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Parable of Two Armies

flint ak47

Imagine if you will two armies meeting in battle.  One is armed with flintlock rifles and swords and they are highly skilled with them.  They have had extensive training and practice.  The other army is armed with M-16’s, AK-47’s and rocket propelled grenade launchers, but haven’t a clue how to use them. They don’t know how to load or cock them, never mind how to clean them.  Which army is going to win?  I suggest the Catholic faith and its principles are not doing better in the marketplace of ideas is similar: we have the better message, but the world is marketing theirs better. Many people have a very negative understanding of Catholicism, and of Christianity in general, because those who say only the negative, and often distort the reality, are so much more effective that we have been getting the word out.

When the Church began, a small handful of people with no resources but the Gospel story and the grace of God were able to change the world forever.  The surrounding culture was extremely hostile; they thought following someone who had been crucified was the dumbest thing they had ever heard, and they held to highly decadent values.  Nonetheless, the mightiest empire that the world had ever seen was helpless to stop the Church from growing.  We have all the resources that the early Church had and more.

When most Catholics are taught the faith, we not been taught to be evangelists.  We have been prepared to be customers in the Church.  Even in the seminary, we were not really taught how to spread the faith to others, but rather how to deal with people who already believed. Much of the way we are taught to talk about the faith only makes sense to those who already accept its basic premises.  Furthermore, many, many Catholics stop learning about the faith after twelfth, eighth or even second grade, so they never learn the faith on an adult level.  But, they keep learning in other areas, so that faith falls behind.

We know that Jesus, the Son of God, became man and died on the cross to save us from our sins.  Okay, but what does it mean that He is the “Son of God”?  What does dying on a cross have to do with saving us from our sins?  Why do we need saving? What does it mean to save us? What is “sin” anyway and why does it matter?  When if we can’t explain that in language that they can understand, it is not going to make sense to them.  We are so used to our religious language, we have not learned to talk about this stuff without it.

Many people were raised Catholic and have left because they think it doesn’t make a lot of sense, or doesn’t make a lot of difference.  I’ve talked to a lot of them, and if I understood Catholicism the way they did, I wouldn’t be Catholic either. I wouldn’t be Christian at all.  They can have some strange ideas, and say terrible things about the faith (like, “so you believe that God put us here to guess the right religion, and if we guess wrong he will burn us in fire forever and ever, but he loves us.”). Whatever they were taught growing up, this is what they absorbed. It is futile to get mad at them for saying such things.  We need to focus our energy on getting the faith out more effectively.

We have work to do.  We need to understand our faith story better, and we need to learn to express it in ways that the world can find compelling.  If what we claim to believe is true, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful transformative force in the universe.  We just need the will and the skill to do it, and the world can be transformed.  Our weapons are the Word of Truth and loving action. God wants us to succeed.

Love and Baloney

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Love and Baloney

Imagine a young man and a young woman.  They have very little money, but he goes out into the fields and collects some flowers.  He makes them baloney sandwiches and puts them in a paper bag.  He spreads out the picnic on newspaper, and says to her, “I love you more than the sun, the moon, the stars, brook trout and the Green Bay Packers. Will you be with me for the rest of our lives?”  She melts.

Now, it is their fiftieth anniversary.  Even though they live in an upscale condo in the center of a large city, he drives to the country and picks wild flowers.  He makes baloney sandwiches, and puts them in a paper bag.  He spreads newspaper on the table, and says to her, “I love you more than the sun, the moon, the stars, brook trout and the Green Bay Packers. Will you be with me for the rest of our lives?”  She melts.

Someone who didn’t know the history might say to him, “Are you crazy? Your fiftieth anniversary, you could easily afford roses and catering, and you do this?”  It is the connection to the history of the relationship that gives it meaning that it would not otherwyse have. In relationships, rituals, signs and symbols can have a power beyond what they are because of what they mean. (I suspect he also took her out to a nice restaurant, but that is another story.)

In religion, there are a lot of signs, symbols and rituals. Many who don’t know their meaning will disparage them and say they have nothing to do with God.  Many times they are practiced by those who don’t know or don’t care about their meaning, and then they fail in their purpose, and can even do harm (see I Corinthians 11).

There are many who say that a personal relationship with God is something separate from religion, and that they love God but have no use for religion.  I suggest that they either do not understand how ritual, structure, sign and symbol can be a key part of a relationship, have never been taught the meaning of these activities, or experienced people who went through the motions without attending to what they meant.  A kiss is meant to be a sign of affection and caring.  If someone gives you a kiss and then treats you like garbage, that sign is worse than useless.  It even does harm.

Many have left the Catholic Church or are minimally connected because they have not experienced it as a powerful encounter with the love of God. However, if they could only understand that every aspect of the Catholic faith is about encountering, walking with, and loving God.

A next step is with the book A Biblical Walk through the Mass by Dr. Edward Sri, or even his video study program:

http://ascensionpress.com/t/category/study-programs/the-mass/biblical-walk-through-the-mass

And that’s no baloney.

Contracts and Coventants

contract    coventant rings

What issues are more important than how we relate to others? I would suggest there are two basic ways of relating: contract and covenant.  A contract is an exchange of goods and services: this is what you will do for me and this is what I will do for you. A covenant is an exchange of persons: this is who I am to you and this is who you are to me.  What we do for each other in a covenant relationship flows from the nature of the relationship and draws meaning from it. The things our beloved does for us are special because they are done out of love. It is one thing to buy cookies and eat them.  It is another to eat cookies that your grandmother made just for you with her arthritic hands because she loves you so. If you hire someone to mow your lawn for $20, that is a contract.  If the lawn gets mowed and nothing is broken, he gets his $20, and it doesn’t really matter if you like each other, the lawn is mowed and the money is paid.  If someone says to you, “He’s just doing that for the money.”  That’s okay.  As long as he fulfills the contract, it isn’t a problem.  On the other hand, if you give your heart to someone who you believe loves you dearly, it matter very much what you think of each other.  To find out this person is only interested in your money would be devastating, a profound betrayal. The difference between contract and covenant is literally the difference between prostitution and marriage.

In a contract there is a list of the things we are required to do and the things we are required to expect.  In a love relationship, love will take many forms and no one can predict what will happen. What we must do depends on what is needed and what we are able to do. In a contract, it’s about the value of the goods and services.  In a love relationship, it is how much of ourselves we put into what we do for our beloved.  (Which is worth more, the bunch of dandelions your grandchild collected to give to you, or the bouquet that the salesman had delivered to all his customers?)  See Matthew 12:41-44.

The Scriptures repeatedly compare the relationship between God and His people to marriage. One of my favorites is Isaiah 61:

1 For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,

for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep still,

Until her vindication shines forth like the dawn

and her salvation like a burning torch.

2 Nations shall behold your vindication,

and all kings your glory;

You shall be called by a new name

bestowed by the mouth of the Lord.

3 You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord,

a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

4 No more shall you be called “Forsaken,”

nor your land called “Desolate,”

But you shall be called “My Delight is in her,”

and your land “Espoused.”

For the Lord delights in you,

and your land shall be espoused.

5 For as a young man marries a virgin,

your Builder shall marry you;

And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride

so shall your God rejoice in you.

All of salvation history culminates in the wedding of the Lamb and the Bride at the end of the Book of Revelation.

God calls us to a covenant of love.  He does it out of pure love, for there is nothing we could ever do that could benefit Him; He’s already perfect. Unfortunately, people have tried to treat it as a contract.  Psalm 50 is an extended teaching about those who think offering sacrifices is going to buy God off, and then they can act however they want. God is not interested.  See also Isaiah 1:

14 Your new moons and festivals I detest;

they weigh me down, I tire of the load.

15 When you spread out your hands,

I will close my eyes to you;

Though you pray the more,

I will not listen.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash yourselves clean!

Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;

cease doing evil;

17 learn to do good.

Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,

hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

18 Come now, let us set things right,

says the Lord:

Though your sins be like scarlet,

they may become white as snow;

Though they be red like crimson,

they may become white as wool.

He doesn’t need anything from us. He wants us. He taught them to offer sacrifices so they could learn to give of themselves.

God is calling us to a covenant of love. If people have learned the faith as so much less than it is, how can we be surprised that people leave the faith? If they never learned in the first place why it is so precious, how it connects to the deepest part of our humanity and reframes every aspect of our lives, it won’t take much to get them to leave.   Is our relationship with God more like a contract relationship or a covenant relationship?

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