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.Do, do go and read the whole thing.
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."
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.