| By Father Dwight Ezop

Does growth have to be painful?

Through the course of the summer months just passed, we have been journeying with Jesus in Saint Luke’s Gospel. Each of the Gospel selections we have heard recently form a kind of handbook from Jesus that helps us to understand the nature and the cost of discipleship. When summer began, we witnessed Jesus sending the disciples out into the surrounding countryside. As they made their way from town to town, they received their first taste of what it would mean to minister in the Lord’s name. They discovered both the joys and the challenges of proclaiming the Good News. Some folks were willing to listen, while others rejected both the message and the messengers.

In sharing the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus would teach about the need to be compassionate, and that God’s goodness can be found in places and in people we might discount or simply count out because they do not fit our preconceived notions of who can act in the name of God. Jesus teaches us to be persistent in our prayers, and that our lives must be a healthy mix of sitting at his feet – taking the time to learn from him – and putting what we have learned into daily loving action.

As the Sundays of summer wound toward their conclusion, Jesus offered some of the most profound challenges to each of us who choose to follow him – especially in the context of the culture and time in which we live. Through the prideful experience of a rich man, Jesus challenged us to think about how we understand the role of material goods in our lives. Are we possessed by our possessions, or are we able to see them as God-given gifts that can be used for the good of others and for building up the kingdom of God? Jesus also urged us to examine our human relationships and our relationship with God. Do we see our relationship with God and our choice to follow Jesus as the most important relationship and choice in our lives, or do we act in ways that show a different reality?

I think if we are honest with one another, the Gospels of these summer Sundays should leave us squirming in our seats and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the costs and the challenges of growing as disciples of Jesus. Yet, if there is one thing we know, it is that growth can be an experience that is both painful and beautiful. Growing in faith can be painful, because we recognize how often we fall short of the model set for us by Jesus. At the same time, it is beautiful because we recognize that left to our own efforts and devices, we can never grow in the ways Jesus calls us to grow. We need his grace and mercy for this task. This is true for all of us, no matter our age.

As we share with you this year’s Teen issue, we do so as a way to encourage people of all ages. The growth in faith experienced by the young people you will meet in this issue is emblematic of the spiritual and faithful growth to which each of us is called, regardless of age.

Our summer walk with Jesus in Saint Luke’s Gospel has been all about Jesus’ patient encouragement to grow daily in our love for him, and how that love is manifested in our daily lives. We naturally expect our young people to be open to such growth and to be living models of it. In truth, this growth in faith and love of God is meant to be a reality for each and every one of us, as we continue to walk with Jesus. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.