Reverend Father David Cooper laid his soul bare during night two of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau’s City-Wide Lenten Mission, sharing that, if nothing else, he came from the north to be a source of encouragement to others, to show people once again what God can do with brokenness. And to affirm in them that if they are not fully mended, to not give up, not give in and to hold onto God’s unchanging hand. Cooper encouraged people to stand on God’s promises, and to rely on His word and that God will see them through.
“That’s the God I serve,” said the Mary, Star of the Sea priest. “When all is said and done, we are called to make disciples. We are called to draw others to divine love in our state of brokenness. We do this by asking God to give us the wisdom when we need it most. To give us the word that we don’t say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, but we be passionate and compassionate. We be inspiring.”
Cooper spoke on the topic “Walking Together as Disciples in Faith” and referenced his story.
“Some things you may know, you may think you know, and I know you don’t know,” he said.
He held himself up as a product and beneficiary of the social ministry of the church and blessed recipient of kindness and second and third chances from many people who generally loved and cared for him.
“I was not always worthy of most of it, but yet deserving of it all,” said Cooper.
He said as life was lived and time evolved that he frequented many masters, retreats, ordinations, and even a papal visit and was fortunate to witness many people who both struggled to while, at the same time, successfully practice the faith. And that the onus was on him while in college to find his way to his own connection with what he was preparing to do, unworthy though he was. “Through spiritual formation and direction, I believe I started on the right path.”
He encouraged people to recall their path and their portrait of discipleship. He said together they form the identity and the face of the church.
“Discipleship simply put is to know God and to make God known. At a deeper level, imitating the teacher’s life, inculcating the teacher’s values, reproducing the teacher’s teachings. The process of becoming like Christ in everything we do.”
The priest said many people understand the word disciple as a follower, especially in the domain of religion and spiritual walk, but he said in reality, it means a student, one who is instructed, and one who receives the instruction, by incorporating it in daily living.
“Discipleship is us being more aware of God’s grace and mercy, more aware of the [Ten] Commandments, more aware of The Beatitudes, more aware of those hallmark teachings which we say we own, which we say we want to live, which we say we have conviction about.”
During the Lenten season, Cooper said the Lenten experience is about people trying to do what they say they believe – earnestly, intentionally and willingly – but not alone.
“God calls us individually, but God calls us into community. This is our support system, spiritually. We rely on one another our personal testimonies, our words of encouragement … these all input into our formation of discipleship.”
He said people must share the word and to do that he said they must know it, have a relationship with it, know the demands of it, and the benefits from it.
“To share the word, we must speak the gospel as we try to live according to the very gospel we share. Christian living and witness are inseparable.”
He said people won’t get it right all the time, but that it does not mean they should stop trying.
He said trial is about renewing the commitment daily. And to remind themselves that every opportunity God gives people to represent Him and re-present Him, must not be overlooked.
“If we step back and peer into the divine providence of God for humanity, we can look back in faith and say those opportunities were given to us for teaching moments, that we may witness – that we may be accountable for the faith we profess. We must strive to reach people who have not heard about the pathway to salvation or people who have lost faith in the pathway to salvation, or people who ignore the pathway to salvation – and sometimes that person is us.”
Cooper said the greatest disservice, in his opinion, of every believer, is a self-righteous spirit, as if they do not know sin, and had not lived before they decided to give Jesus first choice. With that said, he encouraged people to be careful in their condemnation.
He reminded them that God’s word must form and shape His people, and use the gifts God has given them for the glory of His name, not for self-edification. He encouraged teaching of the word. That teaching he said should be by example, endurance, perseverance, commitment, and by a willingness to start over as many times as necessary until people arrive at the point where God is pleased with their journey, their faith, and their commitment.
But he said it’s easier said than done, but that is what people commit to by virtue of their baptism.
“To receive God’s call to follow Him, to receive God’s call to become a student of His, to receive God’s call to be invited into His inner circle, is humbling. To receive God’s call to instruct on His behalf is even more humbling. And sometimes, we have to go it alone. The desert experience is not foreign to any believer. But we must stand the test of time.”
Cooper encouraged people to be disciples. He said they should be influenced to the point where people can come up to them at any time and tell them they see something in them and that there is something about them.
“Those acts of kindness – those Christian charities – they go a long way in people’s lives. Surprisingly, when things get tougher, we get meaner – even as Christians. We start to hoard. We have not been crucified yet, but we have gone through the crucibles of sufferings, of disappointments, of life changes, of illnesses, and while we are on the verge of so many other things, we have to find the conviction to dig deeper and avail ourselves more to the grace and mercy of the God we serve, otherwise, it’s going to get harder and harder to believe what we profess.”
During the Lenten walk, Cooper said the journey of discipleship must intensify.
“When the light flickers on your spiritual tank, time to go and refuel, and go where you know you can be refueled, and the church has an excellent remedy – the sacramental life.”
He said discipleship is not achievable without grace which he said is God’s expression of His love by blessing people undeservedly.
“Truth be told, we serve an on-time God. He comes to our aid when we least expect it, but He comes to our aid when we need Him most and there are some things that we need only God can give. So, this relationship is really for our own benefit. We have to seriously pursue holiness with an understanding that if we strive for holiness, God will use us more sufficiently for the building up of His kingdom here on Earth.”
The priest encouraged people to not give up on Jesus, faith, or discipleship. He said there is a universal call to salvation each heart must be open to and said people have to recognize it is something valuable.
“If it means us going to the crucibles to come to that epiphany, so be it,” he said. “It worked for me.”
Cooper reminded believers at Mission in Loyola Hall that God is in them all and ever-present.
“He graces us with His presence by allowing us to trust Him at His word. Disciples rely on the promise of God and there are many. My favorite: ‘I will be with you always, until the end of the world.’ That is what I call blessèd assurance. For God to tell each of us I will never leave you nor forsake you, you can count on me any season of your life, you can come to me with any secret, and I will love you no less, we have to access that divine love. We have to give our souls a chance to be renewed in that divine relationship.”
Cooper said the call to discipleship is not without its struggles and sufferings, and sometimes intense difficulties, but that it is not without a promise either.