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home : bishop : columns

3/15/2018 9:00:00 AM
GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES
Jesus is the real deal. Are we?
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


Things are not always as they seem. We can be led by lures -- sometimes, deliberately, from without; sometimes, compulsively, from within -- that dazzle our senses even as, wolf-like, they stalk us, endangering our souls. We are always searching for "the real deal" that satisfies what we long for, but do not find it.

Perhaps the persistent "blood knife" tale does not quite past muster under historical scrutiny. Legend has it, at any rate, that aboriginal Arctic tribes would coat knives or rocks with a prey-animal's blood to lure wolves, sometimes (unjustly) considered as pests. Cutting themselves as they licked away the blood, the hapless wolves would perish, bleeding to death through their mouths.

A blood-curdling legend, one might say, and one questions traditional knowledge with some trepidation. But, a wolf is thought to be smart and crafty. Why, then, would a wolf's bloodlust so overpower its judgment?

Are we humans any wiser? The belief in something-for-nothing has led many an unwary buyer to disappointment, even financial ruin, at the behest of an unscrupulous used car dealer or insurance marketer. Con artistry has been known to invade the province of medicine and even religion. Caveat emptor! The law of the ancient Romans was not quite so sympathetic to the plaintiff as modern litigation tends to be.

Some people find religion -- or at least their experience with it -- unappealing, disappointing and unsatisfying. Citing the hypocrisy, inconsistency or inadequacy of religious practitioners (in particular), they seek various forms of diversion, entertainment or recreation to address their spiritual hungers.

It is common to hear and to assume it is true that churchgoers themselves are the repellant agents by their unwelcome, judgmental and exclusionary posture and demeanor. Are those of us who take our faith seriously the ones driving people away -- to drink, drugs and, God knows, spiritual perdition? I know many parents and friends who have angst over this.

Churches that actively drive congregations away may still exist on some planet, but how many seekers entering a church in recent decades can honestly say they have often heard a "fire and brimstone" sermon, if at all?

By raising the issue, I know I may be inviting letters about horrible church experiences like, on the one hand, Gestapo-like ushers and bench-end squatters; or, on the other hand, did-you-miss-me-while-I-was-away preachers from the "church of nice" who delude themselves that their latest travelogue or comedic genius are just what God's people are clamoring for.

Yes, bad homilies, cranky parishioners and other environmental factors like acoustics, aesthetics and climate control can make or break the viability of a worship space's subscriber retention potential. I often wonder, however, whether a certain self-judgment and self-exclusion may not also play a role in keeping some of our people from regular engagement in our parish communities.

Do I feel or fear that my lifestyle, needs, perspectives, doubts or just questions so distance me from those "church people" -- whomever they be -- that perhaps I have formed a judgment about? Do I feel I just do not belong or will not be accepted? A lot of people who did not "fit in" encountered Jesus or were approached by Him. In fact, I cannot think of many whose lives Jesus has touched were without sin, faults or quirks.

Jesus certainly took note of this when He showed compassion for the tax collector who quietly beat his breast in the back of the temple ("O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner") and went home justified in contrast to the Pharisee who took first place, proudly and publicly reciting his list of self-acclaiming deeds.

The latter "prayed to himself," actually, not God, and, for all his sanctimony, was not walking the path to salvation. The publican, however, did not let his sinfulness distance him from God, but trusted in God's mercy and received it.

I wonder what would happen if we just took the approachability of Jesus a bit more seriously, if we became more approachable or willing to be approached ourselves. Jesus meets us exactly where we are.

Wouldn't we all be more likely to find our way -- and help others to find their way -- to a more regular weekly (or even weekday) attendance at Mass, a more relaxed and fruitful use of the sacrament of peace (yeah, that would be confession) with a less critical attitude towards everything we don't like about the people (and the priests and parish leaders) we meet when we go to church?

A little less finger-pointing on every side might do us all some good. After all, as one of my mentors once reminded me, when I point a finger at someone else, the other fingers point right back at me!

Jesus is the real deal. We have to be the real deal, too. If we want to lead those we care about to Him -- which is what a disciple is supposed to do -- we have to learn to get out of the way of others finding Him in us.

Is there anything in the way I live, act, talk, preach, teach (or just am not doing) that distracts or deflects others from Jesus? These are tough questions that none of us who want to be a good Catholic can avoid, whatever our "position" in the Church or our roles or occupations are in everyday life.

The trouble with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting. The trouble is that it is not tried -- or fully lived and practiced. Jesus is a life-changing force, a powerfully attractive divine person who saves lives. If our churches are less engaged or full than we would like them to be, we have to ask ourselves, are people finding Him there? Are they finding the "real deal" in us, the One who changes the lives of those who love Him and trust in Him?

We may be "going" to church and celebrating the eucharistic Lord. Are we living Him?

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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