By standing firm you will win true life for yourselves. (Luke 21:19)
'Standing firm'. The original Greek word from which these words are derived is rich in content: it means patience, constancy, resistance and trust.
Standing firm is necessary and indispensable when we suffer, when tempted, when prone to discouragement, when enticed by the seductive pleasures of the world and when experiencing persecution. I expect that you too have found yourself in at least one of these situations and have experienced that, without standing firm, you would have succumbed. Perhaps you have sometimes given in. Maybe now, at this very moment, you find yourself immersed in one of these painful situations.
So what should you do?
Start again and... stand firm. Otherwise the name 'Christian' is not suitable for you. You know that whoever wants to follow Christ must take up their cross daily. They must love suffering, at least with their will. The Christian vocation is a call to perseverance.
The apostle Paul demonstrated the authenticity of his Christianity by his perseverance. He was not afraid to put it on the same level as miracles. If you love the cross and stand firm to the very end, you will follow Christ who is in Heaven, and therefore be saved.
By standing firm you will win true life for yourselves.
It is possible to distinguish two categories of people: those who hear the invitation to be true Christians, but this invitation falls on their souls like a seed on rocky ground. There's lots of enthusiasm, like when you set fire to straw, but afterwards nothing remains.
Then there are those who welcome the invitation, just as good soil receives the seed. The Christian life springs up, grows, overcomes difficulties, resists storms. These are the ones who stand firm and... 'by standing firm you will win true life for yourselves'.
Naturally, if you want to stand firm, it is not enough to rely only on your own strength. You will need God's help. Paul calls God: 'The God of steadfastness'. (Rm 15:5) So you must ask him for perseverance, and he will give it to you.
If you are a Christian you will never be content merely with being baptized, or with doing an occasional act of worship or of charity. You must grow as a Christian, and every growth in the spiritual life, can only come about in the midst of trials, obstacles and battles.
There are people who really know how to stand firm: those who love. Love never sees obstacles or difficulties or sacrifices. And perseverance is love that has been put to the test.
Mary is the woman of perseverance.
Ask God to enkindle love for him in your heart, and perseverance will come to you as a consequence, in all the difficulties of life, and with it you will win true life for yourself.
By standing firm you will win true life for yourselves.
But there is something more. Perseverance is contagious. The person who stands firm also encourages others to go right to the end.
Let's set our sights high. We have only one life and what's more, it's short. So let's take a deep breath and stand firm from day to day, facing one difficulty after another to follow Christ... and we will win true life for ourselves.
Two sections, marked [...](1) and [...](2) were omitted from the version published in October 2009 in order to reflect the increasingly ecumenical context of the Word of Life commentary. For historical completeness, they are reproduced below from the June 1979 version:
(1) "Mary is the type of person who stands firm. She chose God alone from her youth to be her all, and she remained faithful to him all her life. Tradition tells us that she consecrated herself to him while still a girl, pledging her virginity, but she was not afraid to become a mother when God wanted it. She became the mother of Jesus while still remaining a virgin. She stood firm in her vocation when Joseph was perplexed, when she was constrained to give birth to her son in a cattle shed, when she fled with him into Egypt, and when she lost him for three days while he was in the temple.
"She stood firm in her love for God and his will, keeping his mystery hidden for 30 years, allowing Jesus to accomplish his ministry for three years. Such was her steadfastness and her adherence to the path that God had set for her that she stood at the foot of the cross, in an ocean of sorrow, before her crucified son. Then after the ascension, she was there at the heart of the new-born Church, enduring to the end in her love of God until the moment when she was, in her turn, assumed into heaven."
(2) "I have spoken to you about the saints and about Mary. Notice that they are all people who have drawn crowds after them in order to lead them to God, and that they continue to have an attraction across the centuries with their example of perseverance, with the light which radiates from the love that made them persevere."
In November 1995 these sections were included with a different translation:
(1) "Mary can be an example of this. She remained faithful to God throughout her life. She was not afraid to become the mother of Jesus when God wanted it. She persevered in her vocation even when Joseph doubted, even when she had to give birth to her son in a stable, then flee with him to Egypt, and even when she lost him for three days while he was in the temple.
"She persevered in loving God and his will, keeping his mystery hidden for thirty years and then letting Jesus carry out his three-year mission. Such was her constancy in not deviating from God's plan for her that she stood steadfast, while in the depths of suffering, before her crucified son."
(2) I have spoken of Christians who are fulfilled and about Mary. These are people who have drawn countless souls after them to God and who continue to have an influence down the centuries with the example of their perseverance and with the light born of the love that made them persevere.