Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Taking Francis seriously: "I invite all Christians"

This is a commentary on paragraph three of Evangelii Gaudium.

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.

The temptation is to dismiss that as boilerplate, and rather Protestant-sounding boilerplate at that. In fact, this is Pope Francis doing what he does best. This paragraph is a back-to-basics message and it is a message that those of us on the traditionalist end of the Catholic spectrum especially need to listen to.

I've spent a fair amount of time talking to Catholics and those considering entering the church about what the Church teaches. Sometimes, when people just aren't getting it, I find it useful to bluntly say, "You know, I really believe this stuff."

I say that because it is easy, when discussing the details, to forget that the base of our belief is that God exists; we do not believe that "a god" exists but that the real God, with a real identity, who has made real promises and he will keep them because he really is a loving God.

One of the places that we more traditionalist Catholics tend to go wrong is that we get too focused on the rules. For a traditionalist Catholic. where you stand in relation to God is a matter of rules. You use the rules to calculate your status and you follow other rules to fix that status. Ask a traditionalist Catholic whether you can receive communion on a given day and they will cite a series of rules you can use for self-examination and, if you don't pass muster according to these rules, they will tell you about other rules whereby you can examine your conscience, repent, go to confession and make penance so you can receive. And there is nothing wrong with that. Traditionalist Catholics will point out, with justice, that they at least know and respect the rules.

But there is something else that is more fundamental and much, much more important here and that is that God is a forgiving God.
Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!
That is the message of evangelization. Christ came to save sinners and I'm a sinner. He will save you too.

Too often we tell people who are considering joining the church what they can't do. "Lesson one: Contraception and why you have to stop using it and stop having sex with your boyfriend right now!!! Welcome to the Catholic Church.

I think I've mentioned this before but the Lemon Girl and I found ourselves talking to some young women who were considering joining the church last year. They were probably all sexually active. We didn't, of course, ask them. But they were very resistant to any church teachings on sexuality. One of the most fruitful discussions came about when we asked them, "Never mind what you imagine that the church does or doesn't teach, is there anything sexual you can imagine yourself doing that would constitute a sin?" It turns out that there was. There was a quite a lot.

Christ came to save sinners and the first step is recognizing that I am a sinner in need of redemption. And everyone who isn't a psychopath will recognize this if you give them a chance.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I agree that this is more than boilerplate. When I was younger I was incredibly resistant to talk about the "personal encounter with Jesus Christ"--to me it sounded sentimental, anti-intellectual, and, compared to my own experience of life, almost fake. I mean, I didn't argue with people about it, I just got reallllly skeptical whenever I heard people talking in these terms. On the other hand I was obsessed with the more "abstract" side of religion--not only rules (though rules had something to do with it), but more abstract intellectual issues having to do with the existence of god (generic god), what religion meant in an abstract sense (i.e. are religious ideas and ideological ideas two different things or just different ways of stating the same thing?), etc.
    Now I have come around to the importance of the personal side of Christianity... and it almost sounds stupid to say that! After all, shouldn't it have been obvious to me all along?