December 4, 2000
volume 11, no. 251


Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW for Monday, December 4, 2000

Stemming the Tide

    It seems that today, all that is needed to be a Christian, a Catholic, is love. And, of course, that means whatever love means to the individual person. But is that it?

    We hear people talking about self sacrifice as being outmoded and ridiculous, that we are to accept, embrace, and relish all that we are, even the sins, if we even believe in sin any longer. The idea, I guess, is that the Kingdom of God can only come about by accepting anything and everything as good. "The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matthew 13: 44-46).

    Consider what our Lord is saying here. The Kingdom of God is such that those who seek it will give up all they have, all they are, to possess it. Can we truly say we're following Him if we don't try to do this? "Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?'" (Matthew 16: 24-26).

    Our Lord knows that this isn't easy for us. Most often, it isn't as simple as 'just saying no'. "When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, 'It is a ghost!' And they cried out for fear. But immediately He spoke to them, saying, 'Take heart, it is I; have no fear'" And Peter answered him, 'Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.' He said, 'Come.' So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, 'Lord, save me.' Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, 'O man of little faith, why did you doubt?'" (Matthew 14: 23-31).

    We're often distracted by the 'waves' of life. Concerns for our family, our children, our jobs, even ourselves. Ask an alcoholic how easy it was for them to 'just say no', or a recovering drug addict. Like us, Peter began to sink, to slide back, but it's through Christ that he's brought safely home. We love, we believe, but let's face it, we also doubt.

    We don't doubt God's ability to save us, but whether He will. Are we good enough? Have we asked in the right way? Have we done enough? Maybe we're just stuck being human with all the problems that come with it. But accepting that doesn't mean that we stop trying. Maybe it's in the trying that we gain.

    Does anyone think that the Olympic athletes just got that way? They lost many races before they won one. There were hours of painful training, sacrificing a social life, often, even their childhood, in the quest for Olympic Gold. "Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

    Many practice and never reach any further than their high school team, but even they have a sense of accomplishment. But they also had to sacrifice something. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of Godů..In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?-- 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.' It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:1-2; 4-11).

    No, it isn't easy. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." (Chapter 5, What's Wrong With The World, 1910)

    We may hear people say that Vatican II made it easier to be a Catholic, but the opposite is true, it made it harder. Nothing changed, no teaching, no discipline, no devotion, only now we are to take the responsibility to do them and not rely on the Church to 'drag' us to them.

    The rich man found it difficult to divest himself of the riches he had. But Christ didn't despise him for it. He knew how difficult it was. It wasn't even that he placed his wealth above God since he obviously did all that he could in God's name. He just found it hard to take that final step, that leap of faith. But what of us who also find it difficult to get away from sin? "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).

    As we enter into Advent, let's think about that. Let's not make a mockery of Christ's sacrifice by saying we need do nothing, or that all things are good and acceptable to Him.

    He came, not as a King arrayed in gold, not in power and glory, but as a child, living in obscurity and poverty. "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).

    Obedient, we fall at times, but we keep trying, persevering to the end. It isn't easy, it wasn't meant to be. Christ promised us peace and joy, not happiness. But we are being told to reject that, to reject sacrifice, to say there is no sin, to reject the cross. "To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed" (Titus 1: 15-16). And, from 2 Timothy 3: 1-8, we have, "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;"

    "To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it" (G.K. Chesterton; A Short History of England, Ch.10).

    Is God worth giving our all for? Hard as it is, we must try to divest ourselves of a sense of ourselves. We have to die to ourselves so that Christ can live in us. We'll fail many times, but we must look to our Lord in the manger and on the cross. What did He give up for our sake?

Pax Christi,


For past columns by Pat, see VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives

December 4, 2000
volume 11, no. 251

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