For this true communion to begin, we must first admit, as Pope Francis recently did, that all good comes from God. Period. The good in our fellow Christians, and the good in our fellow unbelievers, is from God through Jesus. That's simply the way the universe works.
Yesterday I struggled to write a post on "gay marriage" and how those who support it, while wrong, have a great hunger for the Good and are trying to do good in supporting it - that the source of the confusion lies in their limited understand of love and in their lack of belief in Nature. And since the contours of Nature show us, to an extent, the shape of God, a denial of Nature and a denial of human nature is a denial of God; or at least a denial that God has any shape. But I deleted the post, as I felt it was too confusingly articulated and might serve to bring more heat than light to the debate. Perhaps I will revisit it.
Meanwhile, three things have happened.
- A friend sent me a very thoughtful reflection on conversion and Christian unity, using figures from the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).
- Reader CK left an encouraging comment on one of my recent blog posts.
- I discovered a very insightful post on a Protestant blog about how to overcome sin.
Let me, then address conversion and Christian unity in light of these things.
I will begin by making a broad generalization: as a rule, Christians are just like everybody else, only worse.
Atheists and secularists agitate for abortion, perversion, contraception and "gay marriage". Self-professed Christians of both Protestant and Catholic persuasions (as a rule) offer them no meaningful alternative, no reason to turn from the World, the Flesh and the Devil toward something - towards what? Something that seems very worldly, fleshy and way too bland to be demonic. The non-believers in our midst are increasingly becoming cruel pagans immolating themselves on the altar of Mammon and their children on the altar of Moloch. The believers in our midst are either just like the non-believers - or they practice a kind of quasi-faith that is utterly devoid of meaning, passion or anything but sappy sentimentalism. The best are bland and uninspired; the worst are full of a passionate - and sometimes hatefully judgmental - intensity.
But hear ye the voice of the Combox!!! Thus speaketh the Combox ...
When I point out that things central to the life of a Christian are simply never mentioned in Catholic homilies, reader CK replies ...
Yours is precisely my experience. I have told a few, very orthodox priests that we need to hear these teachings, but they are too afraid - of their people and their bishops, sad to say.
I do an RCIA talk where I talk about all these things using stories from my own experience and people laugh, cry, and practically carry me out of the room on their shoulders - and believe me that is not the reaction I expected the first time I gave the speech. The last time I did my RCIA talk my pastor attended and I figured (since he has very clearly expressed his unorthodoxy) that he would leap out of his seat, call me a liar, and throw me out bodily, but instead at the end he declared "What a wonderful witness!" and even e-mailed me again that night to say how much he liked it and how many RCIA candidates liked it. People want the Truth desperately. If given with clarity and charity, people gobble it up.
Perhaps, then, even our priests are as hungry for spiritual food - for the true Bread of Life - as we are. Maybe they don't give it to us because they don't know where to find it themselves.
But we have the Eucharist. We have the Bread of Life, Jesus present at every Mass, Jesus consumed by His followers at Communion.
And yet it is a bread we do not "discern" - as a rule. As St. Paul warns us ...
For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. (1 Cor. 11:29)
What a great irony this is. We Catholics, we Christians who are in full communion with the Body of Christ (the Church) and who receive the Body of Christ (the host) literally at every Mass, we who have the Sacraments and who can rely on the actual physical transmission of God's spiritual grace by means of Communion, Confession. Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Anointing and even Holy Orders - we who are surrounded by God so much that we can actually touch Him and "gobble Him up" - what do we do? We sing banal hymns and join in a spirit of faux-worship that is devoid of awe and the Cross, and we spend our time chatting with one another loudly in the sanctuary. We cheat on our wives and vote for politicians who advocate honoring buggery as "marriage". We cheat our children out of cohesive families by divorcing and remarrying, by ignoring them as we chase the almighty dollar, by contracepting and aborting their brothers and sisters out of existence. We give ourselves to porn and drugs and suburban wastelands. We look the other way when priests abuse children and bishops cover it up. We take pride in Catholic Education that is typically neither Catholic nor Education. We live as if the only reality were an existential abyss, and then we find ourselves shocked when our children dive headlong into it.
O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you? - Gal. 3:1
And yet ... there is hope.
Evangelical Protestant Ty Gibson runs a ministry called Light Bearers, a "full throttle Gospel ministry".
Last year he published a simple but quite profound, orthodox and biblically accurate post called Three Steps for Overcoming Every Sin.
According to Gibson, these three steps are simply
1. Call the sin by its proper name. "Name it and claim it" as it were. Don't fudge about it. Adultery is adultery, not a love affair. Greed is greed, not overwork. Pornography is pornography, not a sexual diversion. Name it, claim it and confess it. We all are obligated to confess our sins, at least to God directly as the Protestants do. Without confession, which includes an understanding of our sin and which must be preceded by listening to God's voice in our conscience, and which must include being sorry for our sin (contrition), sin cannot be overcome.
2. Repent. It is not enough to feel bad and admit you've done wrong. You must deliberately do a "spiritual 180". You must willfully turn from sin and turn toward God. Gibson doesn't say this, but you must turn from sin so completely that you are willing to avoid even "near occasions of sin", or things that lead you to sin, though these things themselves may not be sinful.
3. Rely upon God's grace to transform you. Gibson doesn't call this "God's grace"; he calls it "God's love", but he means exactly what Catholics mean when we use the word grace. Without this freely given and unearned gift of God, which is nothing less than God's Divine presence within you, without this gift whose purpose is to transform you and make you into another Christ, it is literally beyond our power to change.
Ty Gibson, then, gives a fundamentally Catholic presentation of sin and how to repent from sin. Note that grace in Gibson's theology is infused and sanctifying. It is not merely a token or a "get out of jail free" card, as it was for classical Protestantism. It abides within us, it is Divine, it changes us, and it leads to Everlasting Life. It is the Spirit, the New Man, as opposed to the flesh and the Old Man.
This is all so completely Catholic and orthodox that one wonders why we never hear this in our Catholic parishes. Some Protestants, it seems, have become more Catholic than we are.
Ty Gibson's three steps for overcoming sin is the most helpful thing I've read on the subject in 13 years in the Catholic Church.
And so we must say, Amen and Praise God, brother in Christ!
For it is this Communion with Christ - this taking in of his freely offered grace and cooperating with it so that it transforms and sanctifies us - that will make us true Christians and that will not only solve the problems of our day, but unify His Church and also bring in so many lost sheep, wandering and starving as they are, including the atheists and secularists among us.
I have mentioned, in this long post, CK's comment and Ty Gibson's clarity of vision.
I have not elaborated upon the reflection on the Prodigal Son that my friend sent me. It contained a disturbing image - an image of certain Catholics playing the role of the Elder Son in the parable, angry and jealous that our younger brothers, who have sometimes been sinful Protestants or even fast-living secularists (some of whom have been having a blast with hookers and booze) - an image of us being angry that they should be invited in to share in the family with us, indeed that the fatted calf should be killed to welcome them home when they arrive fully and share fully the complete Communion that God wants for them.
We dare not be the Older Brother. For he who is not against us is for us (Mark 9:40) and in some sense is already with us. We face a common enemy - sin and its flower, death - and we have a common Father, from whom (and only from whom) all deliverance from sin and death comes.
One Father. One Church, One Lord, One Savior, One Way, One Truth, One Life, One Baptism, One Family. As the floods continue to rise, there is one ark and one ark alone that can save us.
May we be ready to dive in and bring our drowning neighbors aboard, even if, after we take the plunge, we see that some of them have been floating on very sturdy planks of the one ark all along, which we have shed on our stormy voyage and which need to be nailed back in lest we take on any more water.