Whenever I encounter atheists and agnostics, a particular sentiment tends to come up in conversation. It goes something like this:
The Bible, especially what Jesus taught, is basically a list of rules for how to be good–help the poor and treat others with respect. It’s entirely possible to do that without faith. You can give to the needy and be a respectable person without becoming a Christian. I mean, if you need faith to keep from murdering your neighbor or beating your child, that doesn’t say much about you, does it?
And you know what? They’re right.
Anyone can help the poor without ever uttering a prayer or setting foot in church. Anyone can be a law-abiding citizen without ever cracking open the King James. That’s because following Jesus isn’t about being ‘good’. It’s about being redeemed.
See, simply being good doesn’t save me from my sins. It doesn’t challenge me to reject complacency toward this corrupt world and its systems. It doesn’t continually drive me to grow in love, mercy, humility and self-control. It doesn’t free me from the bondage of selfish ambition, hate and addiction. It doesn’t bring me hope and healing. It doesn’t promise me an eternity in the presence of divine love. At most, being good by the world’s standards offers me self-assurance that I’m looked upon favorably by others. Being redeemed offers me so much more.
Here’s the various meanings of the word ‘redeem’ in the dictionary:
1. to buy back : repurchase.
2. to get or win back.
3. to free from what distresses or harms; to free from captivity.
4 . to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental.
5. to release from blame or debt : clear.
6. to free from the consequences of sin.
7. to change for the better : reform.
8. to repair, restore.
9. to remove the obligation of by payment; to exchange for something of value.
10. to make good.
This is what Christ has done for me. He repurchased my life from the one who owned it: Satan. He freed me from destructive habits and my desire to engage in them. He rendered the consequences of my sinful actions null and void. He repaired my damaged mind, body and emotions. He changed me for the better. By his power, he makes me good!
The worldly concept of good is no good at all. Here’s what the Bible says about being good:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:18-22)
Jesus was out healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, educating women and feeding the hungry. Yet, he rejected being called good by the world’s standards. Then there’s this:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. (Isaiah 64:6-7)
In other words, the whole concept of doing or being good apart from God and His redemption is completely and totally empty! There is no genuine good apart from God.
I didn’t choose to follow Christ because I fear I’ll otherwise swing at a rude customer service representative or shoot up a Justin Bieber concert. I chose to follow Christ because I recognized my need for redemption–and he was the only one offering it.
Yes, there is a difference between being a “good citizen” and being a saint. The good citizen practices the self-interested moralism of reciprocal altruism. That is certainly sufficient to sustain a civil society; but it is a far piece from kenotic (self-sacrificial) love.
We can’t really blame secular people for being confused, though. Institutionalized *Christianity* has become America’s de facto civil religion. The Trinity is God, Church and County, not Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the civic virtues, especially the Protestand work ethic, have replaced the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.
Awesome insight. I very much agree.
well written, very insightful! thank you!
You’re welcome. Thanks for reading!
Apologetics is my gift; but it is really pre- or post-evangelization.
I doubt that anyone would be interested in knowing or giving a reason for the [eschatological] hope that is in them, until they had first been loved into believing, however tentatively, in the Christian Gospel.
It is not only theological formation; but spiritual formation that is lacking in most contemporary American churches.
Once a year there is a Time, Talent & Treasure drive to persuade people to give more to the Church; but we have been called out of the world to be equipped (theological/spiritual formation) to be sent back into the world “as sheep among wolves”–not to create an escapist ecclesiastical sub-culture.
Perhaps if more Christians did their corporal acts of mercy in secular humanitarian institutions, or if we practiced Gospel ethics in the workplace even though it put a promotion or even our job at risk, the influence of the Gospel would be more widely spread.
How many Christians realize that whenever we are fortunate enough to find ourselves with disposable income, our decisions on how to dispose of it are not just financial; but moral?
I’m not saying that we should never spend anything on ourselves. Sometimes we need to feed our daemons enough to keep them contentedly caged and an impulsive purchase can be cheaper than a shrink’s visit; but we should be aware of the choices we make and they should be made from a faith perspective.
I would like to share an online article that really spoke to me. Personally, I think that the shema should always be the #1 card.
Published on National Catholic Reporter (http://ncronline.org)
One way to bring the Year of Faith to the pews
Fr. Peter Daly | Dec. 3, 2012 Parish Diary
The Year of Faith began in October. Pope Benedict is calling on the church to deepen our understanding so we can strengthen our witness.
I’ve always thought that faith was more about the heart than the head. Cardinal John Henry Newman reflected that idea in his motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur” (“Heart speaking unto heart”). That phrase reflects Newman’s idea of both prayer and theology.
But Newman, the consummate intellectual, would be the first to remind the church that faith is not sentiment alone. There is also something to know. Faith is about the heart and the head.
My own archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, has pointed out that our weak instruction in the faith over recent decades has left Catholics poorly prepared to deal with the “tsunami of secularism” that has swept over our culture.
Preparing for this Year of Faith, I read an article  in September’s America magazine by David Impastato. He suggested that memorization of the basic elements of our faith can nourish our spiritual growth. By getting some basic things in our minds, we can help them take root in our hearts. Mr. Impastato gave a short list of “must-know” teaching and prayers for Catholics. His list included the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and the Creed.
Over the past year, our daily Mass crowd has experienced this “head to heart” spirituality at morning Mass. About a year ago, we started saying Psalm 130, the “De Profundis,” every morning to remember our beloved dead. Each day, I read the names of all the parishioners who have died on that particular day over the history of our parish. Then we say Psalm 130 — “Out of the depths I cry unto you O Lord” — followed by the prayer for the deceased: “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord.” We had the psalm and the prayer printed up on cards that we leave in the pews. Over the course of the year, we have learned it by heart. We now have common words for our grief.
That experience got me thinking. Maybe we could learn other things that way? So I came up with 10 prayer cards, printed on both sides with things we want to commit to our heads during the Year of Faith. The 10 cards include the following:
1. The beatitudes and the Ten Commandments.
2. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
3. The seven deadly sins and the seven life-giving virtues.
4. The gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11) and the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
5. The books of the Old Testament and New Testament grouped by type.
6. The canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) and the canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).
7. The Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be.
8. The 20 mysteries of the rosary: joyful, glorious, sorrowful and luminous.
9. Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) and the Apostles’ Creed.
10. Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths”) and the prayer for the deceased.
Very pleased with myself, I announced this idea to the parish at Mass on the first Sunday of October and said we would be distributing the cards over the year. After Mass, a young girl, a freshman in high school, came up to me and said, “You forgot one card.”
A little surprised, I asked her, “What did I forget?”
“You forgot the Great Commandment.”
Then she recited it by heart: “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Shamefaced, I said, “You’re right.”
So it looks like we will have at least 11 cards. No. 11 will be the Great Commandment on one side and the Great Commission (“Go and teach all nations”) on the other side. This last card reminds me that priests should listen to their people.
This prayer card catechism is a flexible thing. These little bite-sized bits of our tradition could be expanded to teach things like the parts of the Mass or quotes from the Bible. Maybe we should have a card with the first chapter of John’s Gospel (“In the beginning was the word”), or passages from St. Paul, like 1 Corinthians 13, the famous hymn discourse on love. A card with night prayer and the Canticle of Simeon (“Now you dismiss your servant”) would also be a good idea.
Our goal is not to memorize a bunch of words. Our goal is to engrave the faith on our hearts, as Ezekiel would say. Then in moments of joy or sorrow, perplexity or opportunity, we would have the words to give voice to our faith.
Of course, that is only a start. Ultimately knowing should lead us to doing.
[Fr. Peter Daly is a priest at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and has been pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, Md., since 1994.]
Source URL (retrieved on 12/04/2012 – 05:38): http://ncronline.org/blogs/parish-diary/one-way-bring-year-faith-pews