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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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Maria Goretti: One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. 
<p>She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class. </p><p>On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger. </p><p>She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. </p><p>Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. </p><p>Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, may the medals we wear be constant reminders of the lives they depict. While wearing them, may we be blessed through the saints’ intercession and protected from harm. Help us to continue to spread the messages of Jesus and Mary and the saints and angels.

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