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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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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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