Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

You may have heard of the Chinese expression “Lying flat” “Tang Ping” in Chinese. Many young people, vis-à-vis the prospect of facing long and stressful hours of being underpaid yet overworked, prefer to give up what they perceive to be a rat race and simply stay home and do nothing, or do only the bare minimum at their job. Young people have become more and more disillusioned with the ideal of sacrificing oneself solely for a higher objective with little monetary return.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon is also present in both the US and Europe, where economists describe it as the “Great Resignation,” with millions of workers either retiring, quitting or refusing to take jobs they consider pointless or unrewarding.

This attitude is totally inconceivable for the older generation who have put “hard work” at the top of their value-system, building a society in which material progress is the main motivational drive. We provided our young people with better living conditions, but we failed to offer them something which can give meaning to their existence and to their efforts.

And this happens in spite of the fact that movies, video-games and TV series constantly portray all kinds of heroes or role models who have physical power and prowess, and are ready to die for a cause and never give up. Yet, this heroic attitude, in spite of its apparent positivity, fails to touch the hearts of young people. “What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their lives?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (Mk 8:37). One needs a very good reason, besides social admiration, in order to sacrifice oneself day in and day out.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 9:51-62), Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” a decision made with the awareness that He would have to invest all His energy, even to the last drop of His blood, to fulfill this resolution. Jesus is not playing the conventional hero: Jerusalem is the place where He will give His life for us with a non-violent attitude, as an offering of love.  He even refused to “command fire to come down from heaven,” (Lk 9:54) to destroy the Samaritans who rejected Him, mainly because of His ethnicity and faith. This kind of attitude is not very popular these days, when fire is literally raining down from above, either in the form of deadly bombardments in war or as hateful language on social media. To destroy the enemy seems to have become the main target of many institutions, rather than to propose positive, constructive and life-giving objectives.

Our hearts are moved only by a greater, all-encompassing desire. The Church calls it “vocation,” the purpose for which we are created, our true destiny. For Jesus, this desire was to bring to completion the plan of salvation for humanity and establish “the Kingdom of God,” that is, God’s mercy restoring our wounded and broken realities. Jesus decided to live, not as a hero, but as a beloved Son of the Father. Jesus’ disciples, by living in His footsteps, felt that their lives, their work and efforts, even their sufferings and failures, acquired great meaning. No special hero-like powers were needed, only an openness to His love. A great deal of enthusiastic creativity has always accompanied those who chose to follow Jesus in His journey.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears truly demanding towards those who decided neither to run the rat race nor to “lie flat.” He tells them not to go back to bid farewell to their families or to bury their dead, not to look back and not to expect to settle down in some kind of comfort-zone. When we have found what is worth living for and dying for, laziness or pointless dispersion of energy simply disappear, and we receive instead the grace of a focused awareness. Jesus’ tough words are a reminder not to lose this precious grace.

Few days ago, Fr. Andrés Díaz de Rábago (賴甘霖), a Spanish Jesuit priest and former doctor, died in Taiwan. He was 104. The journey towards his “Jerusalem” took many years, and since 1947, when he “set his face” to the East, leaving his country and family to serve the Chinese people, he never looked back.  Even in the last period of his life, he decided not to “lie flat” but kept busy instead with his life-long ministry to visit the sick, offering them prayer, support, consolation and a joyful smile. Without any regret, he said that if he had to choose again, he would still decide to live a life of dedication to others. It was a life worth living and a journey worth taking. To live like him, we need not to be heroes, only to be loving… and to keep following Jesus, who will never leave us alone in our life-long journey.

(Image: khamkhor at pixabay.com)