A few weeks ago, my pastor preached a homily based on what is a simple but absolute fact of all our lives.
We will die.
You are going to die.
I am going to die.
It may be in a car wreck this afternoon as you go to the store to buy milk. It may be years from now as you sleep in your bed at 85. But you and I will die.
My pastor told us that when we die, someone will say to us, You belong to me. The question is, who will be saying this to us? Will it be Jesus, welcoming us Home. Or will it be someone else?
We are the ones who decide who will tell us You belong to me on that day. We decide, not so much by the things we say, but by what we do. Who do you serve with your life? Whose teachings do you follow?
Do you follow the troubling teachings of the Gospels as elucidated to us by the Holy Father, Pope Francis? Or do you follow the serpent who whispers in all of our ears, Take. Eat. God is a liar. You will not die?
As with all really successful lies, this one was part truth. When the serpent whispered You will not die in Eve’s ear, it was true. All the serpent had to do was add one word to make it absolutely true. That word was today.
You will not die today.
Take. Eat. And you will be like God, knowing right from wrong. And you will not die today.
There are many serpents in our world today, and each one of them speaks to us in the peculiar language of our own hearts. They tell us that what we want to do is right and the Church which tells us otherwise is wrong, cruel, hard-hearted and mean to tell us it is not.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your sexuality, your politics, the way you treat your family or some secret sin you keep to yourself. You have your own serpent to whisper in your ear and tell you, God/the Pope/the Gospels are all liars. Do this and you will be free of those binding appeals to lying morality.
And, of course, you will not die.
But it’s all a lie from the father of lies. The Gospel this Sunday talks about judgement day, when Jesus told us that one will be taken and another left behind. Many preachers concentrate their preaching about this on some final Judgement Day for all humankind that recedes in front of us like the horizon as we live our lives.
But I think that there are two judgement days and the one we need to concern ourselves with is our own personal Judgement Day that is coming at all of us faster than any of us wants to believe. On that day, someone will say to us You belong to me.
One of the primary purposes of this blog is to encourage Christians to take a stand for Jesus in a post Christian world. Since I am myself a politician, I am calling you from the depths of my experience to cast off the false gods of political claptrap and follow the Gospels of Christ without compromise.
Do not follow false teachers who are the political serpents whispering in all our ears and who edit the Gospels of Christ to serve their political masters. Do not bow down before the elephant or the donkey. Do not do it.
When we die and someone says to us, You belong to me, we are the ones who will have determined which voice we hear saying it. We are choosing now as we choose who we serve, who we follow and who we believe.
Follow His Vicar who was chosen by the Holy Spirit and who cannot teach us that which is contrary to the Gospels of Christ.
Stop trying to lead, and follow. And stop quibbling about it.
I have learned from my own disastrous failures at doing it my way and I am telling you now from the bottom of my heart: There is no other Way.
Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith, by Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict, is a wonderful piece of writing that I think is exactly right for us in this time.
It talks about the many ways that faith illumines our walk with Christ in this life, and how that faith leads us to the world beyond. It is about the transforming power of conversion. I was struck over and again while I was reading it by how completely its words seemed to speak directly to my own experience of conversion, from that first abrupt turn to Jesus and throughout the on-going conversion that has been my life since.
This experience of seeing my own walk of faith and my own needs — both intellectual and emotional needs — addressed in papal encyclicals is not new to me. I have been consistently amazed by the power the Holy Spirit infuses into the writings of the various popes to speak accurately of and directly to the broader human condition.
The fact that I saw my own experiences of conversion reflected in Luman Fidei leads me to believe that my conversion and my walk are far more universal than I had ever supposed. There is so much in Lumen Fidei that applies to us as individuals and as Christians in a newly post-Christian world that I am not going to attempt to summarize it in a single post. Instead, I’m going to unpack it a bit at a time and ponder what I learn from it.
Each of you would probably learn something different if you read it. Great spiritual writing is always like that. Ten people can read the Sermon on the Mount and experience 10 different insights. That is because the Sermon on the Mount has so many dimensions and also because the Holy Spirit guides us in our reflections to learn what we need at that time in our lives.
It is the same with this encyclical, or just about any of the encyclicals, for that matter. I encourage you to read it and reflect on it for yourself, then bring your thoughts here to try them out. Mind on mind generates better thinking that just going off alone. I think we can teach one another.
Conversion is not just a one-off, falling-off-a-cliff moment. It can be that, but, if it is real, it is always more than that. Conversion is a process of re-orientation.
The way I’ve always put it is that Jesus doesn’t change what we do. He changes what we want to do.
Lumen Fidei puts it like this:
Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time … faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond ourselves towards the breadth of communion.
In other words, God loved us before we were conceived, and has called us to Himself when we were apart from Him. That initial moment of conversion is built on the first spark of faith that allows us to say “yes” to this love. In my case, I said “Forgive me.”
My first conscious experience of God as Another was the instantaneous experience of love and joy pouring into me as soon as I said that. It was God’s answer to my “yes” to Him.
Just as the love of our parents when we are little gives us the security to explore the world and learn about it without fear, this powerful love of God that we can actually feel as a sensation transforms us from the inside.
The fact, the simple fact, that God Is, that He Is a reacting being whose first persona is ecstatic love and joy of a quality we have never known was possible, changes everything else. Faith, which was a spark of desperation when we said that first “yes,” becomes a certainty in the reality of this love.
Faith in Him, in His goodness and His love, teaches us a new kind and level of security. It is security built on a different reality at a different plane than the ones we ordinarily build our lives around.
The foundations and walls of security people try to erect for themselves are made of labor, blood and money. We amass wealth, commission armies, put up buildings and buy locks, all to give us security from the thief, the tyrant and the caprice of life. All these things are open mouths into which we feed our days erecting, maintaining and controlling them in the vain hope that they will keep us safe. Whatever safety they give is predicated on the fact that they themselves also devour our energies and strength. None of them can, in the end, save us from our own weaknesses and mortality.
The security of Christ is built outside of time and without our work. We do not supply it, and we do not maintain it. Time cannot erode it and death does not end it.
Faith is the light, shining in the darkness of our narrow existences which illumines this security and lets us experience it. Faith does not create the security of living in Christ. Rather, it lets us experience it to its fullest.
Faith in Christ allows us to see the new path before us. It opens our hearts to the teaching and promptings of the Holy Spirit, which in turn, change us from the inside out. Over time, we are converted to a new way of looking at ourselves, other people and life. We are changed, re-oriented. The things that matter to us change, and the things we do change right along with them.
We become new creatures in Christ.
This is the full experience of conversion, which is on-going, life-long and radical. It is how Christ transforms the world; by transforming each one of us individually.
And it all depends on that first radical turn away from flat, one-dimensional life of no faith, no hope, and doing it all for ourselves. It depends on that initial “yes” of faith.
Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.
To join the discussion about God’s Favorite Place on Earth, or to buy a copy, go here.
Frank Viola, who blogs at Rediscovering the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, is offering 25 free books or audios to those who buy his newest book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, in the next week. To learn more, go here.
That offer makes a good book a good deal, as well.
God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a combination first person fictionalization/meditation/teaching on the Gospel stories surrounding the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This family lived in the little town of Bethany, and Gospel accounts make it clear that their friendship with Jesus was both personal and on-going.
These people knew Jesus in the intimate way that friends know one another. They also recognized Him as more than just another rabbi. They got Him at a time when His own disciples were often confused the things He did and said.
This is the same Lazarus who died and was dead four days when Jesus stood at his grave and, with the words Lazarus come forth! raised him from the dead.
First, Jesus meant it when He said that being his disciple means taking up our crosses and following after Him. The message in Viola’s fine book is three-fold.
Second, God’s ways are not our ways. He doesn’t work according to our time-table or our human goals. He has His own plan and our part in it is to follow Him and do what He tells us to do.
Third, (and most important) Christian life is Christ-centered living. It is not about our missions or our apostolates. It is not a function of how many hours we spend at church or how we vote. Following Christ means following Christ and Him crucified.
Frank Viola has written a fine book that gave me meat for thought about my own Christian walk and the ways in which I put things ahead of Him in my life. It was a convicting and uplifting read, both at once.
I heartily recommend it.
We have a pope, and our new pope has his own way of doing things. Twenty-four hours after he stood on the balcony and gave us his first blessing as our Holy Father, Pope Francis is already exhibiting an independent streak.
He dressed more simply, refused a Papal limousine, asked for our prayers and (get ready for this) went back to the Vatican hotel where he had been staying before his election to collect his own luggage and pay his bill.
I don’t see these changes as a departure from the papacy as it has been, but as a return of the papacy as a pastoral office that speaks to the world in the name of Christ the Lord that it always has been. Rather than behaving in a manner befitting what the press has termed “Christ’s CEO,” Pope Francis has shown us a Holy Father who has come to serve the Lord, and us in His name.
I think it would be a mistake for anyone to take this gentleness and simplicity as weakness. Pope Francis’ actions demonstrate an unruffled confidence in the Christ of the Gospels that comes from the kind of faith that survives anything the world can throw at it. He is humble, but I predict that we will see that it is the humility of an inner strength born of great faith and holiness.
I’ve excerpted an Associated Press article detailing the Holy Father’s first day in office. You can find the entire article with all the details here.
VATICAN CITY (AP) —put his humility on display during his first day as pontiff Thursday, stopping by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay the bill himself in a decidedly different style of papacy …
… He kept the simple iron pectoral cross of his days as bishop and eschewed the red cape … choosing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy.
… “He believes the church has to go to the streets, to express this closeness of the church and this accompaniment with those who are suffering.” Francis’ authorized biographer,
…Sergio Rubin, said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.… Rubin recalled how the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would celebrate Masses with homeless people and prostitutes in.
… Francis began his first day as pope making an early morning visit in a simple Vatican car to a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary and prayed before an icon of the Madonna.
He also told cardinals he would call on retired Pope Benedict XVI, but the Vatican said the visit wouldn’t take place for a few days.
… Francis, the first Jesuit pope and first non-European since the Middle Ages, decided to call himself Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, the humble friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor.
The new pope, known for his work with the poor in Buenos Aires’ slums, immediately charmed the crowd in St. Peter’s, which roared when his name was announced and roared again when he emerged on the loggia of the basilica with a simple and familiar: “Brothers and sisters, good evening.”
By Thursday morning, members of his flock were similarly charmed when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he routinely stays during visits to Rome and where he stayed before the start of the conclave.
“He wanted to come here because he wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house,” said The Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, who is staying at the residence. “He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one.”
He then paid the bill.
“People say that he never in these 20 years asked for a (Vatican) car,” he said. “Even when he went for the conclave with a priest from his diocese, he just walked out to the main road, he picked up a taxi and went to the conclave. So very simple for a future pope.”
Francis displayed that same sense of simplicity and humility immediately after his election, shunning the special sedan … so he could ride on the bus with other cardinals, and refusing even an elevated platform from which he would greet them, according to U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
… “I think we’re going to see a call to Gospel simplicity,” said U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
… Francis’ election elated Latin America, home to 40 percent of the world’s Catholics … On Wednesday, drivers honked their horns in the streets ofand television announcers screamed with elation at the news.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, said the cardinals clearly chose Francis because he was simply “the best person to lead the church.”
Reporter Rob Gillies in Toronto, Karl Ritter and photographer Luca Bruno in Rome contributed. (Read the rest here.)
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Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 6. Preach Christ = Preach Christ Crucified
Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29: 18
… and he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6: 34
For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required. Luke 12: 48
Demagoguery is not preaching Christ.
Protecting priestly privilege is not preaching Christ.
Pandering to your parishioners is not preaching Christ.
Pandering to your brother and sister clergy is not preaching Christ.
Pandering to political parties and secular powers is not preaching Christ.
Protecting your career and advancement in the Church is not preaching Christ.
We are like sheep without a shepherd. In fact, we are more than like sheep without a shepherd. We are sheep without a shepherd. Telling us how to vote is not telling us how to live. It does not equip us to be the salt and light that bring the Kingdom. It does not grow our faith in Christ. What it does is gather political power to the person who is telling us how to vote.
We are lied to, manipulated, whipped up into hatred and degraded with cheap slogans instead of intelligent dialogue by the media, the two political parties and the various candidates. We don’t need more of the same coming at us from the pulpits in our churches.
We need Christ and Him crucified. We need clergy who will preach the revolutionary, civilization-building, soul-saving Gospel of Christ in all its fullness.
When clergy panders to politicians, no matter where they begin, they end by whittling the Gospels down to the parts that they can twist to support the political agenda of the party or politician they are following. They usually leave the cross over their altars, but they might as well not. Your god is who you obey. Your god is who you follow. If these failed shepherds were being honest, they would remove the cross from their churches and replace it with the Republican elephant or the Democrat Donkey.
Right-wing preachers, who toady to the Republicans, either ignore or belittle the calls for social justice that pertain to the poor in particular and everyone who is in need in general. They basically dropkick the Sermon on the Mount off the front step of their churches. They pull verses and even parts of verses out of context to justify and support blatant corporatism and the economic destruction of the people in order to enrich those who control the political party they follow.
Left-wing preachers, who toady to the Democrats, carry this a step further. Rather then using proof texts pulled out of odd places in Scripture to justify themselves, they tend to obliterate the whole book.
These folks are big on applying literary criticism to the Bible. This method of scriptural analysis is the systematic application of fantasy involving a confabulated “Q Document” and weighty-sounding but baseless judgements based on authorial style and voice. It’s a kind of web-spinning that produces wordy exegesis that is simply a theoretical construct erroneously presented as hard fact.
This convenient acceptance of literary criticism calls the entire Bible into question. It provides the intellectual gloss for what is simply cherry-picking the Gospels for the parts you find consistent with your secular values. Scripture that demands justice and sets limits on our sexual and social behavior is expunged.
Left-wing preachers drop-kick the law. Their right-wing mirror images drop-kick the prophets.
Between these two sets of bogus shepherds, there is nothing of the Scriptures left. They have successfully edited and challenged the entire Bible out of relevance to today’s society. They have obviated everything that gives them the right to hold their jobs.
Is it any wonder that everyone from atheists to zealot pro-abortionists flings proof texts at Christians? They take these verses out of context and apply them ignorantly, true. They have zero knowledge of how the whole of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation fits together to tell a single, albeit convoluted, story. They certainly don’t see that the Bible is always, no matter how far afield it may seem to go, about Jesus Christ. They’re ignorant, and they can be almost comically bombastic, but it’s hard to get really mad at them. After all, they learned to do this from our own clergy.
We are not like sheep without a shepherd. We are sheep without a shepherd. We’ve got lots of preachers. We’ve got them on television, making millions and preaching a heretical political gospel of greed. We’ve got feel-good preachers, giving us a Hallmark card Jesus made of cotton candy and sticky glue. We’ve got others reviling, slandering and attacking those on the other side of whatever political spectrum the preacher in question supports. We’ve got them hanging out in their rectories, living cozy lives and getting by without ruffling feathers.
Pick your flavor. There’s a preacher out there who will give you a phony jesus to match.
Today’s church has reduced Calvary to an Easter egg hunt and a pretty pageant. It has sanitized the scandal of our God Who was subjected to the most shameful disregard society could mete out; Who was left weak and piteous, Who appeared helpless; a criminal.
The cross was shameful then and it’s shameful now. Jesus was not only wrongly convicted, he was beaten nearly to death; tortured, mocked, reviled and when He hung on the cross in agony, His tormenters stood at its foot and made fun of Him, mocked Him the more.
The cross is shameful, embarrassing, hard. Christ and Him crucified is the whole message of the Bible. If you don’t preach that, you are not preaching at all.
I think it’s pertinent to our discussion that Calvary was an actual event in history. The blood was real. The pain, humiliation, helplessness, degradation were all real. They happened. Jesus was flesh and bone, just like any of us. He felt every single bit of it. He endured both the physical pain and the psychological death of the aloneness of being weak and helpless in the hands of human monsters.
The people who did this were a bunch of lying priests and a cowardly politician, all of whom put their careers, their power, their vaunting self-importance, ahead of doing what was right.
We live in a world where it’s getting harder to follow Jesus with each passing day. Christians are slaughtered in a genocidal fury in many places, subjected to overt discrimination, harassment and constant fear of worse in many others.
Here in America elected officials are scolded if they mention Christ in public. The name of Jesus is subjected to public ridicule and mockery. Rank and file Christians of every denomination feel compelled to self-censor their speech concerning their belief in Christ to avoid being belittled, shunned and perhaps endangering their employment.
This is our cross. We have been running away from it and we’ve got to stop. We must, in the name of Jesus, take up these challenges, which are the challenges of our time in history. It is not shameful to be attacked and belittled for following Jesus. it is an honor and a privilege. It is a blessing.
We need shepherds who will tell us this. We need shepherds who do not pander, are not demagogues, who are indifferent to both of the two political parties. We need shepherds who do not care about their privilege and self-importance, who are willing to put ambitions for their careers aside. We need shepherds who follow Christ, even if it is to the cross. We need shepherds who will preach Christ and Him crucified.
I give you a promise. I promise that if you stand up for Jesus, you will pay a price. I promise that if you preach Christ and Him Crucified, some of the people in your congregation will get mad at you. Your advancement in the Church may be limited due to your “fanaticism.”
For those of us who are not clergy, I promise the same. True discipleship of Jesus is, has been, and always will be about the cross. It is never a way to get rich or do well in this world.
We follow a King. But His crown was not a crown of gold and jewels. His crown was of thorns.
Today’s equation goes to the heart of the only solution that will lead our society out of its death spiral.
Preach Christ = Preach Christ crucified.