Thursday, October 20, 2011

29th Thursday in Ordinary Time, Cycle I: The real outsider

[Jesus said,] “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Lk 12:49-53 NAB).

I look at young people who are, for some odd reason, still into the “Goth” shtick, and I pity them.

Not as poor, misunderstood souls, no. I pity them because the whole “Goth” business is so 1996. It’s old. It’s no longer shocking or upsetting; it’s darn near mainstream. Stick it with a fork, ‘cause it’s done.

No, if they want to be misunderstood and feared and still get to wear black clothes, then they should become Catholic priests and religious. I mean, go all out — the theology, the spirituality, the rosaries and Liturgy of the Hours, the cassocks, robes and habits, the whole megillah. Instead of listening to Marilyn Manson (is he even still around?), they should be listening to the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreutz.

In fact, the bare minimum they need to do to be feared and misunderstood is to practice Christianity in spirit and truth.

Why is this? It’s because the Christian life is not about being “nice”. It’s not about being “good enough”. It’s about radical abandonment of the self, with all its demands and disordered desires, at the foot of the Cross, sparing nothing for yourself in order to follow Jesus, your own cross carried firmly on your shoulders. It’s to live in this world but for the life to come.

People who live Christianity in spirit and truth don’t need to judge others. Their very lives are an implicit judgment on others. By their concern and compassion for others, they heap live coals on the heads of those who say of suffering, sickness, disease and imprisonment, “It’s not my problem.” By the purity of their lives they offend those who carouse and debauch themselves. By their transparent honesty they shame and enrage liars and cheats. Their humility afflicts the proud; their patience in suffering and oppression infuriate the malcontents; their conformity to laws and respect for authority annoy rebels and revolutionaries. And their prayers and devotion to God outrage the godless.

Most annoying is their practice of forgiving others. They’re suckers for a few tears and a sobbing apology. I mean, let’s look at the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson; by his own estimate, he was responsible for over 75,000 abortions! And yet he became a pro-life hero; he was not only forgiven but received his first Communion from the hands of John Cardinal O’Connor! Of course, you gotta stay “on message”, but isn’t that tearing the back out of it?

Of course, none of this would be so bad if they would just shut up about it and keep it to themselves. But no! They gotta share their strange, inhuman message of salvation with everyone! It’s not enough that they feed the poor, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned … they gotta demand that we do it too. And all their talk about sin and repentance — why can’t they just wrap up and let us enjoy our greed, our lust, our gluttony and our pride?

You begin to see, then, what Jesus means? A life that’s truly God-centered such that it infiltrates your whole being, a life that truly approaches holiness, is not a life that’s comfortable for others to be around. In many situations, such people cause controversy just by doing the right thing. And often enough, the people who understand the least are the people closest to them.

So what’s the point? Once again, St. Paul explains:

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. But what profit did you get then from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit that you have leads to sanctification, and its end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:20-23).

So does any of this make the true Christian better than the rest of us? No; that’s the irony of it … he knows that he’s no better than anyone else. His actions, his striving for purity, charity, humility and all that are not sacrifices in expectation of a reward, but rather his egoless response to an incredible gift of grace; the gain of Heaven is almost an afterthought.

No, self-righteous prigs and pious hypocrites are bad enough; when the authentic disciple striving for true holiness comes along, even good people are disturbed by his advent. In the right circumstances, such as those of St. Paul of the Cross, the holy one is the catalyst of widespread conversion. In other circumstances, such as those of the blessed children Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa of Uganda, the holy one must be put to death.

He is the real “outsider”.

Not simply because he preaches the faith, but because he lives the faith. He is a sign of contradiction among us, shaking our certainties and bruising our egos, telling us that everything we think we know about life is quite probably wrong.

And that many people find truly shocking, upsetting and unforgiveable.