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Bible Reflections View Comments

Loyalty, Honor, and a Willing Heart
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 8, 2013
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When the first installment of The Hobbit movie hit theaters last winter, I saw it several times. The story of Thorin Oakenshield was expanded from the book, and one of the things I noticed was the emphasis on the group of twelve dwarves who had joined him on his quest to regain their ancestral kingdom. He had asked many others of their kin, all of whom declined the invitation. But he said, “I would take each and every one of these Dwarves over an army from the Iron Hills. For when I called upon them, they answered. Loyalty. Honor. A willing heart... I can ask no more than that.”

Thorin, like all tragic heroes, is a flawed leader, a man who can’t let go of a desire for revenge, who can’t forgive those who destroyed his people. But we see glimmers of hope in the lessons he learns. We can’t fault his courage and determination. He’s not a metaphor for Jesus by a long stretch, but his followers exhibit some of the characteristics of the twelve apostles, all of whom had their weaknesses, but nevertheless were willing to say yes.

Jesus tells the gathered crowd that they need to be willing to carry a heavy cross if they’re going to continue to follow him. He’s laying out the consequences for those who need to know the cost of something before they begin. The planners, the strategists, the cautious ones are the ones who nod knowingly at the stories of the builder left with an unfinished tower or the commander facing impossible odds on the battlefield.

Jesus reminds his followers that if they can’t bear the idea of the cross, they’ll never be able to bear the real thing. And bear it they must. He’s asking nothing less than everything. But at some point, following Jesus is a glorious leap of faith. Jesus wasn’t so much telling them to make a rational, calculated decision as he was warning them that the going was going to get a lot rougher than they imagined. He didn’t want them to follow him blindly, to delude themselves with dreams of easy victory and earthly triumph.

Faith, like so much of a life, is a constant swinging back and forth between caution and risk, between moving forward and then taking time to stop and consider where we are. There are times when we need to launch ourselves into the future God seems to be holding before us. At other times, we need to gather our resources for the long haul.

Counting the cost isn’t always the best way to approach our lives. How often have you heard someone say, “If I had known what the outcome would be, I never would have started.” And yet, they’re not sorry they did. When they look back, they see that somehow through God’s grace they found the strength to keep going, to see something through, to discover the new life on the other side of the abyss.

The goal of following Jesus is not a profitable corporation, a successful military campaign or a well-constructed building. The goal is the resurrection won by his victory over death, a victory that was far more of a high-stakes gamble than a well-oiled machine. Jesus’s first and best followers through the ages—Peter, James, John, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, John the XXIII, Teresa of Calcutta—often jumped first and asked questions later. They knew that trusting the Spirit was far more important than worrying about the weight of the cross.

Jesus calls us to respond to his call with loyalty, honor, and a willing heart. Everything else can come later.


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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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