Something stood out to me when I read John’s account of the Resurrection: No one believed it when they were first told! Whether it was Mary Magdalene hearing it from angels, or the Apostles hearing it from Mary Magdalene — no one (with the exception of the Beloved Disciple) registered the message as true until they personally encountered the Risen One. Once they encountered Jesus though, they never looked at the world the same way; reality was completely redefined — everything viewed only in relation to Him. And when I thought about it, I didn’t see where we disciples today are any different.
There are many people I love who have heard the message of Jesus and call themselves “Christian,” and/or “Catholic;” but that identification isn’t the all-decisive factor in how they view the world. I’ll give two examples: A good friend recently shared how she doesn’t view her Catholicism as the “end all be all” — that she believes religion is a solution to many people’s problems, but that any religion is capable of playing that role. Another friend, also Catholic, posted her “yes” in a poll for adoption by gay couples on a social networking site — a position completely at odds with the teaching of Jesus’ Apostles. Why should these “stances,” bother me? Why can’t I just roll with the punches and think, “Hey, what’s right for me might not be right for you”? You know, if we were talking about what we like on a pizza, I could – honestly, I really could. But when it comes to Faith, these things hit me hard. It’s personal.
And shouldn’t it be? For Christians, faith isn’t solely an adherence to a list of propositions; it’s union with a Person. I can’t think of another world religion whose founder claimed, “I am the Truth.” The identity of Jesus, that is the very foundation of Christianity: God, the ground of all reality, became a man — a human being who spoke to us and taught us what life is to be. When we adhere to any moral truth, we are in some sense grabbing hold of the Truth, of God’s Revelation in Person, Jesus. But isn’t the converse also true then — that when we deny the Truth, we are in some sense denying Jesus? And that’s a risk we shouldn’t be willing to run: “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). I don’t want to see anyone I love – no, I don’t want to see anyone period – doing that! Yet, there is this mistaken idea permeating our culture, and the Christians who live in it, that to voice disagreement with another’s moral choices — or worse yet, to speak of “sin” — is, quite ironically, the most heinous of sins, intolerance!
But can we honestly think that we are more loving, more tolerant, than Jesus? More than the Apostle Paul? The same man who wrote,
Love is patient. Love is kind…it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong but rejoices in the right…Love endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)
also wrote, and in the very same letter no less:
Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [practicing] homosexuals, nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers will inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor.6:9-10).
I like the way Fr. John Corapi puts it, “Truth isn’t conservative or liberal, left or right. It is what it is, and you’re either in it or you’re out of it.” Tolerance is no “gag order.” Tolerance is not holding all views as equally valid. It is the ability to tolerate, to peacefully coexist with, those whose beliefs differ or conflict with yours!
Now Christians, if you hold a view that directly contradicts God’s, then can’t you see where, logically, you are in the wrong? Christianity is a “revealed” religion — God is coming from the “outside,” and speaking His Truth quite clearly. You’re free to deny it — God gives you that right and will be tolerant of your choice; but, to a greater or lesser degree, you won’t be in union with Him. And as we saw Paul say above, “Do not be deceived…” We didn’t create this universe, and we don’t get to decide what is right and wrong — those things were established by the same One Who instituted gravity and decreed that two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen combine to make water. Denying this reality doesn’t make one enlightened or original — it was humanity’s first sin (Genesis 3:4-5), older than recorded history and at the root of every evil perpetrated.
Catholicism, as a list of tenets and “religious” practices, may not feel like your “end all, be all,” the most important facet of your life — but I would suggest that is because you’re not taking it personally. (Ah, see how I’m weaving that back in?) Is there an institutional side? Yes. Will you find creeps mixed in with the “institution”? Yes – and right from the start Jesus told us that we would (the Church is like a net containing both good and bad fish [Matt.13:47-48], a field containing both wheat and cockle [Matt.13:24-30] — and will be so until the Final Judgment). And yet, Jesus is at work within the Church. Because not only is it institution, it is His Bride, He has made it His very Body. Despite its sinful members, Jesus has preserved it as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim.3:15). Despite sinful members, it is the only place where Jesus comes to give us His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist! And if that isn’t our “end all, be all,” then I have no idea what else could be.
When Truth is a Person, you have to take Him whole and entire, not divide Him up into the pieces you find most attractive! A Mass reading from earlier in the year seems the perfect way to end:
You must no longer live as the Gentiles [pagans] do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.” (Ephesians 4:17-21)
And it isn’t hard. Open up your Catechism, or go to it online, where you can search any topic you want. (Really, it has never been easier, in the entire history of the world, to discover God’s Revelation!) Read that Bible. PRAY. And remember, it is personal — because Truth is a Person; and we Christians either love and accept Him, on His terms, or we are rejecting Him.