In the last issue, I wrote about discipleship and following in God’s footsteps — how our lives as Christians must be oriented outside of ourselves to the God who calls us.

If we acknowledge that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and with the graces given to us in the sacraments have resolved to take up our crosses, we do well to remember on what kind of path He leads us.

Jesus tells us, “Enter by the narrow gate. … For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13-14). When I visited Jerusalem and walked the streets of the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took carrying His cross, I was struck but how narrow and confining are the streets. One can imagine how tight the way must have been with the cross and the surrounding crowds. I can’t help but think Jesus thought of that when He gave us the image of Himself as the narrow way, the gate to the City of God.

Let us not be deceived that we can accidently stumble across eternal life. God respects our freedom too much for that. We are free to choose God or not. Choosing God means being made perfect like the Father.

It is not in the order of nature for anything to grow, improve or become better without effort and sacrifice. A painted fence does not become whiter as time goes by but needs periodic repainting. Abraham Lincoln once said that a river follows the path of least resistance, and that is why it is crooked.

So it is with us. If we never face adversity, it is difficult to know the peace of Christ.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once gave the example that we can imagine a block of marble protesting at the strike of the artist’s chisel. Nonetheless, the beautiful creation waiting inside that block of marble, which exists to begin only in the mind of the artist, would never be freed if the artist did not strike away and remove the pieces that do not belong.

The greatest tension in our lives, the source of all our anxieties and worries about ourselves, is the tension we know exists between who I am now and who I am meant to be. The sufferings and pains we experience both from within and outside of ourselves involved in following the narrow path, striving to live a life of virtue, to please the Lord, to obey God’s commandments, to love our neighbor are sure signs of the Divine Artist at work.

Like the potter molding the clay or the artist at work with marble, the sinful and selfish part of me must be stripped away so that I can live as God created me to be. That is true freedom, the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. Let us not let a single opportunity of offering some suffering or trial to God pass us by. They are made of immeasurable worth when united to Christ on the cross.

St. James wrote in his letter to “count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials” (Js 1:2). James knew trials to bring him closer to the heart of God. To be a disciple means accepting the sweet yoke of submitting ourselves to the chisel of the Divine Artist.

—Father Steven Marchand is parochial vicar of St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington.

—Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.