18 April 2014

Good Friday 2014: Christianity is not meant to be easy.

They don't call it "the straight and narrow" for no reason. What they don't tell you is that it's straight up a mountain and so narrow that at times you have to put one foot right in front of the other. Sometimes the path widens and it's easy to do the right thing, but mostly it's a struggle against our base instincts (for me, anyway; maybe you're better than I am!). Not everyone sees the benefit of struggling to keep our feet on that path; the wide and winding path through the Valley of Self-Indulgence is more comfortable, more fun and much much easier -- in the short term.

The constant refrain from secular society is that we as Christians (and especially, I think, as Catholics) are not tolerant enough. Making it more intense is the fact that I'm a millennial and an engineer. My generation is less religious, and my scientific cohort are even less so. Almost everyone I know is a liberal, a proud Obama voter, and a vocal proponent of the idea that I should be more tolerant (but, conveniently, only of things they approve).

Charles Cardinal Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia (the archdiocese where I was born, baptized, received my sacraments and got married), said something a few years back that I found particularly resonant:
We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honest -- these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it's never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square -- peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation. [emphasis added]
This is important to remember. When someone throws soundbites at us: "Judge not, lest ye be judged," or "Jesus loved everyone," we need to remember that these are just soundbites. They don't say enough.

Matthew 7:1 tells us to judge not, lest we be judged, but let's be serious: of course we should judge. We judge whether it's safe to eat that mildly moldy loaf of bread, whether the stove is too hot to touch, or whether our child is safe with a particular babysitter. Our whole days consist of judging one thing after another. When we see objective evil, we are required to judge it for what it is.

What we're not to judge is the state of another man's soul. You can't know what any other person knows of God's laws, or what they believe, or whether they're struggling or whether they've repented. I have no business deciding whether any single other person is going to Heaven or Hell, and I can't even be reliably counted on to judge myself in that respect. [I suspect that, at the very least, some time in Purgatory will be in order, because I know that I have knowingly and intentionally stepped off the path.]

We're also called to love, certainly. But loving someone does not mean endorsing everything they do and say. If my child hits another child in the face, do I love her more if I say, "Well, she was born that way"? Certainly not! I'm her mother. I love her even as I'm putting her in time out. In fact, it's because I love her that I put her in time out. As my mother always said, "Kids come crooked, and it's our job as parents to straighten them out."

Time out.

Jesus loved. Jesus forgave. But what everyone always conveniently leaves out when recounting Jesus' famed forgiveness is the crucial point: "Go and sin no more." Jesus never told an unrepentant sinner to go forth and keep it up. He acknowledged their sorrow and contrition, forgave them, and then told them to go forth and live better.

To wrap up with Cardinal Chaput:
Evil talks about tolerance only when it's weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be.

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