|4/5/2018 9:00:00 AM|
GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES
The problem with Christianity
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGERThe extended eight-day celebration of Resurrection Sunday -- the octave of Easter -- illuminates not only how important this solemnity is, but also its true meaning. Important because, without the resurrection, our faith is without content, for "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:17).
Its true meaning, however, lies in the reality that Christ is still with us -- more than ever. The reason that He died was precisely so that His risen presence would enable Him to be with us until the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20).
Easter season runs through Pentecost Sunday, extending the celebration of the saving events in which the dead and risen Jesus ascends into heaven so that He can send us all His Holy Spirit. Jesus is everyone's Savior -- everyone who believes in Him and accepts Him as personal Savior.
The key to accepting Christ's saving role in our lives is letting Him into our darkest corners. Jesus did not come to minimize or sugar-coat our tribulations and brokenness with pious platitudes. Rather, He enters deeply into our lives, seeking out the lost soul in each of us, where we find ourselves haunted, enslaved, frightened, forsaken, hurt or bereft of peace.
So many of the people whose lives Jesus touched during His earthly ministry were given unflattering names like "leper," "prostitute," "adulterer," "thief" and "tax collector" that He Himself was branded even by family members. They thought He spent too much time in the company of sinners. But that was and remains His mission: to seek out and save sinners.
The more we can own up to our need for the Lord's mercy because of our brokenness, our sinfulness, the miserable parts of our lives that we may not even want to admit to ourselves, the more we can - for want of a better way to put it - "take advantage of" what Jesus has to offer us.
"The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has not been tried:" the familiar words of G.K. Chesterton. What to make of it -- that people are not "behaving" Christian enough? Perhaps. But what does it mean to "behave" like a Christian?
It is undeniable, historically, that what distinguishes Christians wherever Christianity takes root, is their sacrificial, even heroic love. They love everyone, without exception. People who are in their midst want what they have. They do not find it anywhere else.
Pagan observers of the early Christians noted how they remained faithful for life to one spouse, accepted children as they were given them, welcomed strangers and outcasts into their company, forgave one another readily and willingly, and showed a generosity of heart that astounded those around them.
True Christians, however, find none of this strange or praiseworthy. It is about their identity, who they are. They see themselves as the body of Christ. This is Jesus Himself in their midst. It is that confidence in the living, real presence of Jesus Christ that animates and motivates their actions.
The holy Eucharist is the celebration of the real presence of Jesus Christ among us. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray -- the "Our Father" -- He told them ask God, "give us this day our daily bread." What is this "daily bread," if not Jesus Himself? Sure, the prayer also might include a petition for material sustenance, but if that is all it meant, would it not have been enough just to say "give us bread every day" or "give us this day some bread?"
But, no. This "daily bread," literally translated from the Greek, means our "super-substantial" bread. Like the manna in the desert, when God fed the people of Israel with this supernatural bread from heaven, our Eucharist is our daily spiritual sustenance.
Christians believe that feeding on Jesus forms us into His mystical body on Earth - that He truly remains with us throughout our everyday lives. Thus, the reason He gave us the Eucharist the night before He died, made accessible to all by His death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, was so that He could remain with us on Earth -- until the end of time.
This is the Christianity that is often forgotten: Jesus stays with us!
Easter, then, is not some spectacular event in time that surprised and stunned even those who had known Jesus before He died, but the conviction that His death on the cross was not to take Him from us, but to bring Him closer.
This is why, for Christians, every day is Easter. Each day is a day for encountering the risen Lord in our lives.
It is an experience dramatically witnessed to by the two men on the road of Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). What were they doing? They were discussing who Jesus was, trying to figure out the meaning of what they heard of Him and what their hopes and
expectations of Him had been. Then Jesus enters their conversation, where they recognize Him "in the breaking of the bread."
Besides Mass, the practices of reading Scripture together or spending some time in quiet meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, as well as acts of ministering to poor and marginalized, in the spirit of the beatitudes, are prime ways in which we can expect to encounter the living Jesus. Whatever we do, whenever we invoke His name, invites His presence.
Jesus Himself said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in your midst" (Mt 18:20).
(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)
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