Stay Close. The Battle is Already Won.

The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail. (Matthew 16:18)

The data can be troubling. Studies continue to show a decline in church attendance, especially among young people. Fewer and fewer people are calling themselves Christian, with many opting for the vague term of “spiritual, but not religious.” Each of us probably knows someone who is struggling with their faith or who has left the Church. And yet Jesus promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church. How can we believe this?

Perhaps the best place to start is by taking these words personally. Remember, Jesus has placed his Church in our hands, so it’s worth asking what role we have to play in fulfilling the promise. “What can I do to make sure the Church remains safe?”

The answer is as simple as it is challenging: stay close to Jesus. He has already won the battle against the devil, so he can defend you as well. Try as they might, the powers of sin and darkness won’t be able to sway you if you keep yourself connected to the Lord. It doesn’t mean you’ll be free from temptation, but it does mean that you’ll find the strength to stand firm. Be faithful to daily prayer. Make the most of your time at Mass. Pursue the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And serve Jesus as he is present in the poor and needy.

Of course, these are the obvious answers. But have you ever thought about how, when you are praying or celebrating Mass, you are also pushing back the devil and his power? Remember, you are a member of the body of Christ. There are very real spiritual consequences to your prayer life—consequences for the entire Church! As you stay close to the Lord, you are strengthening and defending all of your brothers and sisters around the world.

It’s because individual believers all over the world are clinging to Jesus right now that his Church remains protected. So as you intercede today for the Church or for family members who are struggling in their faith, you can be confident in Jesus’ promise. You can pray from a position of trust because you are part of the answer to your own prayers!

“Jesus, you are victorious! You have given new life to each member of your Church. Strengthen your body on earth.”

Casting Yourself Into the Wind

Lord, if it is you . . . (Matthew 14:28)

A contemporary poet once wrote, “A good love is one that casts you into the wind, sets you ablaze, makes you burn through the skies and ignite the night like a phoenix; the kind that cuts you loose like a wildfire, and you can’t stop running simply because you keep on burning everything that you touch.”

Peter might agree with this description because this is the kind of love that he had for Jesus. From the moment he abandoned his fishing nets, he cast himself “into the wind” with Jesus, following him wherever he went and trying to imitate him. He even tried to walk on water for him! Though Jesus had to rescue him, it is inspiring that Peter got out of the boat in the first place. He couldn’t help himself; he just had to be where Jesus was.

In the same bold manner in which he stepped out onto the water, Peter promised at the Last Supper that he would never deny Jesus. But just as he foundered in the water, Peter gave into fear a few hours later—three times. But again, just as he did when Peter was sinking, Jesus rescued him, this time with a single glance (Luke 22:61). While that look made Peter aware of his sin, it also led him to repentance. According to Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, it was a look of “kindness that offers forgiveness.” “Gentle and silent,” it helped Peter remember Jesus’ love and gave him the courage not to give in to hopelessness but to keep trying to follow the Lord.

Peter knew he wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t focus on his failings. Instead, he kept his eyes on Jesus and persisted in taking the next step toward him, whether that meant trying to walk on water or repenting for his lack of faith. Jesus’ love for Peter had set his heart ablaze, and his heart continued to burn precisely because Peter didn’t give up.

Today, picture yourself looking into Jesus’ eyes, and try to receive his gentle look of love. As Pope Francis likes to say, Dejàte misericordiar, “Let yourself be ‘mercy’d.’” Surely your heart can burn with love as well.

“Lord, enkindle in me a desire to follow you and remain close to you my whole life.”

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