None Are Welcome on Their Own Terms

None Are Welcome on Their Own Terms November 4, 2014

This is the flip side of the Elton John discussion and is also, paradoxically, perfectly biblical.

The way Jesus puts it is this:

Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Lk 14:25–33).

This is what my good friend Zippy was at pains to stress in the discussion of Elton John and he is perfectly right, of course.  But then, so am I. 🙂

George MacDonald used to say, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.”  We should be like that too when dealing with people in the difficult process of having their lives turned upside down with an encounter with Jesus (especially converts like me, for I was a stranger in the land of Egypt once myself).  When a man who was, a few years ago, calling for the complete ban on all religion is now capable of seeing that the pope is not his enemy and expressing a modicum of trust in him as a human being, that is a real step and an opportunity.  But it’s a first, baby, step.  Not a last step.  Should he take other steps, as converts to the Church do, in fact, do (including gay converts) it will be necessary, sooner or later, for him (as for all converts) to lay his personal agendas at the feet of Christ.  Meanwhile, we meet people where they are and ask of them what is possible for them, not what is impossible.  Jesus makes gigantic demands on us in the end, up to and including gruesome martyrdom for his sake.  But he starts small, with things like “give me a drink of water”.

That’s why those five stages of intentional discipleship are so important to incorporate into our thinking.  Most of us are not the St. Paul of popular imagination, knocked off the horse and instantly converted in super-disciples.  Indeed, even St. Paul wasn’t that guy.  Scripture hints that he went through his own subterranean cavern of struggles “kicking against the goads” of his own conscience, as he struggled with the dissonance between his life and that of the people he was persecuting.  His conversion was, like all conversions, a miracle.  But it was not the lightning bolt people think.  He spent years in the desert, thinking it over.  He had his stuff vetted by the Big Dogs in Jerusalem.  He was an abrasive enough person that the Church at Jerusalem didn’t trust him and regarded him as something between an infiltrator and a Professional Catholic.  He got farmed out to the Church at Antioch where he spent a number of years learning the rope as a Catholic before he was ordained (that’s what that bit in Acts 13 with the laying on of hands was about).  And he was dogged his whole life long with the accusation that he wasn’t a *real* apostle like the 12 (you can see him rankling at this in his Second Letter to the Corinthians).  And, indeed, he himself made clear that his conversion was ongoing all his life long, “pressing on” to the upward call in Christ.

God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.  He will not be happy till we are completely happy.

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  • Ken

    Let’s not forget that Paul was more of an enemy of the Church than anyone we could imagine. He was executing members of the Church. It would be equivalent to a member of ISIS wanting to join the Church. It’s worked out pretty well letting him in unless we want to delete two thirds of the New Testament.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      I’ve met a few people who claim the Church went wrong with St. Paul, but that wasn’t their reason.

      • zoltan

        You can hop on over to the National “Catholic” Reporter and find that St. Paul “still had a little bit of Pharisee in him” when writing Romans 1, and all that icky stuff about obedience to one’s husband.

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          I heard a man speaking who said he did an “in-depth study” of the writings of Paul, discovered that Paul contradicted the Old Testament, decided that Paul was wrong, and that anyone who used the letters of Paul as inspired scripture wasn’t following real Christianity. Apparently God’s Church on Earth was so poorly guided by the Holy Spirit that it didn’t make it 50 years before heresy took over.

  • anna lisa

    The Elton John thing reminds me of the story of the Prodigal son. I’m trying to remember the names of a couple of good historical fiction books my boys read. (One was called “The Robe” I think.) Anyhow, what I’m thinking is that some good, diligent soul without internet ADD really needs to flesh out the characters in a book called “The Prodigal”. It would translate so well to the kinds of Catholic debates that make 100+ comments erupt into comment boxes. (Hardly anyone bothers to comment about works of charity).
    I would imagine that the older brother’s sense of indignation *wouldn’t* start with the father welcoming his little brother back or the killing of the fatted-goat; it would start with the older brother feeling secretly jealous that his brother gets to party with the fun crowd. He must have consoled himself with the fact that he was the only good son left to his father. Seeing his brother the-pig-feeder returning with rags and STDs must have delighted and horrified him for all the wrong reasons.
    But none of it, NONE of it could compare to the rage, despair and confusion he had to endure when his father welcomed with open arms, somebody who should have been disowned and never spoken of again.

    • Marthe Lépine

      It would make a good movie – too bad I don’t know how to do that!

      • anna lisa

        Well you never know until you try. 🙂
        I personally have internet ADD…

      • They already made one, De Mille style in the 1950’s: “The Prodigal” with Lana Turner as the “loose woman” (but they turn her into a pagan priestess) and Edmund Purdom. I haven’t seen it, but from what I’ve read, the way they fill in the story sounds pretty wild. I trust it wouldn’t be too hard to make a better movie on the subject.

  • kenofken

    I think everyone is reading way too much into Elton John’s statement. The fact that he finds something admirable in the pope’s character or approach doesn’t mean that he’s going to swim the Tiber or win Francis’ approval for gay marriage. To paraphrase Freud, who probably never said it, sometimes a compliment is just a compliment.

  • virago

    Do you think Elton John has read Pope Francis’ s full quote, his entire statement?

    • kenofken

      I don’t think his lordship spends a great deal of time dissecting Catholic theology.

    • Marthe Lépine

      I would be surprised if he even read anything much…

  • Richard C Deanda

    With all due respect… Scripture does not say that St. Paul was ever knocked off his horse… just knocked to the ground. It’s just a pet peeve of mine.

    • kenofken

      The horse version is a better story. I mean, a Roman official who is the Darth Vader of the New Testament just doesn’t seem all that imposing if he’s a pedestrian. It’s also much more dramatic if he gets knocked off a horse. That’s wrath-of-God stuff. Falling off of his own feet could have been anything – a stone, a pothole, a load of bad booze.

      • Linebyline

        Darth Vader didn’t have a horse, either. 😉

        • Tom

          St. Paul couldn’t choke people with his mind.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Dear Mark, I had read this post and the comments a few days ago, but only just a few minutes ago and followed the link on the top of the post. And I read Fr. Lemieux’s reflection, and then browsed for a while in his blog. Doing so, I found a link and followed it to discover the following conversion story, a conversion done step by step with the help of a compassionate and patient priest. I think that it fits here with all the concerns that have been expressed about EJ and his admiration for Pope Francis.
    Catholic Channel

    The Long Road of Grace and Mercy

    A young couple journeys from sin to grace, thanks to the friendship and unshakeable confidence of their priest.

    By Calah Alexander, June 07, 2012