In the Navy, particularly in days gone by, tattoos hold special meaning.
Sometimes that meaning, like my uncle’s giant tiger head on his chest, is simply “I had too much to drink in the Philippines.” Other times the tattoos have deep meaning about service, selflessness and duty.
One of the oldest is the words “HOLD FAST,” commonly tattooed above the knuckles of both hands. The words and placement signified the literal meaning: In the days of old sailing ships, Sailors working aloft in the rigging in stormy conditions had to hold fast to the lines, or plummet to their deaths. The allegorical and lasting meaning of the tattoo is to persevere under difficult circumstances, to exemplify courage and stand firm when others run.
In a Christian sense, to Hold Fast means two seemingly contradictory things. First, we have to hold fast to God, and God’s Word in Scripture. But, to take that and really shape it into our lives, we have to let go of a lot of the things this world tells us to hold onto. In a real sense, to Hold Fast to Christ, we have to first let go.
If that seems like a paradox, at least in the terms of this world, you’re right. Let’s go deeper.
We see in our readings today a lot of examples of holding fast, in the traditional sense. In our reading from Proverbs we are told to make our ears attentive to wisdom, and incline our hearts to understanding — to listen to, read and follow God’s Word so that we’re shielded in the walk of the blameless and preserved in the way of the faithful. Essentially, that means to be listen to what God says is good, and then be disciplined in holding fast to that good.
In our reading from Psalm 119 we promise fidelity to God’s laws, to hold fast to God’s word:
Your decrees are wonderful; *
therefore I obey them with all my heart.
When your word goes forth it gives light; *
it gives understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant; *
I long for your commandments.
We’re meant to not only obey, but to long passionately for God’s direction in our lives. We’re to seek it, and once found, to follow with discipline. This is expounded on by St. Paul, in today’s reading from Philippians:
Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
St. Paul gives us a clear sense of following God with discipline. And, in reading this for the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia (July 11), it’s easy to read this in the sense of physical discipline — abstain from sin, be blameless and upright and resolutely follow that which is good. After all, St. Benedict, considered the founder of western monasticism, wrote a rule of life so strict, the first set of monks who attempted to follow it tried to instead kill Benedict. Luckily they were unsuccessful, and Benedict continues to instruct and inspire Christians today in the path of discipline — of holding fast to the Word of God and the Way of Christ.
But, Paul alludes to something more. It is not enough to labor under the laws of God. We must also Hold Fast to the Word of Life, so that our labors are not in vain. And that brings us to letting go.
Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel reading from Luke 14 that to follow Him we have to accept the cross: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Taking up the cross, in a literal sense, meant letting go of life. It’s harsh wood and the long walk to Golgotha ended in death. But, it was that letting go of attachment to this world that brought us past the cross, to the Resurrection and Salvation.
To follow Him, Jesus tells us we must weigh the costs: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” Christ doesn’t compel us to follow Him. We each of us have to weigh the cost of letting go of attachment to this world, and then let go of this world so that we can HOLD FAST to the promises of Christ.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” That doesn’t mean we can’t own possessions. I drove here in a car. I own the clothes I’m wearing. I’m going to drive my car to my home and have dinner at my table. And that’s fine.
But, what Jesus is saying is we can’t allow possessions to stand in our way of taking up the cross to follow Him. We can’t isolate ourselves from the world — even if we were to go into a monastery like St. Benedict, we’re still in this world. We have to walk in the world. We have to interact with the world. And fundamentally, we are called to serve Christ in the world.
But to fully HOLD FAST to Christ, we have to let go of our spiritual attachment to possessions. We let go of greed. We let go of fear. We let go of our own self-interest. We let go of the world, even while we’re in it, to free our arms to fully embrace Christ. And we HOLD FAST to the radical love of Christ, a love that calls us to take up our cross and pour out ourselves and our lives, for the benefit of our neighbor and the glory of God.
Let us pray.
Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious
favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our
works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify
thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting
life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.