Many of us take our faith for granted. We live out our faith carelessly and complacently. We fail to treasure the faith we have received through the sacrifices of our forefathers in faith. It is therefore important that we not only strengthen our faith but also be responsible for the faith of those who are under our care. This was what St Paul said to the elders of the Christian community, “Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, to feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood.” Similarly, Jesus prayed at the end of His life, “Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us. While I was with them, I kept those you had given me true to your name.”
The truth is that as Christians we face onslaughts both from within and without. In the gospel, Jesus spoke of the persecution of His disciples by the world. He prayed to His Father, “I passed your word on to them, and the world hated them, because they belong to the world no more than I belong to the world. I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” Indeed, today in a secular world, there is discrimination against those who profess a religion by the minority who do not. The rules are in favour of secularism even though the greater part of the people are faith believers. Religion is excluded from public life in the name of religious neutrality. So it appears that only secularists benefit from the system.
However, the opposition comes not just from without but also from within. This is even more insidious. St Paul warned the Christians of the opposition that comes from within, ie among themselves. “I know quite well that when I have gone fierce wolves will invade you and will have no mercy on the flock. Even from your own ranks there will be men coming forward with a travesty of the truth on their lips to induce the disciples to follow them.” Indeed, the Church would have been an indomitable and formidable force in the world if only Christians, especially their leaders, live a life of Christ and are true to the name that they received from God. It is the division that comes from disagreement in doctrines, in leadership and in pastoral approaches that have caused us to weaken. When we are not united as one Body, but fight among ourselves, we lose focus and direction. Instead of directing our energies towards spreading the Good News to the world, we exhaust ourselves with internal bickering, fighting and quarrelling. Oftentimes, leaders, by their poor examples of Christian living, are themselves the cause scandal. They are egoistic, self-serving, dictatorial and authoritarian, lacking humility in their service of the Lord and His people.
How, then, can we help ourselves and our loved ones to protect the faith we have inherited? Firstly, we must consecrate ourselves to our Father. Jesus said, “Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth.” Before we can lead others to God and help them preserve their faith, we must, like Jesus, first consecrate ourselves to God. We must surrender our whole life to Him and seek to protect His honour and glory by living an exemplary life of love and truth. This is what Jesus meant when He prayed, “Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us. While I was with them, I kept those you had given me true to your name.” To be true to the name of God means that we exemplify our life according to our identity, which is to live as how God’s children should live.
Secondly, it means that we be consecrated to the truth through the Word of God. Jesus said, “I passed your word on to them, and the world hated them, because they belong to the world no more than I belong to the world.” We need to be rooted in the Word of God. Christian leaders, parents and teachers, have a duty to feed those under their charge with the Word of God. St Paul reminds us, “Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, to feed the Church of God.” We need to instruct our children in the faith. Quite often, parents neglect their responsibility to teach and talk to their children and loved ones about their shared faith. At home, we discuss about everything that is mundane, but when it comes to God, we are diffident and shy about sharing and discussing our faith. Parents and teachers should initiate discussion about their faith regularly so that by asking and inquiring, their children will come to appreciate the faith better through understanding and knowledge. Jesus could, with a clear conscience at the end of His life, say to His Father, “I have watched over them and not one is lost except the one who chose to be lost, and this was to fulfil the scriptures. But now I am coming to you and while still in the world I say these things to share my joy with them to the full.”
Most of all, we must involve ourselves through study and reading of scripture to enlighten us in the truth. As St Paul says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16f) It is necessary that as Christians we not just read the Word of God everyday but also contemplate on His Word, study the scriptures and share the Word with our fellow Christians. Only through constant contact with the Word of God can we remain strong in our faith and allow Christ to live in us. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (Jn 14:23)
Thirdly, to be consecrated in the truth is to be consecrated in love. Truth is not a concept or an idea but a verb. It is love in action. To live in the truth is to live in love for God and our fellowmen. Only love can keep us in the truth. That was how St Paul reminded the Christian community, by demonstrating his sincere love for them. He sought to win them over by his love and devotion. The preaching of St Paul was not mere words. He reminded the Christians to be faithful to the faith simply because Christ shed His blood for the Church. He said, “Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, to feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood.”
Above all, Paul himself too suffered much for the community, laboring in unselfish love. He wrote, “So be on your guard, remembering how night and day for three years I never failed to keep you right, shedding tears over each one of you.” It was his untiring service and love that kept the Christian community growing from strength to strength. His love for the people was demonstrated in tears and patient suffering. To show his sincerity, Paul strove to offer the gospel free. He said, “I have never asked anyone for money or clothes; you know for yourselves that the work I did earned enough to meet my needs and those of my companions.” He did not wish to take any money or assistance from them but worked for his own upkeep. The reason was simply that he did not wish to tax the poor with unnecessary burden. “I did this to show you that is how we must exert ourselves to support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’”
Finally, we must always pray for those under our care and for each other. Prayer is the means by which we ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to help us to be strong in times of trials and tribulation. In the gospel, Jesus was aware of the difficulties that His disciples would face after He was gone. That was why He ended His mission with a long prayer to His heavenly Father to protect the Church. St Paul too prayed earnestly with the Christians. “he knelt down with them all and prayed.” Prayer means to depend on His power and on His strength. Praying together with each other strengthens our common bond and friendship.