This past weekend, many youth from the parish participated in an awesome retreat called The King of the Ring. During this retreat, boxing was used as a powerful metaphor for our life as Christians. This metaphor is very accurate. Following Jesus means that we will often have to fight against various opponents. Like a boxer we are also surrounded by a great many people. Some are on our side, cheering for us and giving us advice. At the same time, it is difficult to hear these voices because there are also some in the crowd who are cheering for our opponents. They also try to give us bad advice in an attempt to have us make a false move or give up. Being a Christian is much like being a boxer fighting in a ring.
When we follow Jesus, we will have to fight to love God and keep His commandments. This is the challenge that Jesus gives us in the gospel of today. Though we all need to love God more, in a real way, we all do love God. Though we all are need to follow God’s commandments better, we all are trying to live and love as Jesus did. It would be wonderful of this was an easy thing to do. It would be great if being a Christian could be all rainbows and unicorns all the time, but it isn’t. Trying to follow the commandments is a struggle against various opponents. First, we fight against ourselves. None of us is perfect. We are broken and selfish human beings. Though we often know the right way to act, it can be very difficult to do so. As Jesus said, “the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). Second, we sometimes battle against other people. Conflicts can arise simply because of misunderstandings. Sometimes because of their own woundedness, people will try to hurt us, often to make themselves feel better. Regardless of the reason, these blows hurt. Finally, we fight Satan. The devil is real and will do all he can to keep us from loving God and keeping His commandments. As the saying goes: the struggle is real. This, however, should not surprise us. Jesus Himself was a fighter. He fought for all that was good, true and beautiful. He fought for the weak. He fought to reunite us with God our Father. It should come as no surprise that if we want to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and keep God’s commandments, we will also have to struggle.
In this fight, many voices will try to prevent us from winning. As a boxer in the ring, you are surrounded by a great crowd who all cry out. Many of these voices try to prevent you from loving God and following His commandments. For an activity on the retreat, I had the opportunity to talk with a few youth about this Gospel, in order to brainstorm ideas for this homily. They focused on the fact that in our life as Christians we encounter many voices that hold us back. Some of these voices take the form of negative peer pressure from our friends. Some of these voices we perceive as coming from those closest to us, our own family. Some of these voices come from within our own head. Here is a selection of some of the things the youth heard these voices saying.
You need to get good grades at school. If you don’t you are a failure. Don’t go to Mass today. You are too busy with school and work. If you want to fit in, you need to go to this party where there will be drugs and alcohol. You’re not good enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not smart enough. Nobody really likes you.
The youth also described how these voices made them feel. Anxious. Alone. Weighed down. Defeated. In our struggle to love God and follow His commandments, many voices try to prevent us from winning.
In this fight, the Holy Spirit is in our corner, ensuring us of victory. While on retreat, the youth talked about the numerous people that each of us have in our corners like our parents and good friends. Though Jesus does not fight our fights for us, as He explains in the Gospel of today, He has given us the Holy Spirit, who is the strongest support that we have. The Holy Spirit is like like the trainer that each boxer has in his or her corner. The trainer advises the boxer and gives encouragement. The trainer is the most important voice of all to listen to. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Paraclete. The word Paraclete means a number of things such as advocate, counsellor and consoler. In contrast to all the negative voices they hear, the youth explained that the Holy Spirit will say things like this to us.
You are beautiful, good, and God’s beloved son or daughter. You are never alone no matter how lonely you feel. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t succeed at first. Try your best. Life is a journey. God has a great plan for you. Respect and take care of yourself by not giving into the pressure to drink and do drugs. No matter how bad things seem, they will get better. Don’t loose hope.
The youth also described how it made them feel knowing that they had they Holy Spirit in their corner supporting them. Hope. Cared for. Trust. Peace. Loved. The Holy Spirit is the greatest gift from Jesus, He is our greatest support in our battle as followers of Jesus.
In order to ensure ourselves of victory, we need to take some practical steps to ensure that we are able to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Our lives are very busy and noisy. Here are two practical things we can do to ensure that the voice of the Paraclete is not drowned out:
- Actively seek silence and solitude in order to listen to the Holy Spirit. In a boxing ring, the boxer cannot normally hear the trainer over the noise from the crowd. For this reason, in between rounds, the boxer goes into the corner to be with and listen to the trainer. Likewise the voice of the Holy Spirit is a quiet one. In order to hear what He is saying to us, we need to choose some time each day to be in silence and solitude. Turn off your phone, music and computer. Give the Holy Spirit a chance to be heard. Start with five minutes.
- Keep a journal of the good things that the Holy Spirit says to you. You can do this during your time of silence and solitude! We have all at times heard the Holy Spirit’s voice of encouragement and love. Sometimes it is in something we read, sometimes through the voice of a friend or other times when in prayer. Unfortunately we tend to forget quickly these good and encouraging things. We focus on the negative voices. To combat this tendency, it can be very powerful to write down in a book the truth the Holy Spirit shows you. Write down all the things you love about yourself. Your talents and good qualities. What makes you a good friend. The values you want to live by. Often write down the blessings that happen in the day. Simple things like a nice conversation with a friend or the time you were able to show kindness to someone. Keep all this in a journal and refer to it often, especially when you are down and feel like giving up.
Our life as followers of Jesus is a battle. Loving God and keeping His commandments is not easy, but it is a something truly worth fighting for. Never give up, especially when you are knocked to the ground. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to help and console us. Today chose to take some steps to ensure you can hear His voice above the crowd. Decide to spend some few minutes each day in silence and solitude to write in a journal all the good and encouraging things that the Holy Spirit has to say to you. With the Paraclete by our side, victory is assured!