Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Simplicity of the Gospel

I've started to read more of the Pope's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and I got to paragraph 35: Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the mos forceful and convincing.

I've heard this concept before, in the book The Roman Option, which is about the journey that Anglicans/Episcopalians have been on in their desire for full communion, while still preserving positive elements of the Anglican traditions. When discussing some of the more difficult problems to solve, like whether or not priests from the Anglican tradition could still be married, the future Pope Benedict XVI said, "The essential thing is the common faith. Because of this common faith between us, there will be solutions to the concrete problems." Elsewhere, it speaks of both then-Cardinal Ratzinger and the future St. John Paul II speaking of 'the essentials' and to not be too hard on the Anglicans seeking full communion. St. John Paul II sent a note to the group of Anglicans and Catholics meeting about full communion; the note referred to Acts 15:28 (if I'm not mistaken) which says: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things... In other words, don't make the yoke too heavy for them.

But how does all of this play out today? You have Catholics openly dissenting to support abortion, euthanasia, homosexual "marriage", contraception, women's ordination, and on and on. When can we as a united voice say, "You've given up your voice in the Catholic Church" ? It's like when the Vatican removes a university's right to call itself a Pontifical university because it teaches against the Church and won't reform itself. Do we say, "Well, at least we agree in the essentials?" Do we say, "Well, let's not get 'obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed'?

Or are we taking the pope out of context here? Just a paragraph or two before paragraph 35, he mentioned how the Church's message can be misreported and taken out of context, confusing people on the teachings of the Church. So perhaps he just means in a missionary atmosphere, like if we are explaining things to non-believers or people who left the Church.

Because you can simplify things like the pope asked. You can say: There is a God. He created the entire universe, visible and invisible. And there is nothing he wants more than to love you and spend the rest of eternity with you. All he asks is that you come to know and trust in Jesus Christ, God's only begotten son, and be baptized. In knowing and trusting in Jesus, your life will be transformed. Led by the Holy Spirit, your purpose in life will be to love God with all your mind, heart, body, and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. In doing so, you glorify the Lord by your life, bringing his loving message to all that you meet throughout your day, and to your family. If you remain in the faith, keeping all of his commandments by loving God and loving neighbor, you have a reasonable hope that Jesus' saving grace will fill you and that you will one day inherit eternal life with him, where there will be no war, no strife, no sadness, no tears, and only joy - and immense joy and peace that cannot be imagined here on earth, although we are asked to be the light of the world and salt of the earth so as to lead all souls to Christ.

Simple, but profound, message. If someone asks, "Ok, that sounds great! What should I do in order to come to know and believe in Jesus Christ?" you show them. You love them. You invite them to prayers, to soup kitchens, to charitable events, to Knights of Columbus meetings. I know everyone says to invite them to Mass, but I disagree - the fact that they cannot receive communion hurts feelings and bruises pride. Instead, take them to Adoration. Take them to pray the rosary. Take them to Bible study. Invite them to help you minister to others. Give them a copy of the Catechism and a Catholic version of the Bible. Then pray for them for the rest of your life.

Can we do this to everyone we meet? No, although we should want to. We should try when we can. But we know people. My atheist friend who takes every opportunity he can to ridicule Christians on Facebook - he won't take any of these invites; I don't have to bother asking. "Cast not your pearls before swine." However, he'll be in my prayers. I heard a priest today say, "It's our job to invite, not to convert. That's GOD's battle to fight - we're just asked to invite, to offer, to pray."

It's only when someone is on fire for the faith that they can be transformed by that Holy fire. I don't think most of us convert or enter full communion because we're in love with rules. But we love and understand and protect those "rules" once we learn the 'why' behind them, which is only when we're willing to be transformed by them. So, the pope follows the same path the Jesuit missionaries always followed: love and serve God and neighbor; when people ask for a reason why you do this, tell them it's because you love Jesus. If they ask you who Jesus is, then you let them know. If they fall in love with Him, then they start to look into changing their lifestyle.

When I entered full communion, I rejected the Church's teachings on sexual issues. I didn't see the Church as having the power to tell me what I should be doing with my body. But then I eventually thought, "Well, this is the same line women use when they justify abortion - so, do THEY have that right of self-determination if you think YOU have that right?" And that was the chink in the armour that opened my mind enough to be at least curious about why the Church teaches what it does about sexuality and marriage. And now I fully embrace that teaching and see its wisdom. But I know where I was and how my mind was, and I remember being madly in love with the most beautiful woman in the world and if you told me then that I had to cut off all sexual relations with her in order to be a Catholic, I probably would still be an Episcopalian today. Because when you bring the Gospel to someone, you have to meet them where they are, not where you'd like them to be. So many Catholics online will be finger-wagging and nagging to all the converts and non-Catholics, pushing everyone away because they expect everyone to be at the same point in their faith journey. I, too, used to be like that. But perhaps the Lord is helping me 'mellow out', which - as the pope said - doesn't mean I send out a watered-down, modernist message, but still one that loses "none of its depth and truth".

KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid! It does wonders.