I’m chewing this over and I wonder how much I do this:
“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”
– Pope Francis, October 17, 2013, homily at morning Mass, Domus Sanctae Marthae
Christianity, while definitely have a profound moral component, is not primarily moralism. Any pagan can have a moral system and many great ones have done so. Christ did not come into the world to boost moralism. Much of what he said about ethics was just a reiteration of the law and the prophets.
Christ came into to the world to die and rise from the dead for the forgiveness of sins and to bestow the Holy Spirit on those who believe in him. He came to give himself, not moral rules. But much of what we Christians talk about today is mere moralism (at best) and often mere legalism (at worst). No disciple of Jesus would waste time asking things like “How close can I get to torturing somebody without technically torturing them?” or “Aren’t there, pretty please, times when I can lie and it’s actually good?” or “When do I *get* to kill people in war or capital punishment or abortion?” The whole spirit of the thing is wrong. But that’s how our conversations so often proceed.
It suggests an approach to the gospel that literally does not know the first thing about being a disciple: the promptness to seek the Master’s will and not our own. When the whole approach is to minimize, to avoid, to deflect, to try to cling to one’s own life and will as much as possible, it’s like the Bride asking “How seldom do I have to kiss my husband and still be technically married?” on her wedding day. To even ask the question is to show that there is no marriage happening that day.
So I wonder about my reluctance and hesitance to obey. My slowness. I know we are afflicted with concupiscence–the weakness of will, disordered appetites, and darkened intellect that come of the fall–but how patient am I of others as I am of my own failings.
I think of one of my readers. He’s been pretty critical of me and I’ve gotten pretty used to hearing from Super-Catholics ready, willing, and (thank God) unable to kick me (and most of the rest of the Catholics in the world) out of the Church for failing to measure up to their rigorous standards. Since they have been ready to kick out the pope too, I’ve felt like I was in safe company and I have not been shy about my disdain for their haughty arrogance. At the same time, as I have said repeatedly, my heart has been broken by them.
But here’s the thing: this one reader wrote me and said something that really struck me. He talked, in tones that were not haughty or arrogant but, well, heart-broken, about his difficulty in remaining Catholic and his doubts that he would be in a year. It was clear that he was in pain. I felt something for him that I have not felt in a long time with the many other people that beseige me with their anger and contempt for me about this and that: empathy. I thought, “Here is somebody I can relate to. He wasn’t trying to kick my ass in the Theological Correctness Swimsuit Competition. He was just telling me, before God, that he was hurting and confused. It was real and human and it made me feel for him and wonder how much of that was due to me.
I don’t really have any big insights or resolutions to any of this. I’m just pondering. But I would like to say “thank you” to that reader (I assume he knows who he is and would prefer to give him his privacy as much as I can). You’re in my prayer. Please keep me in yours. Part of the reason for the Church, evidently, is to throw us together with Here Comes Everybody in order to teach us how to love people who are really and irrevocably different from ourselves and to teach us how to forgive, not just foibles and charming eccentricities, but real out and out sins of people who make us crazy.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us who are sinners.