Following Jesus means building spiritual muscles
By Mary P. Walker
On Nov. 3, Father Michael Schmitz spoke to a standing room only crowd of mostly college students at St. Mary Catholic Center at Texas A&M University. The title of his presentation was “No Pain No Gain. Jesus Doesn’t Skip Leg Day: Maturing in Our Faith Costs us, but it is All Worth It!”— an intriguing concept that unfolded over the course of the humorous and animated talk.
Father Schmitz is the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Iowa, and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. A popular Catholic speaker, he also has an extensive YouTube following.
“Christianity is uniquely different than any other world religion,” Father Schmitz said. Other world religions were established by a person claiming an insight into God or a revelation from God. In contrast, Christianity was established because Jesus came and said that he was God.
Father Schmitz then cited C. S. Lewis, who analyzed Jesus’ claim to be God. There are three possibilities regarding this claim. First, Jesus could have been a liar. However, liars lie to protect their own self-interest. Scripture consistently highlights the concern Jesus has for others.
The second possibility is that Jesus was suffering from delusions, that is, he had an incorrect perception of reality. If a person claims something that we suspect is the result of delusional thinking, we seek proof, as did those whom Jesus encounters in Scripture. Through miracles, forgiving the sins of others and rising from the dead, Jesus repeatedly proved that he was more than a good teacher or a good person.
The third possibility, and the correct one, is that Jesus was telling the truth. He is, as St. Thomas the Apostle said, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28)
“If Jesus is who he says he is, then you are who he says you are,” Father Schmitz said. Accepting the facts about Jesus is not enough to live as a Christian. As with the people of Jesus’ time, when he established who he is, there are only two choices: we either follow him or kill him, at least symbolically. We cannot be indifferent.
Also, being a Christian and following Jesus are not just about being good. The rich man in Luke 18 obeyed the commandments. Jesus asked for more, the total commitment of his life.
When we follow him, we are following a God who shares our vulnerability. Because he redeemed us, we may think that during hard times Jesus is merely consoling us and telling us that eventually things will be fine. Using the example of Jesus weeping at the death of Lazarus and experiencing the grief of Martha and Mary, Father Schmitz said, “We have a God who lets his heart be broken by what breaks your heart.”
Regarding the title of the presentation, Father Schmitz explained that when we exercise our arms and legs, we can improve our athletic performance up to a point. However, athletes have discovered that exercising our core, the midsection of our bodies, unites and amplifies the work of other muscles. Our core as Christians is to trust Jesus with our lives.
To illustrate this point, he told the story of Charles Blondin, who performed amazing feats as he walked a tightrope over Niagara Falls. When Blondin asked for a volunteer from his fans to be carried across, the only person to take him up on the offer was his manager. The manager said that as soon as Blondin picked him up, he felt the strength of a muscular body that allowed him to trust that he would make it to the other side.
While Blondin had many fans, only his manager was willing to trust him enough to put his life on the line. Blondin had to leave the anchored side of the tightrope to venture across and do amazing feats. Jesus too has many fans, but as followers, we are called to prayerfully and with prudence trust him with our lives, and leave behind anything that keeps us from him. That allows us to achieve the amazing things he has in store for each of us, Father Schmitz said.
The evening closed with prayer asking God to remove the barriers that keep us from being followers of Jesus. After the presentation, senior kinesiology major Laurita Keeler summed up the message, stating, “Jesus says ‘let me love you’ and time and time again he proves that he really is who he says he is … The call to trust Jesus with my whole heart is an invitation to something more and unfathomably awesome.”