Out Live, Out Laugh, And Out Love The World, & A Lifestyle of No Compromise
As Catholics, our call is clear. We are asked to be proclaimers of the truth and evangelize humanity that has again become pagan after almost two thousand years since the announcement of the Gospel. In a world of practical and theoretical atheism, as people prostrate themselves in the worship of money, pleasure, power, pride, materialism, and impurity, we are called to live an alternative lifestyle.
All are called to be a light on a hill in grace, holiness, justice, love, and peace that cannot be hid in the face of adversity. By providing an alternative to the existing system, it will only be this lifestyle of uncompromised truth that will build a new world. Our model for discipleship must be Christ and how He gave Himself to just a few men, and through them changed the world around them. Persecution is the fire that forges prophets or quitters. In times of adversity, the prima donna element will have no place at the table of courageous faith. If the believer were to live four absolutes of: absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love, everyone would be attracted to what we have to offer. The word absolute is a powerful word. As we proclaim this Gospel, we can no longer be the property of one group, sect, or charism, but guided exclusively by what the Holy Spirit is asking us to say and do. One major reason the Holy Spirit is constricted in Christian institutions is people fear speaking the truth for fear of being ostracized, and with that, advancement in their group is often precluded. Here is why organizations get spiritually stale. When one is part of a group not guided by the Holy Spirit and traditions take over, that group becomes inbred and insular in its thinking. Rote habits then become the norm. The Holy Spirit is not static, but dynamic at all times. If we are asked to do something and we don’t do it, the Holy Spirit will find another for the task asked of us. Anyone who knows in September what the Holy Spirit will ask of them in June is probably not being guided by the Holy Spirit. We must produce a new leadership free from the bondage of fear, rising above ambition, flexible to what the Holy Spirit is guiding. Not a sappy soft “luv,” but the love and might of the gospel taught and lived without compromise. Our call is to translate the Ten Commandments into the realities of everyday life.
All are to live prayer and penance, and to practice courageously the virtues in a spirit of love, adoration, and reparation. Courageous and heroic virtues will be needed to take a stand. That is the history of the Scriptures and the Christian heritage. There is no way denying it. We have become like the frog in water, and as the heat is imperceptibly turned up—sitting there until boiled to death. Sin no longer fazes many, but is generally accepted as normal behavior. As a society we suffer from acedia, a lack of respect for spiritual things. So we are all called to spread the cenacles of prayer among the faithful and reach out to the down and out. We are above all to have cenacles of prayer to save the family from the onslaught of the great evil that threaten it. We are told the cenacles of prayer groups serve as “lightening rods of protection” for our times in the messages of Father Gobbi.
As Saint Francis of Assisi said to his young men, “go out into the world and preach the Gospel – and speak only if necessary.” And as Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:24). The eye of the needle was an archway in walled cities at that time. For a camel to pass through, it needed its saddle bags of goods taken off and get on all fours crouching and crawling under the arch. It is also a very defensive position for people as they need to bend low to enter, which would make one vulnerable to what is on the other side. Today, people are incrementally being stripped of what has been their false security, so they must place what is the pearl of great price as the prize.
It is clear that Jesus is more interested in the spiritual than the physical. Change a heart, and you get the whole person. The message seems apparent, take care of the spiritual and the rest just works out naturally. If we are called to a different task than our neighbor, then follow what prayer is telling you. Man has faculty to figure out what is required for himself as necessity is the mother of invention, and sincere prayer tells us what to do if we are obedient. There is a lot of talk about physical preparation. What should one do? Noah was told to build a boat for safety and did it, and Joseph was told to store grain in the fat years of harvest in preparation for the lean years ahead. Mankind has witnessed throughout the centuries natural laws can be suspended and are subordinate to spiritual law. Remember, Jesus’ instruction about faith moving mountains? If that is insufficient, look to His Resurrection, and hundreds of other miracles in Scripture.
If we follow the statutes and tenets of the Faith, priorities are in place. As we follow the First Commandment of honoring God first and foremost in all things, other things become easier to figure out as sin dulls the senses. Obedience brings clear thinking. However, people’s circumstances are different. Different spiritual and physical gifts, charisms, income, ethnicity, geography, abilities, education, personality strengths and limitations, levels of spiritual awareness, and some have ten talents and others have one or two. So what is the prescription for each of us going forward? We are first called to prayer, and action stemming from what we hear in prayer. To sit back watching another get beat in front of our very eyes while we can do something is not the message being conveyed. I often think of the words of President Teddy Roosevelt about people who watch other people and do nothing, yet have strident opinions how the world should work. The following is a small portion of a speech he delivered called, Citizenship in a Republic, The Man in the Arena, at the Sorbonne in Paris, France April 23, 1910.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
First and foremost, suffering is redemptive. The believer on occasion will suffer for the Cross, and whether we like it or not, suffering will come our way at some time or another. The “prosperity gospel” preached in the United States has some merits on positive thinking and a role in Church teaching, but often when adversity strikes subscribers to this philosophy, often don’t have the faculty and tools to cope with crisis. The prosperity gospel can only take us so far. It’s half a loaf of bread. The cult of softness of this modem interpretation of the Gospel is mushy, lacking long term character and meat, and in western civilization, particularly America, we are saturated by it. David Wilkerson of Times Square Church in New York City once called the prosperity followers “pillow prophets.” Scripture and Tradition is very clear there is a cost to carrying the cross. The gospel of positive thinking and believing in faith God wants the best for us is the very essence of the Scriptures. God is big and performs miracles, and signs and wonders are apparent wherever Jesus walks. But, unless a life is lived in obedience, the Lord cannot move as He wishes. A blockage to the miraculous, we all hope and wish for, will be there due to unconfessed sin, unrepentance, and a lack of a firm amendment of life. When Joan of Arc went into battle, she demanded all her soldiers go to confession first, so Satan had no stronghold.
If one looks at the great trials in history it is often suffering that brings us to what is most important in life. If a person has not matured in the Lord voluntarily from a young age, it will often be a misfortune to bring them to spirituality. An irresponsible or arrested development in a spouse lacking balance, unemployment, an illness, divorce, a marriage unequally yoked, drugs, an addiction, a child astray, or something they can no longer control. In crisis people rise to their best and worst, and how people will react in crisis in unknown until the hour approaches. As the boxer Mike Tyson once said, “all the training is theory until you get hit in the face and get knocked down.” Those who have the most to lose and living the status quo in comfort rarely leave their comfort zone. It is for this reason revolutions never start among the rich. Why, because they have the most to lose. The affluent and established will react slowly and see which way the winds are blowing and will jump on board if the circumstances benefit them. Ideology is of little importance, but benefiting materially from the paradigm shift will dominate their thinking. The affluent and those in political leadership rarely lead revolutions as they will lose their positions of authority, something that may have taken a lifetime to achieve. They have no intention of tossing it away lightly. They have often kissed the brass ring of what the world has to offer, and the privileges that accompany the position. Historically the wealthy have been the first to run. In wartime conditions and times of strife, some rise to heroic proportions while others run and hide for cover who are considered pillars in the community. Unlikely candidates have won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
There seems to be some default setting in our nature that triggers greatness when called upon, while others are unresponsive. People who lived through the Great Depression and World War II in faith speak not in laudatory or euphoric terms of these times, but in deep spiritual language of growth that strengthened them. They were driven by the fundamentals of God, family and work. It brought them to the realization of what was most important by steadfastly working and being diligent with a strong ethos of what was most important and needing to be tended to. You did not endure those times if you were unwilling to work hard and persevere. Difficulties caused them to say that it made them selfless, and charity made them speak of it with surprising affection and the growth that took place in their lives. In retrospect, they said it made them a better person morally and spiritually, and the sense of helping others in community rose in importance. By giving to others they found themselves. If is for this reason there is so much depression among the rich and the selfish. Although there may be valid clinical reasons for depression, when love is turned inward and the focus is on “things and ourselves” we become depressed, because this is not the way we were made by God to function. The forthcoming merciful chastisement will purge sin and humble mankind again into the way we are meant to live. The purifications we see around worldwide will bring us back to what God intended. Suffering is an integral part of growth for the soul. Keep in mind it is not wise or recommended one should wish for suffering to come as life’s circumstances will bring enough of it.
To discern our future, we must look to the life of Jesus. He was born on the wrong side of the tracks where it was said, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” With the Holy Family, His birth accommodations were a stable full of animal manure lacking every amenity but a roof. To protect His life, Joseph heard from an angel he had to flee, so they went to a foreign land for safety for several years living as refugee’s due to an edict to kill all children in Jesus’ age group. His transportation was a donkey with few provisions, probably using the gold the Wise Men or Magi gave Joseph and Mary at birth. As He grew, Jesus was a simple carpenter lacking official recognition by the hierarchy of the Jewish elders, when they knew well the prophecies in Scripture of His arrival. In no single instance can we see the established church coming to his aid, and quite to the contrary. Nicodemus, “The Night Apostle” is as close as we can find, but he appears only under the cover of darkness. The followers of Jesus were a rag tag group of men with few natural gifts the world revered, and they walked everywhere sleeping outdoors in all four seasons and all weather conditions. If we were to choose a group of followers we would probably choose Judas first as he was well connected and shrewd with money. Peter showed himself such a swordsman in the garden the night of the abduction, the best he could do was cut off the ear of a soldier. Peter’s mother-in-law didn’t hold Peter in high esteem, yet he became the “rock” where Jesus built His Church – even after denying Him three times. At the foot of the cross the Mother of the Redeemer sat and watched the torture take place for hours. In the end, due to the persecution of the early Church especially in Jerusalem, Our Blessed Mother again became a refugee as she fled for safety a second time. That doesn’t sound like a prosperity sermon to me.
The call of the Gospel is an arduous one where the disciple will be marginalized and heavily ostracized, and it will hurt most when the arrows and darts come from fellow believers who are in the battle. The pro life movement is most critical and sophomoric in their approach to relationships in the battle as they argue over things that are not critical, but differences in approach. If they lived by the admonition of Pope John the XXXIII who said, “unity on the essentials, liberty on the unessentials, love overall,” it would be in a different place than it is today. To criticize others who are in the battle is a glaring fault among the Christian faithful. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “The readiness to believe evil about others is in large part ammunition for a thousand scandals in our hearts. But by finding black spots in others, they believe they distract attention from their own miserable state. The good conscience, on the contrary, finds good in others even when there is some discontent with self.” Because one does not have the same charism or task the Holy Spirit has appointed us, should we criticize another, if that one is doing as the Holy Spirit has asked that person? Whose side are you on? One reason for the admiration of Pope John Paul II among youth was that he challenged them. We too, must do the same in charity. Conversion is what is needed to see change. In the Netherlands many years ago while Pope John Paul II was visiting, people threw used condoms and excrement at his vehicle for speaking out against their homosexual lifestyles. It gets hot in the kitchen, and if someone wants and expects to be loved by all when speaking the Gospel, they are in the wrong business. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7) makes one uncomfortable. As Mark Twain once quipped about the Gospel, “it’s not the parts I don’t understand that make me uncomfortable, it’s the parts I do understand.”