. She stood in your shadow and let you be magnified in her. O Lord, how I want to be that kind of woman, perfect in obedience and full of the highest of hopes.”
In my Christology course, where we study all things Christ related, in my currently suspended graduate Theology studies, I was surprised to find that Obedience was the main theme throughout. Jesus’ obedience to the will of the Father.
We, as Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters, children of His Father, are part of His mission now. And WE must be obedient to the will of His Father, as well. And, of course, as women in particular, we have the Blessed Mother’s model of obedience to inspire us.
Living our faith every day involves not just emulating Christ, but following in His footsteps.
He says in the Gospels to His disciples, “Follow me”. And those words are meant for us, too. Some may say, “Well that was fine for them, but how can we follow Him when He’s no longer a person we can see?” But, of course, He is always a Person, one of Three in the Trinity.
And though we cannot physically see Him, we can hear Him speak to us in the Scriptures, we can see Him in our brothers and sisters, especially the lowly and the needy. We can follow him because He left us His precepts in this beautiful institution, our Apostolic Church. We can follow because He left us the Holy Spirit, who Dwells Within Us, to guide our thoughts, our steps, our hearts. And, in all of life’s situations, He dwells among us. Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, He is with us. How amazing is that? He is here. Right now! Praise God!
Some may then ask Jesus, “If you are the Way, where are You leading?” And the answer is, of course, Home. And where is Home?
There’s a Billy Joel song entitled “You’re My Home” and the lyric says that “wherever we’re together, that’s my home.” Which I find beautiful and, As a Military wife, I can relate to that statement. As Christians we can, as well. Being with God: that’s Home. The singer goes on to sing, “Home is just another word for you,” as he speaks to his beloved.
And can we not say that to our God? We all long to be Home with our Lord. But we know there’s a road which we must travel to get there…
And we know that we must follow Christ the Lord on this road. Jesus teaches us to be a servant as He is a servant, to be humble as He is humble, to be obedient to the will of the Father as He is obedient to His Father’s will. And there is no question what our Road will be like as we head Home. We can all agree that this life is hard. Not just our Military life, but life on earth, our mortal life. Because we are fallen, because we are imperfect. To quote another singer/songwriter you’re probably familiar with, it is a “long and winding road.”
Pope Francis says that “the Christian way of life without the cross is not in fact Christian”.
But then he goes on to say that the Way of Suffering of Good Friday is actually the Way of Joy: “This is the way of life that ‘will save us, give us joy and make us fruitful. For this journey of self-denial is undertaken in order to give life: ‘If any man would come after me — i.e., be a Christian, be my disciple — ‘let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’. For the Lord himself was the first to make this journey”. Sometimes it’s a challenge to grasp that reality.
Sometimes our imagination can help us with that struggle. GK Chesterton, novelist, essayist, poet, great Catholic apologist, loved fantasy, and fairy tales, and myths. He believed that there are actually a lot of truths within those various forms of literature. That he was a positive influence on JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, and held that belief does not surprise me at all. The Lord of the Rings is sort of an epic allegorical fable for Christianity.
So, I have been persuaded by the genius Chesterton that there is truth in fantasy, though my allegorical example is not nearly as lofty as that of Mr. Tolkein. Because I refer to that great, classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. I’m sure we’ve all seen the movie starring Judy Garland at some point in our lives, maybe more than once. There’s that catchy little tune, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, sung by the munchkins to Dorothy, the heroine of the film. She wants desperately to go home. She wants to go home to Auntie Em and the rest of her family, and friends, the farm, and to take “Toto, too”!
It seems a simple enough trip. There is the Road clearly identifiable by its yellowness! Just follow that and you’ll be off to see the Wizard who, according to her new friends, can bring her home – to Kansas.
Of course, we know that she faces many obstacles along the way because the Wicked Witch hates her and wants her magic Ruby Slippers! And that Witch has a lot of minions working for her, who will commit all sorts of dastardly deeds to thwart Dorothy in her mission to reach the Wizard, to stop her in her tracks as she makes her way toward Home.
Sound familiar? But Dorothy is given friends along the way to support her, to fight with her, to commiserate with, and to love. She is also given a ‘Good Witch’ who observes her from afar protecting her now and then from the clutches of the evil that surrounds her. Even though Dorothy is captured and imprisoned, she escapes and, in the end, destroys the witch. Melting her with, of all things, seemingly harmless, but ironically, life-giving, water.
After gaining wisdom, and the truth of what matters in life, according to our story, Dorothy gets to go home. And it turns out she always KNEW the truth, but had forgotten somehow, and she had to follow her road to have the truth revealed to her.
Now, I don’t know that Kansas is heaven, having been stationed there a couple of times. It’s a very nice place, yes…But, of course, this is allegory so in my version of the story, it’s not Kansas, it’s Heaven.
I write occasionally for the Military Child Education Coalition and my first essay for them was entitled, “Home As A Safe Place”. I was reminded of that article by the Holy Spirit when I was at daily Mass a while ago; our pastor, Father Lito, was preaching in his homily about how we are the children of God. It was revealed to me in that instant that my essay on ‘Home as a Safe Place’ could be considered in a deeper way than I’d originally intended. Just like the Wizard of Oz. If we think of Home as Heaven and the children in my essay as all of us, God’s children, here’s how it sounds (paraphrased a bit):
Many of us fail to realize, however, that we can also teach the children (of God) that we know of a safe haven from the churning seas and blustery winds of life.
That safe haven is a home…where they find unconditional love, acceptance of who they are, and appreciation for the unique person they are.
Every child (of God) needs to feel safe and loved.
I talk about children being treated with respect, and living in an environment of harmony and support. I speak of helping others in our family with corporal and spiritual works of Mercy, (though that’s not the term I use; I just give examples). There can be a lot of demands for us along the road.
But in the spiritual realm, Heaven is the ultimate Safe Place. And we are all His children who need to know we are loved. And those of us who DO know, have an obligation to tell the others. It’s our mission that we share with our Brother, Jesus. And so His obedience, and service, and humility, and mercy become ours. He’s the Way, the path, the Road that leads Home.
I also touch on how a Child of God should know his or her Parent (God) will really listen and so that Child will be more inclined to share and ask for support, and so much more, and how comforting and stress-reducing that can be in a Child of God’s life. Who is going to tell them that, if not those who already know?
Sometimes we can forget that we have that mission because our life seems to always keep us in a state of flux! As an Army wife I can say that the Army often presents the unexpected. Just as when Dorothy’s house gets lifted up by a plains Twister and set down in colorful Oz, we are often swept up by a move to a new location that we know nothing about, or the news that our husband will deploy maybe…I was encouraging a young Army sister a while back concerning an unexpected turn of events in her family’s life and shared these words with her:
The important thing to remember is that God is in control and He has a plan. If we believe that, we can say “Thy will be done” and truly mean it! I always say the Army likes to think it’s in control, but God is in control. Most of my husband’s 36 year career and 33 years of our marriage have been filled with the unexpected. Trust in God and remember that All shall be well. You have to abandon what you thought would happen and let Him lead you on your new path, just as He did in the old “known” path. That abandonment is very liberating. When you realize none of it depends on you and that you must rely on Him – well that is a beautiful thing. And it’s a peaceful thing. A peace filled thing.
St. Ignatius suggested that you should “Try to keep your soul always in peace and quiet, always ready for whatever our Lord may wish to work in you. It is certainly a higher virtue of the soul, and a greater grace, to be able to enjoy the Lord in different times and different places than in only one.” Certainly apropos words for a Military wife, eh? It’s like he knows my life! Of course He does.
And while we are on whatever road He places us, we must remember that we are each on our own unique journey Home. Your age doesn’t matter – you may still be in the earlier part of the trip than someone much younger than you. I find sometimes that I am. My 30 year old daughter, Maggie, is well ahead of me on the journey when I look back on 30 year old me. She is SO far ahead of me in some ways than I was back then. It is humbling, impressive, and I ponder in my heart how this came to be.
So, the point of this is just to say ‘don’t be too hard on yourself’ as you travel on your road. Don’t compare yourself to others; and don’t judge those who are far behind. Just love them, try to be a help and never a hindrance.
Because I know that Jesus is the Way, and that He is with us! And I know that He is within us, as a believer. And if you believe, well, now we have to act. We can’t be passive. I would say we have to breathe the Holy Spirit in. I read a great quote the other day about the Peace of Christ coming to us. If you want the Holy Spirit to act in your life, “don’t hold your breath.” It’s not just inspiration, it’s respiration. Breathe Him in and then breathe Him out. When you breathe Him out, it is HIS work you do; it is HIS words you are speaking; it is HIS mercy you give; HIS love you share; and HIS day to tackle so you don’t have to worry.
But back to the road we travel, that long, winding road. It’s clear we should never have expected a “rose garden, caviar and champagne,” even sunshine every day, based on what Pope Francis said about what the Christian can expect. And he, of course, is only summing up Jesus’ words on the subject that we find in the Gospels.
C.C. James says, “I have to ask myself how I can possibly expect to know the Lord as he would want to be known if my life remains unscathed by trouble and grief. How can I hope to grasp anything of God’s heart for this broken planet if I never weep because its brokenness touches me and breaks my heart? How can I reflect his image if I never share in his sufferings? And how will any of us ever learn to treasure his mercy and grace if we never experience phases where these blessings seem absent?”
Embrace your road, unite the sufferings you will experience with those of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Remember you are following in the steps of the Master who became least of all. So, rejoice and be glad. And if you need some extra encouragement some days, read the Beatitudes again and again. Find comfort there and know you are not and have never been the only one to walk that road. You have an awesome example to follow and a perfect companion on the Way.
To return to The Lord of the Rings reference I made earlier. There is a scene in the movie, The Two Towers, that is very fitting for our Christian Military life. I was on my elliptical the other day watching that movie when I saw this scene.
Aragon, the Christ like figure in the series, says ‘My path is hidden from me’. But Arwen, the woman he loves, and who loves him replies, ‘It is already laid before your feet. You cannot falter now.’
And that is what we all must remember. Our individual “yellow brick” roads are laid before each of us. It doesn’t matter if it’s unknown. God is with us; He dwells within us. He who is all merciful, all loving, all powerful, all knowing. He is with us and dwells within us. And His Son shows us the Way. We cannot falter now.
To end this on a more Christian/less fantastical note, in the Book of Deuteronomy, just before Moses passes away, he speaks words to Joshua, who will lead the Israelites into the promised land, after 40 years, that we should embrace and absorb in our spirits: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”