“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.
Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?”
By these words the Lord Jesus teaches and warns us that in order to persevere on the narrow way leading to eternal life, we should first beware of false teachings, heresies and those who preach them (heretics and apostates). So this is the most essential thing – to keep the true faith and a true inner relationship with Christ. Therefore, the Apostle Paul says that if an apostle, or even an angel from heaven, should preach a different (i.e. false) gospel, let him be accursed (cf. Gal 1:8-9).
We know the Word of God and we know the Tradition of the Church. We have God-given conscience. This all gives us the power and the art of discerning the teaching of Christ from the false teaching of the current apostate hierarchy and theologians. The Lord Jesus established forever that he who is of the Truth and of God hears His voice and will not follow a stranger. And he who is not of God does not hear His voice (cf. Jn 7:17; Jn 8:47; Jn 18:37).
It is said: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” And then Jesus says that if two agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them. This really is the key not only to building a living Church as the basic cell but also to true unity where Jesus is in the midst and where it is necessary for both of the believers to become powerless, i.e. to deny themselves and take up their cross, and then Jesus can show His power. If we do not obey the principle of self-denial and if we refuse to carry our cross, Jesus is paralyzed.
In the reflection on Jesus encountering the Emmaus disciples, we read: “Grant to me, O Lord, that I may see You both in me and my brother who is praying with me.” We see Christ neither in us nor in our brother. Jesus wants us to look with the eyes of faith.
To carry our cross means first to identify what this cross is concretely. My cross, with regard to my character and my nature, is one thing and my brother’s cross is another thing. However, our cross is not just our character but also the specific circumstances and situations in which we are powerless. Whatever we do, nothing works. One can say: we just sink deeper and deeper. Then we must either suffer a blow through our own fault, or we need someone else to give us a blow so that we can finally be pulled out of the swamp. Therefore it is necessary that spiritual shepherds should have personal experience of spiritual battle so that they are able to give wise advice or to teach people sound principles and also to encourage them.
We must take up our daily cross. This cross is in the first place our own nature and character. If someone tells us his attitude towards us, it hurts us. The problem with many beginners is that although they have received Christ, their nature, the old self, is so strong that it cannot stand criticism and use it as an incentive for true repentance. They fail to use this inner pain to look at Christ scourged, crowned with thorns and crucified or to unite their pain to His pain. The old self, on the contrary, either turns this painful wound into hatred towards the brother – this works automatically without any effort – or indulges in self-pity, which also is a false path. We often not only nourish our wounded feelings for years, but we masterfully reopen or even deepen the wound. So we really have reason to know ourselves more and more deeply and motivation to fight against the spiritual poison in us.
We need to launch out into the deep. To be with Jesus scourged, crowned with thorns and mocked. It is about the attitude of heart. The Apostle Paul says: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… He humbled Himself to the point of death.” Indeed, Jesus gave us an example. He says clearly: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.” Self-denial is not only physical. It means above all to deny our “self”, the root of our ego, the old self which wants to take everything fully into its own hands. This self-denial also concerns our thinking, our feelings and our mental and physical discipline. Moreover, it is a question of curiosity of the eyes, a question of preferring a variety of irrelevant information to doing God’s will in a particular situation. For instance, sometimes God speaks to us and wants us to deny ourselves a little. Suddenly we have an irresistible urge to do anything else but abandon our thoughts or plans and contact God’s thoughts and God’s presence.
On the one hand, there is a need for evangelization, but on the other hand, there is a need to pray to the Lord for evangelizations to be organized in a certain rhythm, because although they bring zeal and dedication, and one can say a spiritual harvest in their climax, they are just like the exodus from Egypt. Then follows the Red Sea and the desert, i.e. a series of trials, which are also symbolized by snakes that bit the Israelites when they grumbled, in which period God purified their hearts. And then the people of God came to the land of Canaan, but we see that they very quickly turned away to pagan practices again, as described in the Book of Judges, and actually in the entire history of Israel. The tendency to go back to the old way of life – paganism and the cult of the old self connected with it – continues. The climax comes with the coming of Christ, His death and glorious Resurrection and then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the Apostolic period, we see the zeal of an evangelist and missionary particularly in the life of St Paul. After that, all of the Apostles died martyrs and a period of a bloody persecution of Christians followed.
Heaven is at hand, for I will die soon. Just a few more years and I shall stand before the gates of heaven. And should I even live a hundred more years, they will pass in no time. How powerfully the thought of heaven should motivate me! This thought moved so many boys and girls to despise the joys and goods of this world, which will pass, so as to attain eternal heaven.
St Bernard had seven brothers. All of them resolved to forsake everything, to join a monastery and to serve God wholly. They had great wealth and wondered what to do with it. They said to each other: “Let us give everything to our youngest brother.” They came to him and told him: “Dear brother, we decided to give all our heritage to you.” He looked at them and said: “How clever you are! You want eternal heaven for yourselves and earthly kingdom for me? I want the kingdom of heaven too! What is the good of wealth?” Finally, after their mother’s death, their father likewise joined a monastery. They really burned with zeal for Christ. They experienced a true spiritual renewal.