YOU WILL HAVE DISTRESS. BUT TAKE COURAGE! I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD. The program that Jesus spelled out for his followers was a daunting one. Opposition, rejection and persecution, even death, were to be their lot. Their faith in him had to be stronger than the fears and discouragement that they would confront in the course of carrying out their mission as ministers of the Gospel and of his sacraments. Knowing this to be the case Jesus, speaking as it were after the event, inspired them with these words that are an explanation of the meaning of his resurrection: it is a victory over the world.
Faith in Christ is much more than mere intellectual assent to the truths he revealed by his teaching; it is a power to overcome evil, suffering and death itself. For faith is the presence of the Spirit of the Lord acting upon our heart as well as enlightening our intellect. His grace gives a new orientation to our affections and desires. Under His influence and due to our attachment to the person of Jesus we are able to redirect them to those truths that the Lord communicated to us in his words and example.
On this occasion when we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Fr. Thomas Bond's ordination as a priest we do well to dwell on these fundamental truths of our faith. The trials and temptations that Jesus speaks of in today's Gospel as distress (thlipsis in Greek) take different forms in each Christian vocation. Every follower of Christ has need of a faith that has overcome the world. It is not only priests and preachers who meet with resistance, and rejection and possibly even hostility. All of us can expect some kind of distress as we live according to the teachings of our Lord. None can predict just what form it might take. Carrying out an obedience that sent him to the Philippines Fr. Thomas was confronted with trials he could not have anticipated on his ordination day. Imprisonment and hunger as well as danger of death from war were a part of his experience there. If that experience represented one extreme, finding his way into the monastery was on the surface its opposite and just as unforeseen. The steady purpose of seeking to carry out God's will in a life of holiness provided the one guiding principle in his pursuit throughout the years.
Fidelity to the person of our Lord, attachment to his person and the determination to follow him wherever this search might lead us are essential for anyone who would live according to the Gospel. Confidence that the Lord will not abandon us in our need is essential to perseverance in this quest, as our Lord well knew when he announced to his apostles that he has already overcome the world, and he abides with us. St. Paul had learned this lesson well, one he certainly needed in his multiple testings and trials. He uses the same word Jesus did in speaking of these sufferings, distress as he proclaimed his confidence in God's fidelity which assured his own perseverance.
What can separate us from the love of Christ? Distress, pressure, persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger or the sword? But in all these things we overcome because of the one who loves us (Romans 8: 35- 37).
May we take these words to heart today as we thank God for the sixty faithful years Fr. Thomas has persevered in his priestly ministry. May he have many more to come until the day when we all meet in the presence of the God who calls us to follow His son to glory in the Kingdom where he gathers his faithful children into one.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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