Thursday, July 14, 2011

Follow Him

A terrific post from Father Longenecker today that I want to share (Hat tip: New Advent):
It takes other forms as well. There is a tendency amongst some Catholics to turn their religion into an intellectual quest for 'true orthodoxy' or 'solid theology' or 'a message that is relevant for people today.' Others turn it into a search for 'a spirituality that really suits them'. I heard another priest going on the other day about "modern man's search for meaning and how each person must search the depth of their heart to find their heart's true desire and then at that point they will have the Christ encounter." Whaat? Sound like Jean Paul Sartre meets Dorothy Gale from Kansas.

I'm exaggerating, but you get my point.

What I'm realizing more and more is how very far the twenty first century church is from the simple preaching of the gospel and the core of the Catholic faith. What we don't hear is the old time religion. What has gone right over our heads is how influenced we are by modernism and the thought of Rudolph Bultmann who insisted that Christianity was old fashioned and needed to be 'de-mythologized'. He said modern man couldn't deal with the old, out dated cosmology of heaven and hell and sin and repentance and all that stuff. [...]

The gospel message is simple: You don't have to turn it into a quest for the perfect liturgy or a campaign for justice or peace or the creation of the perfect self help group. You don't have to turn it into an intellectual or existential quest to discover your true self or the source of your heart's desire.

You are unhappy and searching for something because you are imperfect. You have fallen short of the glory of God. This condition is called sin. You are a sinner. You are selfish, ego centric, lustful, unforgiving, angry, manipulative, self seeking and proud. You love pleasure rather than God and you will believe any lie as long as it allows you to continue in your sin. If you continue in this condition you will end up becoming more and more unhappy and eventually you will be separated from God, light, love, goodness, truth and beauty forever because that is what you chose.

The New Testament, and the message of the church down the ages is straightforward: "Repent and believe the gospel and be baptized". In other words, "Admit you are a sinner, turn to God for forgiveness. Accept the strange, but compelling truth that Christ died on the cross to forgive your sins. Receive his gift of new life with an open heart with nothing held back. Change your ways. Begin to live the Catholic faith in simplicity and honesty. Empowered by God's grace, live in the church, learn to pray, live with the sacraments, love others. This is the way you follow Christ."
Do, do go and read the whole thing.

Father Longenecker isn't saying that liturgy doesn't matter, or that orthodoxy doesn't matter, or that we can blithely disregard Church teachings so long as we embrace the simple message of the Gospel. Not at all. What he is saying, it seems to me, is that too often we get caught up in these other matters to the extent of not merely missing the simple message of the Gospel, but of making the unfortunate and devastating mistake of thinking that our pursuit of orthodoxy or liturgical correctness or, to be fair, of heterodoxy and liturgical permissiveness is somehow a fair substitution for trying to live our lives according to the message of the Gospel.

In other words, if we get caught up too much in, say, liturgical battles, to the point where we enter every Mass wearing our "Liturgy Police" hats and our best Roman scowls as we prepare to take extensive mental notes to add to our growing letter to the Papal Nuncio as to what everyone from Father to the smallest server is doing wrong today on the one hand, or wearing our Sunday shorts and tie-dye and our best icy smiles as we prepare to pounce on the least hint of Latin or reverence or formality with our special passive-aggressive vestibule chat after Mass on the other, the chances are good that we have lost sight of the simple message of the Gospel, which is that the person who is the polar opposite of ourselves in these liturgical battles might actually be closer to God by virtue of a humble habit of frequent Confession, a devotion to prayer, and an active life of service to the poor than we ourselves are.

And if we get too caught up in thinking that our specific way of living out our vocation (e.g. stay-at-home-mom! plus Catholic schooling! plus homeschooling! plus daily family prayers! plus godly blogging for the heathen! etc.) is the One Truly Right Way of Righteous Rightness, we might forget that the family whose public-schooled kids behave like little angels at Mass on Sunday could conceivably be doing a better job of loving their neighbor and their enemy and everybody else than we are--and that we should seriously not take it for granted based merely on externals that we're doing all that great of a job in the first place.

And if we decide that our particular family's economic status is the perfect one for Christians, with just enough money for all those important things that families ought to provide for their members with a decent amount left over for truly important charities, we might risk sneering at those people who have to do more for more family members with much less than we ourselves think of as "civilized" on the one hand, or snub everybody who has the money to buy more than necessities on the other as being too rich to be worth saving.

And if we spend all of our time fretting about the way other Christians dress, or the four-letter words other Christians use, or the bad movies or books or TV shows or music other Christian families seem to think it's okay to watch or read or listen to (as opposed to a more general concern about a culture which produces some rather sick things, say) we may find that these specks in other's eyes concern us more than the planks of spiritual coldness or lack of empathy or selfishness or greed or gluttony in our own--because it's lots easier to be self-righteous about the sins we're not tempted to commit than humbly honest about the ones we are.

The whole of the Law amounts to two things, Jesus told us: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The more we try to follow those two commands, the more we will find that humble, loving, honest spirit that is the best thing about Christianity as it can be lived in the world. And if we want to follow these commands, we have to take up our own cross, and follow Him.

9 comments:

John E. said...

Well - sounds like somebody is feeling chipper today.

Bit of sparkle in her eye and a bit of spring in her step, eh what?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I must say, Father Longnecker sounds like a Baptist.

And the closing paragraph could be spoken by a Unitarian -- that is, one who still believes in God.

freddy said...

Actually, Siarlys, it would be more accurate to say that some Baptists and Unitarians sound like Fr. Longenecker! :)

Tony said...

I love this deliciously self-righteous tone in a post denigrating those who are self-righteous. This put a big smile on my face. :)

Patrick said...

@ Siarlys Jenkins:

"I must say, Father Longnecker sounds like a Baptist."

Oddly enough, Fr. Longenecker graduated from Bob Jones University - a Protestant fundamentalist school in South Carolina - before converting to Anglicanism and then finally, to Catholicism.

Protestant converts always "know their faith", and Fr. Longenecker is one of the best sites on the Internet.

I thought this was a good post. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some plank-removin' to do.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Why Patrick, your initial observations were quite informative, but your closing has a modestly ungracious tone which suggests you have a plank in your eye, or perhaps a chip on your shoulder. Were you under the impression I did NOT think it was a good post? I'm amused at what we all have in common, no matter how much we manage to alienate each other with our respective drafts of the fine print.

I guess I've answer Freddy without saying much more. We all learned the commutative principle in arithmetic class, yes?

Patrick said...

@ Siarlys Jenkins:

"Were you under the impression I did NOT think it was a good post?"

Ummm...no. I was just thinking about how often I have been critical of sins that don't tempt me at all (homosexual behavior) and how I'm often more interested in "being right" than "loving my neighbor". And so I was going to take a little break from that stuff to, you know, try to become a more loving person.

It had nothing to do with your post, other than to say Fr. Longenecker has a fundamentalist Protestant background, which could explain something you'd alluded to.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Thanks Patrick, we seem to be on the same page. I too have been attempted to ask men boasting what good Christians they are because they have never lain with a man as they do with a woman, "Well, were you ever tempted?" It's no great virtue to refrain from an act that offers no temptation at all.

Fr. Longenecker's background reminds me of Terry Mattingly, who was raised Baptist, but raised in a CONSERVATIVE tradition, socially, and therefore theologically. When he grew up, he took the study of the roots of his church seriously enough to realize it was quite radical, even levelling, and as a disciple of Authority, decided to become an Episcopalian.

He quickly discovered that the Episcopalians have become rather liberal since the days when Anglican parsons rode the Virginia countryside with the sheriff, invading Baptist revivals and subjecting the preacher to 39 lashes for preaching without a license, while the congregation sang ecstatic hymns to encourage the brother to bear up under his martyrdom.

("The good old days" Hector might call that. Or maybe I'm being unkind, that statement might really be mislocated. Still, when people assert ecclesiastical authority, I try to remind Anglicans as well as Catholics of the ultimate consequences of their philosophizing).

Mattingly, instead of becoming RC, became Greek Orthodox. I haven't heard much since, but there certainly is a line of authority there, albeit more collegial than the Vatican, and arguably closer to that of the Apostles.

I prefer the original Baptist implications, albeit I don't buy the doctrine of original sin. I do understand that we fall short of the glory of God, and are structurally unsound, unable to save ourselves by our own efforts and merit. There is a difference. That's not our FAULT. It is something we are called upon to struggle with, to "be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."

Geoff G. said...

Now this is the Red I know and love.