Friday, July 29, 2011

Comfortable Christianity

I want to be clear that I say this facetiously:  It is easy to be a great Christian when I am comfortable and everything is convenient.
I’ve thought of this in the context of our society’s obsession with comfort and convenience.  People do not commit road rage when they have the road to themselves.  There is no complaint in the fast food line when an order is given and handed over within the posted “90 Second” goal.  I do not fuss about the weather when it is nearly perfect (to my own tastes) or even when I can stay in air conditioned comfort.  It is easy to be happy when one’s favorite team has won the game.  Parents can be so kind and patient with their children when the kids are constructively engaged.  The whole world can seem to be rightly ordered to a person who is being treated to a multi-course meal at a 5-star establishment.
St Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22,23).  He also tells the Philippians (4:11) I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  This was written after he had described some of his circumstances to the Corinthians (11:24–27):  Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.
How easy it is to complain when things are not comfortable and convenient!  This is part of the seduction of this world.  The awful thing, though, is that “popular Christianity” does not confront such.  We have the “health and wealth gospel” (which is no gospel at all) enticing people to place their faith on false hopes which are rooted very much in this passing world.  We have congregations trying to attract new people on the basis of the conveniences they offer (easy parking, casual dress, exceptional child care, etc), explicitly owning the idea of “marketing the church.”  St Paul reflected on his initial coming to Corinth by saying, When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God (1Cor 2:1–5).  It seems pop Christianity has decided preaching is now outdated, especially if it proclaims Truth which is “uncomfortable.”
St Teresa of Avila once observed, "Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds."  I face this in myself.  I grew up without air conditioning in my South Carolina home; today I find myself thinking it is a “necessity.”  It surely is NICE, and I am deeply thankful for it (especially as I write this with a 74° dewpoint outside).  Yet, it is when things are not so “nice” that the Christian disciple is able to witness to the indwelling power of Christ.  After confessing his struggle with a certain weakness St Paul told the Corinthians:  Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong (2Cor 12:10).
Jesus said it was easy to love those who love us. The test is how we respond when our circumstances are not comfortable and convenient.  In his second solo Christian album, before his entrance into Catholic Christianity, John Michael Talbot wrote these lyrics in the opening suite of his New Earth recording:
When the fields yield full harvest it’s easy to share, 
And when you’re insured this world’s friendship it’s easy to care.
But when every nation has crumbled to dust, 
Will you still reach to give the Lord’s mercies 
or will you kill if you must?
I do not want to be a “comfortable Christian.”  I am not sure such a thing is ultimately possible.  At some point we must choose to serve ourselves or take up the cross and follow Jesus.  I try to keep in the mind the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian who was killed by the Nazis in the closing days of WWII:  “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  And so I pray the words of St Paul to the Galatians (6:14) – May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  That takes us far beyond a “comfortable Christianity.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

St Lawrence of Brindisi

Today the Church remembers St Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin Friar (b. 1559).  We would do well to heed his advice:

....let us keep our last end ever before us.  Let us always remember that we shall die, and recognize the world's deceitfulness; then we shall live holy and upright lives.

Jesus, make me holy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Absolutes: A Fixed Point

The symbiosis of authority found in Scripture and the historical continuity of the Church is necessary for assessing current issues and discerning "progress." Someone who has no fixed points to guide him and no goal cannot make any progress, but at best just wanders around.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Foundation of Truth

Early in his theological and priestly formation Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) faced and processed the issue of truth. He states it so clearly and succinctly here:

In the course of my intellectual life, I have experienced very acutely the problem of whether it is not actually presumptuous to say that we can know the truth– in view of all our limitations. I also wondered to what extent it might not be better to suppress this category. In pursuing this question, however, I was able to observe and also to grasp that the renunciation of truth solves nothing, but leads, on the contrary, to the tyranny of arbitrariness. All that can then remain is actually merely what we have decided and can exchange for something else. Man is degraded if he cannot know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision.

This comes from Peter Seewald's Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait (Ignatius Press), p189. The whole book is worthy of one's time. What a gift our Lord has given the Church in the person of this current Vicar of Christ.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Essence of Christianity

A great read is Peter Seewald's Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait (Ignatius Press). This is one of Seewald's observations....

"What is truly original about Jesus?" I had wondered. It was not his moral teaching. Or his teaching about God. His demands are a renewal of what already existed. What was new, however, was his way, his authentic example, his bequest of the Last Supper, his death, his Resurrection – and his authority. His deeds were also new. What was the saying? "In morality, as in art, talking is nothing; action, all." A rule that obviously applies likewise to religion. So it was not the word alone that made Jesus so powerful. With precision, John the evangelist added, "And the Word became flesh." For what is new is his claim: I am the one! I, and no one else. What is new is his promise: "I leave you my Spirit." And his proclamation is new, "I shall come again." (p.181)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Church and the World

It is not Christians who set themselves up against the world, but rather the world is outraged whenever sin and grace are called by their proper names. – Benedict XVI

Saturday, July 2, 2011

New York's Marriage Debacle

This is an exceptionally good statement of issues which are at stake in the current "marriage" debates.

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