A slogan I hear used all the time to encourage or inspire people is, “You’ve got to be true to yourself.”
As with a lot of popular slogans, there’s some truth and also a problem here. To be true to your best self, the person God has designed you to be and calls you to be, is crucial. But if by being “true to myself,” I mean that I put myself first, use my feelings, preferences or desires as the only standard by which I make decisions, without any regard for other people, then I need to watch out. That’s a trap.
Selfishness, or self-centeredness, can ruin lives and relationships. How many marriages, for example, have been ruined by self-centeredness? Sometimes, even if I’m not being selfish, I can still do damage simply by insisting upon what is just. As Christians, we’re called not only to demand justice for ourselves, but we are often called to go beyond justice, to be loving and merciful even when we aren’t being treated fairly.
But how do we get to this point of being loving and merciful? We begin by shifting our focus from being true to ourselves to being true to Jesus.
In so many of the readings from the Acts of the Apostles appointed for Mass during the Easter season, we read that the apostles were witnesses to Jesus. What does a witness do? A witness testifies to what is true. Jesus called those first apostles, and He calls you and me, to testify before the world that He is the truth, that He is truly alive now, that He comes to meet us in the Eucharist at every Sacrifice of the Mass, and that by receiving Him in Holy Communion we can come to live forever with Him.
Every one of your thoughts, every one of your words, and every one of your actions either says “yes” or “no” to the truth about Jesus. Nothing escapes the notice of God, and very little escapes the notice of other people. We are constantly communicating to other people what is important to us, what we truly value, what we would live and die for.
And people also imitate each other. I know that I very often pick up little habits or figures of speech from people close to me. Doesn’t it make sense then, that other people would pick up on our faith or lack of faith? On our willingness or unwillingness to talk about Jesus?
People imitate each other. I know that I very often pick up little habits or figures of speech from people close to me. Doesn’t it make sense then, that other people would pick up on our faith or lack of faith? On our willingness or unwillingness to talk about Jesus?
Being a witness to the truth about Jesus has never been easy, and it has cost countless people their lives. We call such people “martyrs,” which comes from a Greek word meaning “witnesses.” And we know — or we should know! — that there are many people suffering and dying for Jesus even today, in places where the Church is either illegal or severely restricted by law, or is attacked by lawless terrorists.
Jesus promised us a “witness protection program,” but not the kind that protects us from persecution. For example, Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 10, at a time when He was preparing them for their mission after His death, resurrection, and ascension:
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (10:16).
“You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (10:22).
“Do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (10:26-33).
Jesus has promised to protect our souls, our destinies, but He has not promised to protect us from the crosses we must carry as His witnesses.
This is the great mission of our lives: to know, love, and serve Christ and to help others do the same. And this mission comes with the great promise of our lives: heaven — perfect life and joy and peace with God and all who love Him forever.
This promise is what motivates us to have the difficult conversation with a family member or friend who’s on the wrong path in life, what motivates us to make the decision to do the right thing instead of the easy thing, and motivates us to cut something out of our lives that gives us pleasure but no peace.
The promise of heaven gives us the motivation, and the Eucharist gives us the strength, to be true to Jesus. We should remember that, and thank God, each time we approach His holy altar.
Fr. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome.