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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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