DISCIPLESHIP AND SALVATION: SNIFFING THE TERRAIN

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:26

Before you set off on this journey of being a disciple of Jesus intending to evangelize, it is essential to sit down and consider the pros and cons, the route required and the nature of it, the hazards, the joys, the sorrows, and the hope. So, listen to the wisdom of Jesus the grandson of Ben Sira:

My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days.  Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation. Trust him and he will uphold you, follow a straight path and hope in him.” (Sirach 2: 1-6).

This piece of advice is meant for the one who has decided to serve the Lord, the one who has decided to be the Lord’s disciple and who has decided to serve His need of saving souls unto eternal life, which is done by effective evangelization. It is also the summary of all that such an intending disciple needs if he wishes to count the cost of discipleship in advance – knowing what lies ahead and the expected end. Let us, therefore, examine these words more closely, meditate on them, analyze them and understand them. The scriptural references speak more; therefore go through them as we go along. The first thing to understand is the nature and reason for those trials.

  1. Trials: The disciple is promised trials. He is to be put to tests. Is he having trials because he is a disciple or do non-believers have “trying moments” too? But blessed is the disciple if, and because, he understands he is going through trials approved by God, and so for a good end. The trials come in various forms and shapes: It could come by way of difficulty in deciding to give up “the 3T’s” to the expected extent, for you must generously give up a lot of your time, talent and treasure in order to serve the Lord very well; but the ability to give up a substantial part of these may be a really serious trial for the disciple wishing to evangelize. Persecution is a well-known trial facing the disciple wishing to evangelize; these may be from those who have authority over the disciple such as government functionaries, parents, guardians, brothers, sisters, even fellow disciples; and even the church authorities! (cf Matt. 10:16-25).

Surely, the Devil will increase his assault on you; he will send his devils to you in their hierarchical order to tempt you and cause obstructions in so many unpleasant ways. When you overcome this devil he sends a stronger devil and this continues till the end of the journey. It is part of the trial from God to allow the Devil to tempt the disciple (Job 1: 6-12; 2: 1-7) and God is aware he has made enough grace and power available to the disciple – enough to overcome from the least to the highest, including Satan himself, if the disciple is aware and have recourse to this grace, this divine power (cf. 2 Cor. 12: 7-10).

You can be sure that God will send His own trials directly with the aim of providing the means for training His soldiers and for the purification necessary for the formation of a worthy disciple. This is necessary to keep the disciple in correct focus (cf. 2Cor, 4: I-10; Heb. 12: l-13, Jas. l: 2-4; l Pet. 1: 6-7). The trial the disciple goes through may range from being despised by the people for leaving the ways of the world and embracing the doctrine of the cross which is foolishness to those who are perishing but the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Cor. 1: 18), through subversion from even very unexpected quarters, to really big adversity.

  1. Adversity: This term, in the context of our present reflection gives the picture of the nature of the terrain. We are familiar with the song “It‘s not an easy road, we’re traveling to heaven, so many thorns on the way ….”. Make  no mistake about this, it is a rough hazardous terrain. The mystical teachings of St. John of the Cross paint the picture powerfully and accurately and provides a very useful guide for the one going through the terrain of discipleship and evangelization, given the fact that the very life of the Christian should be that of discipleship for Jesus and evangelization in diverse ramifications – as the very way of his life.

In his “Four Meditations on the Mystical Teachings of St. John of the Cross”1 Rev. Fr. Noel Dermot O‘Donoghue OCD (St. John`s modern Carmelite disciple) talks about “The light on the mountain” the light being the most desirable thing (Heaven) while the mountain is rocky, steep, and hazardous. Knowing this, the disciple should, ab initio, understand the training rules and take them seriously. The rules in the English Translation of John‘s words say:

“Let your inclination lie

         Always towards the harder thing;

         Choose the ways that bring not joy

         But the most unpleasant thing

         For to pass from all to all

         Thou must seek no thing at all”.

Many do not take these harsh rules seriously but as many as do are full of praises to God for revealing this great secret to them (Also cf. Hb. 12: 11). We shall come back to these words, may be the last 2 lines, but let us first see that Fr. O‘Donoghue has made matters worse by revealing that “the journey towards the light on the mountain is a journey through the darkness”, in the second meditation titled “The Dark Valleys”; he quickly  explains with  a point that will form the subject of a very extensive mediation: “For the light at the summit is not beyond the darkness but within it. Not only that: the light is in strict proportion to the darkness so that the lesser light is found within the lesser darkness and the greater light within the greater darkness. To put it another way at the risk of mixing our metaphor the lesser heights are shrouded in very deep darkness while the far off summit is shrouded in the very deepest darkness. Nor is there any way of finding it, or even approaching it except by journeying into the dark, and from the dark into deeper darkness.”

It may be very useful to summarize the expectations for the disciple of Jesus in the following words: “the spiritual path is shrouded in darkness, is indeed almost composed of the very stuff of darkness: the traveler steps safely only as he finds stepping stones of darkness. The light on the mountain is itself hidden in deepest darkness as is the mountain itself. The whole journey is made in the night, a night without companionship. If lights appear they are false and to be feared. Indeed the darkness is accentuated by the presence of a whole army of will O’ the wisps. It is true that some illuminations may be acceptable and may show us some part of the way onwards and upwards, yet they are more concessions to our weakness than real illumination, allowing so to speak a detour where it is not possible for us to take a direct route of the man who travels more quickly and more safely in the total darkness.”2

This adverse spiritual path of the disciple is the very life of the disciple in everyday terms and in all its departments. The disciple is, therefore, invited to love and embrace this darkness. lf he does this well enough he is sure to experience God in a very special way. He will transcend to a realm full of divine power- where he increasingly experiences spiritual abilities that are so much that he should continue to be careful lest he should begin to see himself in exaltation and risk being puffed up with pride. If he is lucky he is humbled and experiences the great value of humiliation.

  1. Humiliation: To be acceptable to God as gold is accepted by the purchaser the disciple should pass, like gold tested by fire, through the Crucible of humiliation. It is not pleasant, it is not easy but successfully going through humiliations and being humbled by them is one of the greatest goods that can happen to a disciple. Humiliations should bring forth humility in the life of the disciple. In fact, it may be that if such humiliations do not occur in such aspects of one’s life one runs a risk of developing pride in relation to that aspect of one’s life. Pride is an instrument of the devil and establishes a crack in the wall through which the smoke of Satan can enter into the disciple’s life to do havoc. Humility is important; he who is already on the ground need not fear to fall, but when one thinks he is standing that is when fall is imminent. (1 Cor. 10: 12). The disciple should therefore be careful how and where he sets his heart. He should, therefore exercise effective custody of the heart.
  2. The Heart:Most of these things happen in the heart; the heart gives, the heart takes; the heart directs the activities. The disposition of the heart is, therefore, the most important pre-requisite as the disciple decides to serve the Lord. Jesus Ben Sira says he should be “sincere” of heart and he should remain steadfast (Let the heart not cease to be sincere). It means to keep the heart upright. The disciple should strive to keep it in this upright position because it is only in this disposition that the heart is capable of directing and driving the disciple more swiftly and more safely through those dark, dangerous paths. Listen to St. John of the cross again in a stanza in his poem Subida -Noche:

        0 happy Night  0 secret Night!

        Alone and lost In human sight,

        Unseeing, I safely, swiftly go,

       Led by Heart’s fire, lit by heart’s glow.

You need some time and an appropriate mental disposition to chew, swallow digest, assimilate and synthesize these words. This Fr. O’ Donoghue did and came out with the third mediation on John’s mysticism which he titled “The fire in the heart”. He says here that “… this darkness is itself light, a light that is producing new eyes to receive it… for this darkness is precisely the darkness of God, the God of light and fire, the God who dwells in inaccessible light and is yet palpably and powerfully a consuming fire… the principle is simply this: that the fire in the heart is the eye of the mind… Although the soul is not supported on its journey by any light of understanding nor by any external guide… yet it is guided onwards by love alone which at this time bums in the heart as the Divine Lover calls it onwards, so that it flies towards this same Divine Lover without quite knowing how and in what manner this happens. In other words, the darkness extinguishes the light but it does not extinguish the fire, and this fire becomes in fact the light of the soul by which it is safely guided”.

The Carmelite modern disciple finally reveals that this fire in the heart which takes hold of the spirit more and more deeply does “at the highest point of union”, when the smoke and crackle all have cleared away, remain as “a quite deep glowing fire from which tongues of flame issue forth” and that the living flame, which is the spirit’s response to the divine love, is simply and profoundly the Holy Spirit. The heart is, therefore to be disposed to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul serving as the fire of God’s love that leads the soul through the dark and hazardous terrain to effective, successful discipleship.

The importance of devotion to the Holy Spirit in our souls cannot be over emphasized. Rev. Fr. Paul O’Sullivian op, has outlined the importance and the principles of this devotion3. Essentially, he makes us understand that the Holy Spirit dwells in the soul “personally, really and truly as he is in heaven “and is the most intimate, most loving friend” (Also cf. l Cor. 3: 16; 6: 19). Knowing this, and practicing this devotion just like the devotion ‘to Jesus personally, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, and discussing with this Holy Spirit in us more frequently, gives the disciple unfathomable peace and confidence.

  1. Confidence:“Have confidence in Him and He will take care of you”. It is the peaceful heart that generates confidence. How can the disciple have this peace in the face of the darkness and danger in the path leading to his destination? The importance of the heart recognizing and exploiting the presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul has been stressed. It is, however, the flesh that feels the pinch and needs to be helped. Let us therefore go back to those last 2 lines in that first poem, as promised, and also to the peg on which this entire reflection is hung (Lk. l4: 26). Those two lines say that “for to pass from all to all thou must seek no thing at all”. This is contrary to popular world opinion that seeking much and acquiring much form the key to happiness and peace. An explanation of the statement of Jesus Christ in Lk 14: 26 seems to also explain this John’s statement properly. This explanation is seen in the meditation of Fr. Anthony de Mello SJ, on “The causes of unhappiness”4. The operative word is “detachment”, Most people are so attached to goods that they believe (and it happens) that if they lose these goods they will be badly hurt; their happiness and their peace depend on them; such disciple thus suffers so much.

These goods are material and also spiritual goods (such as visions, miracles, internal locutions and various states of consolation following prayer). Any person who is strongly attached to these goods runs the risk of getting hurt, unhappy and un-peaceful if he loses them or fails to acquire them. On the other hand if one is completely detached from goods one could acquire and use these goods freely and they do not have the power to hurt one’s feeling and cause him unhappiness on the event of losing them or failing to acquire them.

Charismatics have not realized the importance and the power in detachment from spiritual goods while feeling free to use them, and the importance of preaching the “gospel of the dark”. O’Donoghue feels that “it is because they have been unable to recognize it or deal with it that so many charismatic groups have fallen apart or fallen back to some kind of affective or emotional substitute for spirituality”. In a proper detachment coupled with zeal for embracing and preaching the doctrine of the cross, the disciple places himself on the right disposition and (paradoxically, perhaps) avoids much suffering.

  1. Suffering: Another source of suffering to the disciple, with enormous costs, is failure to understand the importance, and method of acquiring the necessary interior life which is the “Soul of the Apostolate”. This is generously discussed by Dom lean – Baptiste Chautard5. Active life without adequate interior life is like a body without a soul and this body cannot go through the dark and risky terrain ahead because the Holy Spirit dwells in the soul only if it is in a state of grace. The four cardinal points for the acquisition of a good interior life are:
  2. Mental prayer which includes quiet time and meditation.
  3. Adequate liturgical life centered in the Eucharist

III. Custody of the Heart or self-custody
IV. Ardent Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (for one’s personal life and for effective Apostolate),

 

Dom Chautard clearly points out the dangers on the way of the disciple who engages in active life without interior life. He states inter alia: “not only is there an increasing dissipation or the ever-growing danger of a curiosity that has to find out all about everything; not only more and more displays of impatience or injured feeling of vanity or jealousy, presumption or dejection, partiality or detraction, but there is also a progressive development of the weakness of his soul and of all the more or less subtle forms of sensuality. And all these foes are preparing to force an unrelenting battle upon this soul so ill prepared for such violent and unceasing attacks. And it, therefore, falls victim to frequent wounds”.

Active life without interior life, Chautard teaches, is inadequate and even perilous because, active works are a means of sanctification to interior souls only and interior life is the foundation of sanctity in the active worker because it protects the soul against the dangers of the exterior ministry, it renews the disciple’s strength, multiplies his energies and merits, gives him joy and consolation, refines his purity of intention and it is a firm defense against discouragements. He asserts that the interior life draws down God’s blessings makes the disciple capable of sanctifying others by example, makes the gospel worker truly eloquent and produces results that are deep and lasting. He concludes that supernatural radiation is made possible by the interior life and that a Eucharistic interior life is the only hope of apostolic success.  Dom Jean – Baptiste Chautard, in his own unique way, confirms St. John of the Cross because the fire in the heart is the Holy Spirit who dwells in the soul that is made habitable for Him by a good interior life without which the disciple does not have this fire in the heart necessary to guide him through the extreme darkness and dangers on the way until his journey draws to its ultimate conclusion.

  1. Conclusion:In conclusion Jesus Ben Sira says “Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him” (Sirach 2:6). You feel you trust in God but why are you so anxious about your life and what would happen to you on this journey? It is because you are clinging to this life and the world too much. You are so much afraid of the darkness on the way up, and the ruggedness of the mountain, that you tend to wish them away instead of training and deciding to embrace them as the only way; because you are not aware of Fr. Simeon Nwobi’s principle of “The Two Sides of Fellowship”6, developed from the statement of Jesus Christ in Matt. l0:27: “What I say to you in the dark mention in the light what I tell you in Whispers proclaim at the rooftops”.

The Claretian missionary priest displays the beauty of listening in the dark and declaring in the light, and says that darkness is a special privilege where the disciple hears the voice of the master in diverse ways and is taught in special ways so that he is so equipped to have much to proclaim; and the darkness is an important milieu to the master and the disciple because it provides a necessary condition, necessary setting and opportunity for the disciple to receive a special training, and the master be able to talk to him and teach him those things that are necessary to equip him and give him an experience, which he will need to be of enough benefit for the life of the people he will come across during life’s journey.

Although Jesus Christ was referring to the time of suffering for his disciples, as can be inferred from what he said in the directly preceding verses (Matt. 10: l7-26), it is evident that the darkness here is not the same as that of St. John of the Cross which is continuous from the beginning to the end of the journey of the disciple; this may be called a darkness within the whole darkness and light or dawn that is still a darkness. But it is advisable to ponder on Fr. Nwobi‘s conclusion that if the disciple understands “the two sides of fellowship” – the necessary listening in the dark and the consequent proclaiming in the light – no darkness will ever frighten him but will be seen to provide another golden opportunity to listen to the master’s special teaching with the situation learn the more and be more robustly equipped  for the rugged journey, and loaded with so much to declare.

Meditate also on the submission of St. Augustine that it is for God we are made and so our hearts will ever be restless until they rest in God. In view of the on-going it is evident why I do not seek for a rest but be always on the readiness for more ruggedness; but the bottom line is that in spite of all things my heart should be always at peace and I should always be genuinely happy. Then the charismatic will begin to accept rain or scourging heat during rallies and crusades and also desist from preaching a cross-less gospel (cf Col1: 24).

Now I wonder what your reaction is to the report of the sniff-pet: that the terrain is very unkind in every way, and you should be certain about this. You now know the weather forecast. It is hoped you are not oblivious of   your equipment. The positive and negative exist. But your equipment is very formidable, most efficient – only if you know where it is and have learned how to use it and continue to perfect its use. Would you now say you no more run the risk of singing that great declaration song from your lips only: “I have decided to follow Jesus… No turning back … The world behind me, the cross before me…” Surely you would not want to forget to remember the other sides of each stanza of the song we sang earlier: “It’s not an easy road but the saviour is with us; His presence gives us joy everyday …… “7. Go forth then! Detachment is your password. Your manual should not contain the term “clinging” or “attachment” whether it is to material (earthly) or spiritual (heavenly) goods. “For to pass from all to all thou must seek nothing at all”, not even consolation.“ Drop all droppables. No encumbrances as you plunge into this unknown/this darkness, to do battle, equipped with the fire in the heart. Nothing should be seen as undroppable. Give it all up! Even those things you love as much as your-own father and mother, and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even your own life so that you can be His disciple`(Lk. 14: 26) and reach His kingdom.

References:

  1. O’Donoghue, Noel Dermot O.C.D. Loverlier than Dawn. Four Meditations on the Mystical Teachings of St. John of the Cross. The Living Flame Series Vo. 27. Carmelite Center of Spirituality, Avila, Morchampton Road, Dublin 4, Ireland, 198
  2. O’Donoghue, Noel Dermot O.C.D. Op sit Pg. 35.
  3. O’Sullivan, Paul, O.P. (EDM) The Holy Ghost Our Greatest Friend; He Who Loves Us Best. Tan Books and Publishers Inc, P.O.Box 424 Rocktield, Illinois 61105, U.S.A

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  1. De Mello Anthony, S.J. The Causes of Unhappiness. Call to Love – Meditations 6th Edition Gujarat  Sahitya Prakash 70 Anand, Gujarat 3800l,India PP. 4- 8
  2. Chautard, Dom Jean – Baptiste OCSO. The Soul of the Apostolate. Sinag -Tala Publishers Inc. P.O, Box I 536 Greenhills Post Office Manilla 3113, Philippines.
  3. Nwobi, Simeon c.m.f – The Two  Sides of Fellowship, Close-down Meditation on television: The Nigerian Television Authority. 1995.
  4. Song 262, It’s Not an Easy Road. In Let Us Celebrate, a compilation of hymns and choruses in various languages  by the Dominican  Community, Oyo Read, P.O. Box 6361, Ibadan Nigeria (also contained in other hymn books).
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