(Hebrews 13:6, NAB)
If you have ever tried to Google for the word “Free”, you will receive about 7,170,000,000 results. It is interesting to note that if one were to just add on “Grace” the results would reduce significantly to about 68,500,000. Thereafter, if we bring “God” into the whole equation, the results will shrink down to only 8,000,000! Now, if “Faith” were to be planted in, Google produces about 1,950,000 results. The price of “Commitment” will cause everything to go down even further to about 266,000 results and in this season of Lent, “Repentance” would result in the whole search humbling down to a mere 53,900!! Interesting statistics, fascinating trend...
But what has this interesting Google discovery got to do with our journey towards Lent? Let me attempt to simply illustrate my thoughts for today.
In life, as we already know too well, there are lots and lots of ‘free’ stuff around us, tempting us, seducing us, crying out for our attention, wanting a piece of our limited time – things, tasks, shortcuts, remedies, relationships, distractions, etc, etc. A materialistic attitude is a gross obstacle to the spiritual life. The philosophy of materialism makes man a 'little God'. There is simply no place for God in this kind of mentality.
Well, grace is also ‘free’ and very simply it is the love given freely by God to all of us, His creation. There is really nothing that we can do to merit grace, because it is a gift from the God who made us; gifts are free! Let us ponder a little bit more on this term ‘free’.
In dull economic terms, ‘free’ technically does not exist in the domain of money; one of the reasons that ‘free’ is sometimes such a difficult concept to grasp – its something we cannot count with our fingers! Very simply, ‘free’ has no cost or price attached (so it seems) and it is basically nothingness – something which gets consumers like us terribly excited, influencing our choices, distracting our focus.
Nevertheless, it is reasonable for us to sometimes associate ‘free’ with diminished quality – just because there isn’t a price attached to it; we tend to value it less, take it for granted, and without a second thought, waste it. Generally, we do not care as much about things we do not have to pay for; we take free stuff because it is there, not because we want it.
Could this be a possible reason then as to why 'cradle' Catholics (who never had to pay any price at infant stage) are perceived to be less passionate and actively committed about their faith, then say, 'born-again' Catholics (who are transformed by the workings of God's grace during baptism)? Food for thought!
Thus, charging a 'price' can encourage a much more responsible and committed behavior; consumers become more careful not to lose it. The downside of this – when a certain cost or price is imposed, the participation decreases radically; as depicted from the earlier metaphor of the Google search results. Coincidently, quite an interesting similarity observed!
As such, fellow pilgrims, faith is simply our personal act of response to the free gift of grace, which is always at the initiative of God who reveals himself to us. God gives each one of us sufficient grace and free-dom to overcome the challenges in this journey through life, even when it sometimes seem like we are constantly struggling.
It is when we are weakest that we are the strongest because that is precisely when God's power can be made perfect in us.
We observed that many people, when things get so bad, seemingly hopeless and burdensome in their lives, tend to fall down on their knees in tears and beg God to fix things now; put things right immediately.
Our commitment to the former response is our acknowledgment of God as the loving Father, over our own limited mortal strength. This is the beginning of our relationship with God; also the beginning of the end of our human pride - repentance. We repent and surrender ourselves before the Lord of life in order that He may come, take control and transform our lives from within.
Conversely, the pride-ridden and self-proclaimed ‘strong’, who constantly boast of being in full control of their worldly affairs by virtue of their own competency, abilities and actions, would find it tremendously challenging to respond with such a spirit of radical discipleship; their hearts having been hardened by the cruel ways of the world.
To illustrate further, when soil is loose, it imediately absorbs drops of rain to be nourished and enriched. However, if the same rain falls on a rock (our harden heart), it bounces off. Similarly, one of the prerequisites of learning how to swim is to relax in the water. As we relax, we discover how buoyant the water is and how much it supports us.
“...without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NAB)
As we journey on towards Lent, we come to realize that there must initially be a first step, on our part, towards making the commitment to repent, turn God-ward and acknowledge our need for God. God cannot work in us as powerfully if we choose to be self-reliant, doubt Him and not want to take notice of His free grace continuously showered upon us.
Today, simply take the first step to humbly acknowledge Jesus, the Son of God, who laid down His life, and paid the price of our salvation...the agony, the sorrow, the conspiracy, the humiliation, the mocking, the scourging, the crucifixion on a cross - the cruelest form of torture devised by 'free' man - the slow death over six agonizing hours.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, NAB)
Therefore, wake up and freely choose to bring yourselves before the Lord and permit Him to act in you. If God seems far away, whom do you think has moved? Well, God obviously did not...