We have seen last week that following Christ’s call is not easy for the road of discipleship is a path laden with thorns and crosses. The call which Christ extended to Peter would make him stretch out his arms to be led to where he would not like to go. The Acts of the Apostles today tell us that “the leading men of the city stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabbas and expelled them from their territory.” It seems that persecution is the lot of those who follow Jesus. That is why we oftentimes wonder: Why follow Jesus if such would only lead us to a way of suffering and trials? I think the answer is given by Jesus himself: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.” The Apocalypse, which is the 2nd reading, shows us a vision of “a great multitude, which no one could count”…standing before the throne and the Lamb, wearing white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.” Indeed, Jesus is able to deliver what he promises: to those who hear his voice and follow him, he gives eternal life.
Once, I was invited to a Career Orientation which was sponsored by the high school I graduated from. I was made to sit amongst highly successful alumni of the school: Lawyers, Architects, Doctors, and the like. Each was given a chance to talk about their professions and this question was always asked by the students: “How much do you earn?” Believe it or not, I was asked the same question to which I replied: “My employer does not pay me much but I am here because the retirement benefits are great: He will give me eternal life.” The 2nd reading gives us a very beautiful explanation of what eternal life is: “They stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb…will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
In fact this same reading reveals to us that the priesthood begins on earth what all of us will do in heaven for all eternity: “they worship him day and night.” Amongst the many labors of the priest, prayer takes primacy: In his message for today, the Holy Father says, “If the priest is a ‘man of God’, one who belongs to God and helps others to know and love him, he cannot fail to cultivate a deep intimacy with God, abiding in his love and making space to hear his Word. Prayer is the first form of witness which awakens vocations. Like the Apostle Andrew, who tells his brother that he has come to know the Master, so too anyone who wants to be a disciple and witness of Christ must have ‘seen’ him personally, come to know him, and learned to love him and to abide with him.” And this is the wonderful life of a priest: he is not just a disciple and a witness of Christ. He is the friend of Christ: one who ‘sees’ the Lord personally, knows him, loves him, and abides with him. No amount of money can buy that surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ Crucified. Already on earth, he enjoys intimacy with Christ. In heaven, while all other professions will cease, the priest will still continue to do what he has been doing here on earth: he will worship God day and night.