“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”(Proverbs 3:5-8)
Beatifying Mariam Thresia on 9 April2000 the then Pope John Paul II said “Blessed Mariam Thresia dedicated herself generously to the practice of the Evangelical counsels which did not spare her suffering sustained her in her many charitable works and willingness to seek out those who were lost.” Commitment measures an individual’s passion towards achieving a particular goal and dedication is a quality that can only be gained through both commitment and perseverance. Commitment is required to build up a strong personality and to inspire others and dedication is achieved through commitment. It is really Mariam Thresia’s sense of commitment and dedication which made her exceptionally what she was. The total surrender and self-abandonment practiced by Thresia elevated her to become forever a shining lamp in the presence of God.
Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality, and is the power to change the face of things. It lies in your thoughts and in your words and it is visible only through actions. When the intentions, words and actions are in congruence of each other, we call it commitment. And what supports your commitment is your passion towards a goal. It is the intention to please God in all our actions that is the key to commitment of a life of holiness. Thresia was fully aware from her early days onwards that only those who take the narrow road leading to life, a road leading to nothing other than God, will reach the summit of the mount. Mariam Thresia could reach the summit of the mount by choosing the narrow and hard path in order to find life in its fullness, the union of her soul with God. Thereby she was personally known by Christ and gained access to the kingdom of God.
Commitment is a pre-requisite for successful life
Your belief system is what makes you successful and capable of achieving the goal of your life. Commitment stands first on the list of values and priorities of successful people and differentiates them from the unsuccessful. A meaningful life lived in serenity and dedicated to a cause can become a challenge to the world and can wake it up. Since large numbers of people are asleep, only witnesses and bearers of God’s love can wake them up. In this fast progressing and rapid changing world Mariam Thresia realized that we are called not simply to attempt to live differently but to create a different world which will offer a prophetic witness in and sometimes against the world. It is through the attitudes of generosity, detachment, sacrifice, self-forgetfulness in caring for others that we become signs of God’s unconditional love for the humanity.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. This is the great and first commandment (Mt 22: 37- 38). God himself gave us this central commandment to love God, along with the other commandments (Deut 6:1-25). It helps to define the spirit in which the believers must keep all the other commandments and teaches that the chief commitment of our lives must be to God Himself. Every fiber of our being, every facet of our lives must be committed to loving and serving God. This means that we must hold nothing back from Him because God holds nothing back from us (Jn 3:16). Furthermore, if anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14: 26-27). Such commitment demands, if given an “either/or” situation, we turn away from them and continue with Jesus (Lk 12:51-53). The bottom line is that those who cannot make that kind of commitment cannot be in the strict sense a real follower of Christ. St Mariam Thresia was a strict follower of Christ and her strong commitment to God is distinguished by her heroic and unselfish activities.
The reason for such commitment and loyalty is that the trials we may have to endure will be quite demanding; our allegiance to Him at times may be arduous (Jn 15:18). Thresia’s whole life was a mixture of interior and exterior suffering and pain and she was able to accept them as God’s will without a word of complaint. She was strongly convinced that God will not ask us to suffer anything beyond our capacity. She never prayed to God to take her sufferings and problems away; rather prayed only for God to give the strength to go through them. Jesus alerted His disciples: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20). The apostle Paul echoed His warning: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).
Jesus has made plain the cost of discipleship: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Lk 9:23-24). In essence, the true cost of commitment to Christ is one’s total self-denial, cross-bearing, and the continual following of Him. These imperatives point to us sacrifice, selflessness, and service.
St Paul who followed the Lord’s example of commitment in sacrifice and service said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me….” (Gal 2:20). Total commitment to God means that Jesus is our sole authority, our guiding light, and our unerring compass. Being committed to Christ signifies being fruitful; it means being a servant. The call to commitment is a call to constant vigilance in maintaining and understanding the standards of that commitment. No matter what distractions a godly person may encounter, such a person needs to maintain his or her focus on serving the Lord. Our axiom is simple and succinct: “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). By being united to God Mariam Thresia, like St Paul surrendered herself and all her faculties to His service and could say ‘I don’t need anything in the world but the Lord’. Together with the Psalmist she could say “As a deer longs for flowing stream, so longs my soul for thee, O God.’ (Ps 42: 1-2).
Distinguishing marks of a committed Christian
Jesus gives three distinguishing marks of a committed Christian. These ingredients should be evident in the life of every disciple, which we can see also in the life of Blessed Mariam Theresa.
- An Unending Preoccupation with the Glory of God
Every committed Christian is preoccupied with and absorbed by his Lord’s glory. Glorifying God means to acknowledge His greatness and give Him honor by praising and worshiping Him, primarily because He, and He alone, deserves to be praised, honored and worshipped. The very purpose for which we exist is to give glory to God, so it is right to say that this is the first mark of a committed Christian. Such a person is concerned only with living to give glory to God, is not concerned about himself and is not preoccupied with his own glory. He’s not trying to climb the ladder, to get something bigger and better for himself. His greatest concern is His Lord’s glory. He realizes that it doesn’t matter what people think of him, but whether they glorify God. His motive, his theme, his goal, his reason, his purpose is to give the Lord glory in everything he does. His life reflects the attributes of God, and God is praised by the way he lives.
A concern for God’s glory, then, is one of the marks of a true disciple. It is the heart of the reason for our existences, a burning passion we inherit from our Lord Himself. One of the greatest ways we can give glory to God is to propagate the gospel. The message of the gospel radiates the glory of God like nothing else in the entire universe. When we preach the gospel, we are declaring the clearest and most powerful aspects of God’s glory. Thus, in a sense, witnessing is one of the highest and purest forms of worship, because it most clearly affirms the glory of God. Mariam Thresia was fully aware of the fact that our Christian life is not simply to proclaim the glory of the Son of God, rather it is a journey towards this glory and living according to His teachings.
God’s glory is wrapped up in His attributes. His love, mercy, grace, wisdom, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence—all the attributes of God—reflect and declare His glory. We glorify God when we in any way praise or acknowledge or experience or display His attributes. When we are models of His love, for instance, we glorify Him. When we acknowledge and yield to His sovereignty, we glorify Him. That is what it means to glorify God.
Jesus emphasizes the truth that the Father and the Son are fully engaged in glorifying each other, and the greatest glory of the Son is subsequent to His death on the cross. “If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately” (John 13:32). There was a certain glory in the cross, but the Father would not stop there. The resurrection, the ascension, and the exaltation of Christ in total glory are all important aspects of the glory that would be His. Even today, His greatest glory is yet to come. Mariam Thresia set her life apart to glorify God in all the ways possible and extended her service for the needy by putting complete trust in the divine providence. As a result, she could take risks and challenges as she dedicated herself to the service of the poor. She was courageous to be different. God in turn was pleased to glorify her as blessed.
- An Unfailing Love for the Humanity
Not only is the committed disciple preoccupied with his Lord’s glory, but he also is filled with His love. Perhaps this distinguishing mark of the committed Christian is the most significant of all in terms of practical living. The trees are better known by their fruits, flowers by their fragrance and human persons by their deeds.
And even though the disciples would no longer be able to rejoice in the visible presence of Jesus, they still would enjoy a full, rich experience of love, for they would have a depository of love in their own lives. In fact, love would be their primary distinguishing mark: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” Jn 13, 34). It is through the attitudes of generosity, detachment, sacrifice, self-forgetfulness in caring for others we become signs of God’s unconditional love for humanity.
The ultimate measure of faithfulness to God’s call lies in witnessing to the Gospel of mercy and God’s boundless love. Real love is costly, and the one who truly loves will have to make sacrifice, for love is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace (Pope Benedict XVI,Caritas in Veritate 1). By this you are displaying the most visible, practical, obvious mark of a true disciple.
The love of man is firmly grounded in the love of God. It is only when we love God that man becomes loveable. To God we must give a total love which is the dynamic of our actions. Total commitment issues in devotion to God and practical service of men. It was Mariam Thresia’s supreme love for the Lord that inspired her to give herself totally for the service of others. She took bold and loving steps to become better religious who are visibly joyful and wake up the world through a different way of living – not different from or superior to the Gospels, but different from the world’s ways – and a challenge to our own mediocrity, egoism and fear. The desire to love God intensely impelled her to go out of herself to join the suffering humanity with the belief that a poor man saved by her will make her rich. Thus, she became extremely rich before her master.
- A Steadfast Loyalty to the Son of God
Jesus, proclaimed Son of God at his Baptism, is subjected to a triple temptation in the very beginning of his public ministry (Mathew 4:1-11). Jesus reveals steadfastness and perseverance and his worthiness to be the Son of God by responding to each test with single-heartedness, resolute faithfulness, and fierce loyalty. The testing and temptation of Jesus after forty days and forty nights in the desert serves a double purpose. First, they are shaped in part from the tests Jesus underwent during his ministry, illustrating the ways in which the proclamation of God’s kingdom might have been diverted, so that it would have become a kingdom according to the standards of this world. Second, the temptations prepare us for the continued opposition of Satan who regards Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom as a threat to his own power and kingdom. God allowed Thresia to be tested by evil spirit for three years from 1902 to 1904. She had to suffer the torments not only in mind but in body as well. All these did not wave her from the decision to follow Jesus and dedicate herself for the service of the poor.
Those who have been captivated by the love of God will affirm the lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives by heeding the call to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1b). The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and the instrument through which the Holy Spirit works. True worship is the offering to God of one’s body, and all that one does every day with it. Real worship is the offering of everyday life to him, which sees the whole world as the temple of the living God. Paul the apostle writes: “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).
But dare I say that we have not worshiped until we have given ourselves to God. Worship is the total commitment of the total person for the total life. Anything less is not genuine worship. Worship is the free offering of ourselves to God; ever renewed, because ever imperfect. It expresses the consciousness that we are His. Yet we have not duly passed into His hand. Commitment is the giving of all one knows of himself to all one knows of God. Anything less than total commitment is unacceptable to God. It is doing everything God has placed before you as if there would never be a second chance. In spite of all the testing in life St Mariam Thresia offered herself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God and was always aware that to be a cheerful giver of herself at all times and in all places, is a super-human feat of holiness.
Jesus used two images, of a man who found a great treasure buried in a field, and of another man who found a pearl of great price, the most wonderful jewel imaginable (Mt 13:44-46). In each case he sold everything he had to acquire the treasure. Jesus said the first man did this “in his joy”, and we can assume the second one too did for the same reason. We too can find joy in the sacrifice that Romans 12:1 calls on us to make, as blessed Thresia did through her life.
One of the greatest temptations we face, as Christians, is the desire to please the world rather than God. Our goal should be to please God (2 Cor 5:9). “Find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph 5:10; see Col 1:10). But the temptation is always to seek to please men, or to avoid their displeasure. In an effort to be more acceptable to men, we often fall into the world’s ways of thinking and acting. John’s gospel speaks of religious leaders who “loved praise from men more than praise from God” (Jn 12:43). Paul set the right example when he wrote, “We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thes 2:4). Jesus said, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets” (Lk 6:26). God said, “Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth” (Is 51:12).
All this, in essence, is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). If we hold on to what we think of as ours, we will lose the life that Jesus Christ wants to give us. If we surrender everything to him, he will give us an abundant life on earth and eternal life with him in heaven. This is the sacrifice we are called on to make in view of the tremendous reward we receive for it. What he wants most is for us to give our lives to him, to be totally committed to him in all our ways. “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22). It is by a totally committed life that we best declare God’s greatness. Thresia loved God for Himself above all things and based her whole life on total trust and self-abandonment to the will of God. It is this love which urged her to go out of herself to the suffering humanity.
To be a Christian means to be different. He has been endowed with ears to listen and forgive, with hands to bless and console, with feet ready to walk that extra mile for the poor, and a heart burning with love for the Lord and his people so that he grows in holiness, into the image and likeness of Christ himself. As prayer, silence and reflection is apostolic activity his life style must resonate with the kenosis, the self-emptying radical poverty of the cross. The one who belongs to the Lord must be His totally. This prophetic dimension is the hallmark of a committed person like St Mariam Thresia.
Jesus has made it very clear that trying to reach God directly is only a dream. One has no option in reaching God except through people who are masterpieces of God’s creation. When one is concernedabout the needs of othersthen one is bound to discover what true happiness is all about. Mariam Thresia had a thirst to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness and to be a sign and instrument of God’s mercy. We are invited to challenge the demands of our time with our life and mission. We need to be co-workers for Christ always by imbibing and clothing ourselves with the love and compassion of Christ in our lives.
Pope Francis is busy challenging people and their attitudes and not doctrines. He called for merciful committed persons who, taking to the streets and working for the poor, could result in a radically different church. St Mariam Thresia’s power of optimism is visible throughout her life especially in undertaking risks and challenges in favour of the needy and she was more concerned with what God thinks about her than what people think about her.
The latest declaration by Pope Francis on the World Day of the Poor is an excellent expression of his love and preference for the poor. “Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3: 18). The Pope goes on to say that love has no alibi.Care for the poor is the primary expression of being a Christian. Demonstrating fraternity and solidarity with the poor is the characteristic of being a disciple of Jesus. St James too is very explicit in his call to reach out to the needy (James 2, 5 – 6. 14-17). The poor are not merely the beneficiaries of our good will; we need to go to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life. Such solidarity and sharing are what gives authenticity to our discipleship. For if we want to encounter Jesus we need to touch his flesh in the poor.Thresia showed by her lifestyle and pastoral initiatives a special closeness of heart to the poor, the needy and the suffering. She was able to see every person as a sacred child of God having inviolable value. She proved through her life that a meaningful life lived in serenity and committed to a cause can do what well-planned publicity campaign cannot achieve.
Dr. Vincent Alappatt
Marymatha Major Seminary