By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor Emeritus
The theme of this year’s Archdiocese of Louisville Men’s Conference was a simple, concise statement — “Be the Light.”
But the nearly 800 men who gathered for the conference March 21 at St. Michael Church in Jeffersontown heard that such a declarative statement can be complicated and demanding.
It is not easy to be a follower of Jesus Christ, they were told. It is not easy to “become the light” of Christ in the world.
The conference keynote speaker was Dr. Jonathan J. Reyes, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Reyes, a father of seven, reminded those seated before him that to become the light of Christ “is to expect to be treated the way Jesus Christ was treated.”
And our faith has taught us, he noted, that Jesus was, of course, never treated well.
“He was just days old when an angel visited his father and said ‘flee, there are those who want to kill your child,’ ” Reyes said. “Think about this: From his birth, Jesus had to live with persecution. Jesus’ whole life was lived on the run.”
After his baptism, for instance, Reyes noted that Jesus fled into the desert to “wage war with the devil for 40 days.”
“The Bible says ‘the devil left him to await a more opportune time,’ ” Reyes recalled.
Reyes also noted that Jesus “was always being set up by those who opposed him.” Jesus knew, for instance, that if he healed the hand of a man in the temple that those looking for excuses to destroy him would say that the healing amounted to work on the Sabbath, something that was against the law.
“So Jesus asked them about the sheep in the well,” Reyes explained. “Wouldn’t they try to save it, even if it was on the Sabbath?”
From that day forward, he noted, “the Pharisees plotted to destroy him for healing that man.”
To imitate Jesus, to be his light to the world, “is to be a sheep among wolves,” Reyes said. “It’s to be mocked and persecuted.”
“You know, there is a version of Christianity that says if you become Christ-like, life will be great. You’ll get a great job, have a great family, have white teeth,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t know what Gospel those people are reading” because being a follower of Jesus is difficult, demanding and ultimately rewarding beyond all measure.
To be a follower of Jesus takes four virtues, Reyes said. They are:
Courage — which is not to be fearless. “Being fearless is rash,” Reyes noted. “Courage is facing your fears and doing the right thing anyway.”
Endurance — because “life is not a sprint,” he said. “Discipleship is not a sprint. If we don’t endure and stand until the end, then why start? Victory in Christianity is to stand until the end; it is to give one’s life for the Gospel.”
Magnanimity — “which literally means ‘great soulness,’ ” he explained. “Aspiring to great things is to be the highest version of yourself. To be president or to be a prince of England is not as great as being a follower of Jesus Christ.” Jesus told us that if we walk with him, we “can attain greatness and be our highest selves.”
Zeal — which doesn’t necessarily mean enthusiasm, he said. “It means steady, dedicated, persistent devotion to a cause.”
Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem where he would be crucified, Reyes noted, and no one could talk him out of going.
“We need zeal to set our faces toward Jerusalem … we need zeal to be the light of Jesus.”
Reyes called on those at the conference to realize they were “being called to greatness.”
“There is nothing higher; you are called to be a light in the world,” he said. And to accomplish that, we “must fix our eyes on Jesus.”