Friday, September 19, 2008

Motives and Faithfulness

In the process of today’s Morning Prayer I read the customary Office of Readings (24th week of Ordinary Time)which gives an excerpt from a sermon “On Pastors” by Saint Augustine (from which I’ll close with a few paragraphs).

As I reflected on Augustine’s words my mind expanded to the treasure I had discovered in The Liturgy of the Hours, and how this prayer book had been so instrumental in my spiritual renewal over the past near-decade. This, in turn, evoked a not so pleasant memory of accusations when I entered the Catholic Church, with a few people presuming to know my motives better than I — refusing to accept that the genesis of my Catholic journey was rooted in the TLOTH and even judging my life by saying they had not seen anything worthy of note in my most recent walk of faith. What does one say in response to that kind of judgment? It seems best not to respond at all, but to follow Jesus who when he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly (1Pet 2:23). With a few critics I did request the courtesy of Gamaliel’s advice (Acts 5:38b,39), which seems to be the best for which those subjected to spiritual misunderstanding can hope.

I have always sought to come to my faith with self-honesty (how else can we have any hope of confidence before God?). In my years of pastoral preaching I was as honest with the text as I knew to be, and I was always honest with its implications for me as I sought to bring application to my hearers. While I can look back and see definite development in my thinking — which does bring change that others looking on can find bewildering — I have a clear conscience that I have always sought, through grace, personal integrity.

This was what resonated so much with me this morning in the Augustine reading. It is also what brings me great consternation as I witness what passes for preaching and teaching in much of so-called contemporary Christianity. Sappy sermons promising “your best life now” with a focus on immediate and circumstantial happiness are far from what Augustine says — and far from the spirit of apostolic and biblical Christian Faith. Note Augustine’s words, and reflect whether this is the kind of spiritual nurture you are getting....

The negligent shepherd fails to say to the believer: My son, come to the service of God, stand fast in fear and in righteousness, and prepare your soul for temptation. A shepherd who does say this strengthens the one who is weak and makes him strong. Such a believer will not hope for the prosperity of this world. For if he has been taught to hope for worldly gain, he will be corrupted by prosperity. When adversity comes, he will be wounded or perhaps destroyed.

....what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offense not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? God himself made no such promise to this world. On the contrary, God foretold hardship upon hardship in this world until the end of time. And you want the Christian to be exempt from these troubles? Precisely because he is a Christian, he is destined to suffer more in this world.

.... Is this the way you build up the believer? Take note of what you are doing and where you are placing him. You have built him on sand. The rains will come, the river will overflow and rush in, the winds will blow, and the elements will dash against that house of yours. It will fall, and its ruin will be great.

Paul told the Thessalonians: Our preaching does not spring from error, or impure motives, or a desire to deceive. God has found us worthy to be ministers of his gospel, and so when we speak we strive to please God and not men.

May it ever be in the Church and among all those who claim the Name of Jesus.

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