So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Marketing the Faith: snake oil or chrism.

Snake Oil

The following thoughts have been provoked by some priests in our neck of the woods who have been expressing a detestable form of gradualism in their homilies which excuses sin in order to attract and keep people in the fold who have little or no intention to live according to Christ's teaching.

What might sound like a noble sentiment or an act of mercy on the part of priests is merely a limp approach that avoids calling people out of their sins while indulging their present (sinful) lifestyle in the mild hope that they come to their senses and repent of their sins. Which is to say, said priests are not guiding souls, they are tacitly condoning sinful behaviour.

No mention is made of the danger to people's souls that living a double life can foster. As one wise priest in our diocese once said, before the Good News comes the bad news, the news of our need for redemption. That is, we are sinners.

Regarding the aforementioned homilies, the bad news is not being preached, which means the Good News is not being preached.
The doctor's message to his sick patient is that everything is fine and dandy. His patient is, however, dying of cancer. The truth of our condition is that we are sinners suffering from a deadly disease. Without the medicine that Christ offers, we will die a spiritual death. Before healing can begin, an honest diagnosis must be shared between doctor and patient. Without knowing the truth of our condition, we have no reason to enter into divine therapy. We are, then, lost to our sins.
Spread the Faith by living it with the intention to practice it without compromise.

In those moments when weakness brings us down, we should make haste to the confessional, throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus Christ the Lord and beg for mercy. Those that find that last phrase unappealing or wince at it for being a call to do something beneath one's dignity, either because they've embraced some strange notion that there is no need to confess to a priest or, as some liberal religionists would have it, that confession is outmoded, then do not trouble yourself by reading any further.
God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.—Blessed (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta.
As most Catholics with any sense of priority in religion might assert, the worst way to spread the Faith is by striving first and foremost to increase numbers, using tricks commonly used by sectarians, for example, which attempt to lure in believers with promises of cheap grace, so-to-speak. Such efforts or methods only succeed in offering a highly watered down Christianity: trite music replete with heterodox or saccharine texts intended to facilitate an emotional high; warm-fuzzy theology that smacks of the worst kind of gradualism; pipeline spirituality (... forget the Church, it's me+Jesus alone!); and gushy fellowship that is a poor substitute for authentic communion. The idol of acceptance is promoted at the expense of the icon of truth. Where recruitment tactics serve the numbers racket, charity and mercy are unnecessarily pitted against truth.

Chrism

Christ's dialogue with the woman at the well (St. John 4:5-30) is a sublime example of how we should approach evangelization:
So he (Jesus) came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.


There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
"Give me a drink." Sounds like a command, eh? How very un-Canadian! See, though, how the Lord invites the woman to move beyond her limited thinking. He creates a new expectation by appealing to the thirst which He knows possesses every human soul: the thirst for new life, a life of being loved now and for all eternity. Jesus knows the condition of her soul:
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
The hour is late. The moment for a decision has arrived.

At no point does Jesus mince words. He states, for example, that Samaritans worship what they do not know. Imagine saying to a non-Catholic Christian something to the effect: "The reason your group is drifting further from your Catholic origin is because you've lost the Apostolic Succession. You've lost your identity."

Jesus, a Jew and Son of God, speaks to the woman at the well about Who He is and what He is doing. To the mind of our liberal-religion contemporaries, Jesus is not nice. He imposes His religion on another. How rude! How politically incorrect! Again, how un-Canadian.

Because His word is a sword that cuts to the heart of the matter, which is salvation from sin, the woman with whom Jesus is speaking has an epiphany. He confirms the hope growing in her heart by revealing his true identity: "I who speak to you am he."
Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him.
There is a quote on this blogsite, borrowed from a commenter at another blog, paraphrased here, that sums up very nicely the methodology of Christ:
The first word of Christ is not 'welcome'; His first word to sinners—that's all of us!—is 'repent'!
Little good can come from inviting people to embrace a caricature of the Faith that Jesus gave to the world for the salvation of souls. To introduce people to a milquetoast Jesus fashioned in our own image is to reduce Jesus' message to a sugary platitude, the rejection of which carries no consequence. However, to reject Jesus' actual message has eternal consequences. Can we not capture the urgency of the message and communicate it in a way that respects the dignity of the hearer? If we trust in the intelligence of the listener, much as Jesus appealed to the dignity of the woman at the well, we can create a forum wherein the Gospel is shared as water is shared with the thirsty. The Gospel is water, and people are thirsty.

Church-of-Me

To rely on our efforts alone, however noble our attempts to evangelize might be, without asking God to guide and bless every effort is to invite disaster. Without God's blessing and adherence to His commandments, efforts that accommodate and bless sinful behaviour will have succeeded in welcoming lost souls not to the Church of Jesus Christ but to the Church-of-Me.

Ready... set... hold on a minute.

"Come follow me," says the Lord (St. John 1:43). Jesus does not say, "When you are ready, follow me." We follow Him, or we do not follow Him. Jesus' invitation is clear and requires a decision. Should our invitations to others to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ be any less clear? We propose with love the Gospel undefiled and God disposes souls to accept the Gospel. Whether or not the listener cooperates with the Holy Spirit to accept the invitation is another matter. God does not force our wills, He entices us by the truth, goodness and beauty of His Person and message, the two being one in the same.

Jesus shares the terms of His covenant, terms which require our 'yes' freely given. His terms require that we embrace our cross, to die to self, to keep His commands and follow in His footsteps. To those who accept His salvation, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to help them live faithfully and fully the covenant.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.