We don’t often think about being persecuted for our faith in our modern times, but the truth is that 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution worldwide and that on average 11 Christians are killed every day for their faith (World Watch List 2019, 5). What can we do with this information? What can be our response? One response, of course, is to pray for those who are being persecuted. Ask that God keep them strong and firm in their faith. Another response is to treasure the freedom we have to worship our Lord and Savior in this country and to recognize that we are blessed to be faithful in our following of Christ unobstructed and unencumbered. Lastly, we can respond by recognizing that following Christ can be a dangerous venture, and one that is not to be taken lightly. We may not experience persecution for our faith right now or as overtly in other countries, but we need to be aware that suffering is part of the Christian walk to one degree or another. We need to stay strong, therefore, in the face of those we may ridicule us for our faith or may question why we follow Christ. This type of “mini-persecution” should never deter us or turn us away from our Lord. This should only make a stronger. Our faith is a matter of life and death. As the Bible says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). For his power is greater than any power that world can throw at us—even death!
In the Testimony column in the March 2018 Christianity Today, Iranian refugee Annahita Parsan says, “For some, the journey to seeing Jesus as Savior is sudden and dramatic like ti was on the road to Damascus. For others, the journey to faith looks more like the road to Emmaus: a gradual realization that Jesus is closer than the air we breathe” (p. 88).
Insightful words that got me to thinking about how coming to faith and growing in faith is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Sometimes we do indeed need to be knocked off our (high) horse, as St. Paul was on the way to Damascus. And oftentimes we need a quieter, gentler approach, as the Emmaus disciples experienced when Jesus inconspicuously walked alongside them.
My personal journey of faith has been more along the Emmaus Road lines. The words of Christ were revealed to me over time and I grew to know Jesus along the way. But there have been indeed times when I literally was caught off guard by a message from God.
It came recently at a conference in Phoenix during a breakout session in which the speaker was talking how hard it was for him as a father to watch his daughter who has Crohn’s disease suffer.
This verse flashed on the screen:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things? Romans 8:32
And I almost fell over.
Tears burst from my eyes and I recognized that I was being struck head-on with the good news that there is no length to which God will not go in order to care for me and love me. I do not need to worry or be afraid.
God watched his only child suffer and die so that we might be saved. That is how much he loves us.
I came out of that session with a new vision of and a new confidence in what God in Christ has done and is doing for me.
Think over your life about your journey of faith and recall what has been your Dasmascus Road moment and what has been your Emmaus Road experience. Our lives are filled with each and we need to be aware as much as we can of how God is speaking to us both dramatically and subtly. This is how we will grow more and more into who he wants us to be in Christ.
Our sister company, Twenty-Third Publications, came out with a publication recently called The Art of Accompaniment, a term expressed by Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel. Here is the link to the booklet:
By the term “the art of accompaniment,” Pope Francis is referring to the call of the Church to walk with people in compassion and love in whatever circumstances of life they are given.
The concept of the art of accompaniment can be applied to our journeying with younger generations through their milestones of faith as well (baptism, First Communion, confirmation). Our presence at these events and our encouragement of them in their faith can go a long way in keeping them grounded and confident in their relationship with Christ.
Our sister company Twenty-Third Publications has published a booklet called The Art of Accompaniment, which talks about how parishes are called to journey with their parishioners through their lives of faith.
Creative Communications offers products that help with this endeavor. Shepherd Guides cards are for use by the parish to send at milestones and church year holidays to those who were married in the church, who had a child baptized and who buried a loved one within the last year. (See links below.)
Creative also offers a journal for godparents to give to their godchildren to encourage them in their faith at their confirmation:
There are many ways beyond these publications, of course, to accompany fellow members of God’s family on their faith journey. I know that I personally have been on the receiving end of some uplifting faith-filled texts or emails from church friends who knew I was having a hard week. Those little gestures go a long way to help people stay strong and keep growing in their faith.
When I was hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and other places like it, I noticed stones stacked up into little towers along the way. I now know that those collections of rocks are called cairns and they are placed there by hikers to guide future hikers along the path to show them where to go. Over the centuries, cairns have also been used as landmarks and memorials.
I got to thinking that cairns of sorts were used in the Bible by Abraham, Moses and Jacob as altars. Check out these verses:
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. —Genesis 22:9
Abraham built this altar to acknowledge that God is God on his journey through his life, and he was saying through this cairn that he would obey God’s will. Of course, God would send an angel to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son. But later, God would sacrifice his own Son, Jesus, on the altar, the cairn, if you will, of the cross, which was erected on a rock hill called Golgotha.
One of our Creative Communications contributing writers, Michelle Van Loon, recently had her newest book, Moments and Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith, excerpted in the September 2016 issue of Christianity Today. Bravo, Michelle! Way to go!
Her words about how we order and structure our time resonate well during these weeks when a a new academic year begins.
Van Loon reveals in her book that in early pagan cultures time was seen as a wheel that kept going around and around. It was only the ancient Jews who began looking at time as a journey with a purpose.
We need to keep that in mind ourselves as we “get back on the hamster wheel” of routine again after the summer months.