Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Something to ponder

One of my former students who is very bright and a deep thinker pointed me in the direction of an article on the website "Big Questions Online." It's a rather fascinating but theologically deep article. What really struck me was this...

It's important to understand the point I'm making here. I'm not mounting (in this post) an argument against gay marriage. I'm saying that it's inevitable, given that the deep culture-shaping power of Christianity has been shattered, and the only religion people are coming to understand is one that has no real power to bind, only to be therapeutically useful. (There's a reason that Rick Warren's model of church is doing so well -- it offers the simulacrum of traditional Evangelicalism, while focusing heavily on practical therapy). In large numbers, we are seeing those 30 and under walking away from the churches -- both liberal and conservative churches -- and not into atheism, but into an unaffiliated, "spiritual but not religious" category. They want to feel some nominal sense of spiritual connectedness, but only insofar as it ratifies their feelings. They could have formal religion that embraced their views on sexuality by becoming Episcopalian, or joining one of the other liberal Protestant churches -- but they're not. Though they still profess a preference for God, they don't want religious institution, or authority. Rieff saw this coming, and indeed said consumerist religion was the logical fallout from the eclipse of Christianity and its teachings as authoritative in the psychological life of Western man.

A religion that "ratifies the feelings" of her followers...very profound. I wonder if this is why people drop out of religion when they suffer hardship and death and why so many people want to get the crucifix out of churches. It doesn't validate feelings to think that Jesus suffered. We can accept a God who wants to hug us and love us. We can accept a Christ who offers sage advice about good living. But, we can't accept a God who calls us to put aside our feelings of personal satisfaction and comfort. Give me salvation because it will make me happy.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Either our faith grows or it dies. It will not just sit there.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I have a friend whose grandfather passed away in the late eighties. The grandfather wasn’t the richest man in the world but he did have a small farm to pass on to his 5 children. He passed the buildings on to his oldest child, a son who was so upset at the passing of his father that he let everything sit unchanged for several years. He would go and mow the lawn but everything else went totally unchanged. The roof, which was in need of repair when my friend’s grandfather died, had holes in it that let in rain and snow. The garage started to lean as though it would collapse. We used to drive by once a month or so just to see if it had collapsed but his Grandfather had built it too well for that to happen. For thirty years, the buildings that my friend’s grandfather had worked so hard to build and maintain slowly became worthless lumber. Eventually, the only thing for which they could be used was as practice for the local fire department as they burned to the ground when the friend’s uncle finally died.

The short version of today’s gospel focuses on the return of Jesus and how important it is to be prepared. We are to “gird (our) loins and light (our) lams and be like servants who await (our) master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes.” The implication is that we to be constantly prepared and not slack off. I think this is related to what the writer to the Hebrews was talking about in his or her definition of faith. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” There is a longing and a yearning that goes along with being faithful and a contemporaneous searching that goes with faith. Contrary to what our fundamentalist brothers and sisters believe, there isn’t a moment in our lives when the light switch goes on, we declare our belief in God, and we are saved. Instead, faith is a life-long journey that becomes more complicated, frustrating, and difficult as we get older. Yet, aren’t the only truly rewarding things in life complicated, frustrating, and difficult?

The example in book of Hebrews is Abraham. Abraham was first told to leave his homeland and travel to a land chosen for him by God. That would be pretty challenging. As one who recently moved, I can tell you that it’s much easier to stay where we are rather than moving. But, Abraham did so because he had faith. Abraham wasn’t just called to leave, he was called to wander in the wilderness before he would settle and it was by faith that he lived in a tent so many years. He had to trust that God would take care of him and provide food for he and his wife. In that land, Abraham was promised that, despite being quite old and passed the age of child rearing, he and Sarah would have so many children that he could start his own nation. It must have taken a lot of faith for Abraham to believe that, though barren up until this point, God could still give him children that would become a nation of God’s own people. And, a little later in this same book, it says that when Abraham thought that his faith could not be tested any more, God asked him to sacrifice the very son that he thought he would never get. This is what is meant by “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith is revealed to us partially and we continue the life-long search even as our life and our faith becomes more complicated, frustrating, and difficult awaiting the full revelation of God in heaven.

We maintain our faith by taking time each day for prayer. The rosary, novenas, and the Liturgy of the Hours are but a few of the ways we can do this. One of the best ways we can do this is by making time in our weekly routine for daily mass. I was struck in the gospel today at the thought of a master who comes back from a wedding and serves food to his servants because of their vigilance. To me, this is a wonderful insight into the mass. Despite the fact that God brought us into this world and he can take us out, despite the fact that God is our master and we are his servants, God is the one who feeds us with his body and blood in the Eucharist. This is a great gift of ongoing nourishment for the church.

Ultimately, we are handed on a great gift of faith and we have a choice. We can be like the good servants who kept vigil waiting for the Lord to return or we can be like my friend’s uncle and squander all the good things that come to us. What are you doing each day to maintain the faith God has given you and not allow the difficulties, frustrations, and complications of life rot it away?