Labeling something “an uphill battle” finds us using a well known English idiom. We know that the phrase denotes some type of task, some struggle that is difficult. Why so? Because the job in question involves all sorts of obstacles, not the least of which is opposition from other people. Playwright Jean Paul Sartre’s famous quote “Hell is other people” often fits the bill. There are uphill battles everywhere. One example would be for a budding entrepreneur who tries to get a permit to open a bar.
Unless he or she knows someone on the town or city council, that is. Another would be for a job seeker who is in his/her 60’s. Most companies want youth, not experience. (That is not the case when it comes to our Church, by the way. Two of our country’s bishops began new assignments this past summer at age 71!) Now in this discussion one major truth about uphill battles that emerges does not require much research. That is the matter of living the Christian life, day in and day out. Mark that as definite. One reason for this is that the opposition is everywhere, often from unsuspected sources, and the news headlines indicate that it’s winning.
There was a time when it was fair to assume that America was a largely Christian country, always tolerant of other faiths, but respecting God and the ways of living taught in the gospels. Today we’re becoming recognized as “the home of the nones.” Who are they?
People having no affiliation with a Church or religious body. The majority are ex-Catholics. Then we have the rise of secularism, where God is nowhere to be found in its tenets and practice. Many of them, some from among our own families, don’t accept Christ for who He said He was: the Son of the living God. His teachings are notably ideal but mean little for everyday life. They might accept Him as a learned teacher, a good man well-intentioned, but certainly not a divine person and largely irrelevant. They see no link between Jesus and the Catholic Church, even though He identified Himself with it.
Here is where we need to recall the defining question St. Paul faced when he was still called Saul, and was an avid persecutor of Christians. Enroute to one of his roundup missions, he was knocked to the ground only to hear the voice of Jesus ask: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” To all this we must add the social environment we live in. I found this alliterative analysis of it in a Time magazine essay, which said in part: “Ours is a huckstering, show-bizzy world, jangling with hype, hullabaloo, and hooey; bull, baloney, and bamboozlement.” (Admittedly I like the funny alliteration. But there is no humor in that summation.)
Even more sadly is the fact that even our children have already acquired the cynical assumption that lying is the normal tack for television advertisers. Standing ever tall amid this mess is Jesus, “the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” He has always been truthful, as He is in this Scripture passage today, where He promises His followers they will be persecuted as was He. It seems to be God the Father’s way of sifting out the gold from the dross among those who claim allegiance to His Son. It involves us having the will to see things through until the end, in spite of fear, obstacles, discouragement and opposition.
With it, we can accomplish the whole purpose of our existence, which is be worthy of our true home, where we will enjoy an indescribable bliss after this earthly time of trial. Is perseverance easy? Not by a long shot! But deep down I think we all know that. All we need do is read the biography of our favorite saint to see an example. It seems to me that perseverance involves an antipathy toward defeat. St. Patrick, who converted the people of Ireland to Christianity, faced frequent obstacles in his missionary work including false imprisonment, certainly knew where His strength was.
Here is part of his poem aptly titled “God’s Strength to Comfort Me”: I gird myself today with the power of God: God’s strength to comfort me, God’s might to uphold me; God’s wisdom to guide me; God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me; God’s hand to lead me; God’s way to lie before me; God’s shield to protect me; God’s angels to save me from the snares of the devil; from the temptations to sin, from all who wish me ill, both far and near, both alone and with others.