One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that, if you go to Mass regularly, you will hear so much of Sacred Scripture being read.
This is also one of the disadvantages.
It is not a disadvantage because you hear Sacred Scripture, but because you hear it in small chunks. What is lacking in the experience of most Catholics is an overall view of the whole of Sacred Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Compared to Bible Christians, most Catholics are woefully inadequate in their understanding. They don’t know how the whole sacred story fits together. They can’t tell the difference between Galatians or Genesis, Numbers or Nehemiah and they probably think Philippians was written to Catholics in the Philippines.
Most of all, there seems to be a terrible lack of understanding of the gospel itself. When I read Catholic authors and listen to homilies and read what is put out on the internet it seems that Catholic authors, theologians and preachers have read only the parts of the gospel that they like or that make them feel warm, sweet and fuzzy.
This is cotton candy Catholicism.
What I’m getting at is a false gospel which comes partially, (and the real reasons are far more insidious and fundamental) from reading only half of the gospel.
People mouth the sentimental platitude…”All that really matters is how much you love Jesus.”
Yes, of course, but who and what exactly is this “Jesus” you are trying to love? The Jesus they promote is a softly spoken, wise teacher who loves the little children, teaches about the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and forgives and heals everyone with a big, group hug.
However, if you sit down and read, let’s say, the Gospel of Mark through from beginning to end this is not the portrait of Jesus that appears.
Instead Jesus comes across as much closer to John the Baptist. He is curt–harsh even. He is witty and sarcastic and completely uncompromising. He demands everything from his disciples and is unrelenting in his mission. He is clear in his warnings about hell and is very clear that not many people will get to heaven.
But we must be careful not to go to the other extreme.
If cotton candy Catholicism is a false gospel, so is cold and cruel Catholicism.
Jesus is not an unyielding, harsh, hellfire and brimstone preacher either. He really is compassionate and caring.
Instead when we read the whole gospel we encounter an authentic, fascinating, well rounded and mysterious person. When we read the whole gospel the unique authenticity of Jesus is what impresses more than almost anything else.
Both the cotton candy Jesus and the cold cruel Jesus are fictions. They are the kind of religious teacher we would make up if we were creating a religious teacher out of our imagination, and we would do so according to our own personality type and the matrix of our particular personalities.
Nice kind people fabricate the tender Jesus. Strict, righteous people fabricate the tough Jesus.
But Jesus himself defies all these categories. He is tough and tender at the same time. It is incumbent among all of us who say we follow him to get out our Bibles from time to time and read one of the gospels through from beginning to end.
As we do so we will meet the Jesus Christ of the gospels–not just the Jesus of the lectionary and the homily– and when we do, the encounter will almost certainly shock and astound us.
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