Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Unfailingly Soothing Presentations of Christianity: What's Missing Therein?

There is a certain approach taken by some Catholics who are engaged in the work of evangelization that is very puzzling. And this can apply to priests or laymen. I've seen it in regard to both.

It's puzzling not so much for it's content--what it says--but for what it doesn't say, what it leaves out.

What is left out in such an approach as I have in mind? Simply, the cross.

There are good people, both lay and clergy, engaged in Catholic evangelization of a sort that focuses without exception always on the nice things, the warm-and-fuzzy aspects of Christian discipleship. In this approach, Jesus is always the tender one who soothes us and says soothing things to our heats. We are always the good ones, trying our best, messing up at times, but nonetheless basically striving in most respects to be like Jesus.

What's wrong with this? After all, Jesus, indeed, is full of mercy and compassion. He loves every one of us with a power and intensity we can't imagine. He is tender and merciful. It's true. But, if this is the only aspect ever mentioned about our Lord's relationship to us as we navigate life trying to serve Him, something huge is missing. The cross.

There is suffering in human life. It's a reality we cannot escape. The question I am concerned with here, is whether we will invite grace to inform and transform all aspects of our life--including our sufferings--or if we only see being a Christian as something unrelated, detached, set apart, from the deepest sorrows of life.

Jesus does indeed look tenderly upon us in our sorrows. But we forget from where He is gazing--He sees us (or, saw, in one great event both time-bound and eternal in the shock wave it sent through creation) from the cross. His passion--His free embrace of undeserved suffering for the sake of loving us so demonstrably, of pouring Himself out for us, of opening His heart for our benefit in a way that we cannot take lightly--was not a closed event meant only for Him to know in secret. Jesus' loving gaze upon the world from the wood of the cross was an open event. From that one place in time, He looked out upon the entire world, gazing into all human history past, present, and future, and invited us in to His open heart. He tenderly shares with us the grace to permit our hearts as well to join Him in giving ourselves in love for the sake of others.

It is a great absence and a great deficiency to share an enthusiasm for a relationship with Jesus Christ without also consciously seeking to help people freely accept Jesus' invitation to unite our sufferings to His Passion. In this way, our sorrows and pains become folded in to the greatest spiritual event in the history of the cosmos--the Redemption of mankind.

When we accept the grace to unite our trials big and small to the cross of our Savior, our pains take on a powerful meaning. They become little points of heat that help us to play a real role in welding the souls of those we love more strongly to the heart of Jesus. Our self-giving perhaps, with grace may become more meaningful and free when chosen in the midst of pain. It's not the suffering here that is good, but the personal act of welcoming the invitation to make it an offering of love for others.

The cross changes everything. Every single moment of pain, sorrow, trial, suffering, is potentially through grace a gathering point of spiritual power bringing our souls into Christ's salvation of the world.

Now, in heaven, Jesus no longer suffers. He is risen from the dead! But that monumental event of His suffering on the cross still looks out to us from that point; this spiritual lightening bolt began a re-creation of mankind that continues to reach out from the cross through all of time to today, tomorrow, and every day until Christ comes in glory.

It's a re-creation that He, because He loves us, wants us to freely participate in with Him. He has made available the grace we need to be able to join with Him in the greatest act (the salvation and sanctification of souls) that has ever happened.

When well-meaning evangelists speak to other Christian souls only about soothing things, they are missing an essential aspect of Christian life. They fail to invite us to allow Jesus to bring us into His heart poured out for the world on the cross. Such an overly safe approach runs the danger of reducing followers of Christ to mere passive recipients of salvation, rather than calling us to live according to the immense and unbelievable dignity of being welcomed to take a place in Christ's heart even as this great Heart suffered in love for the world.