After hearing confessions yesterday I was overcome with emotion. It was a mixture of amazement at God’s mercy, but also the astonishing expectations of the Catholic faith.
If hit me in a fresh way just how shocking the Catholic Church really is and it was hearing confessions that hammered it home.
Just think about it for a moment. The Catholic Church says to human beings, “We expect you to be honest, to put others first–not yourself. We expect you not to cheat, not to lie, not to seek revenge, but to forgive your enemies. Oh, and by the way, you must not have sex with anyone other than the spouse to whom you are committed in a life long relationship. That spouse must be a member of the opposite sex who is not married to another person. If you can’t do that for whatever reason you must keep your pants on, keep your hands to yourself (but you can’t view porn and masturbate) and sleep alone. You must also give generously to the poor, assist the needy, have compassion on the unwashed, the unlovely, the unhealthy and the unwise. You must also read a two thousand year old book every day, attend an archaic liturgy every week and attempt to pray.
What kind of madness is this? Considering the typical human condition, the bar is set incredibly high. Who can do this? Who would want to do this?
And yet the standard is set not only for superhero spiritual people, but for ordinary men and women. Then incredibly, in confession I encounter those ordinary men and women. Teenagers, young men and women in their twenties and thirties, old people–who hear the call and take it seriously. This is what moves me so powerfully. There they are. My people. Here they come–acknowledging their failures and faults, but with a sincere desire to get up and carry on.
And I realize once again that what they desire is not a softer gospel. They do not want an easy way. They do not want me to excuse them or tell them “it’s not really a sin” or “God made you that way and you’re good. Don’t worry.” Like athletes intent on winning a prize, they do not desire a coach who gives them cupcakes. They want to reach the goal. They want to be saints.
This, it seems to me, is the most shocking thing about Catholicism, and if anyone can see this whole dynamic with the fresh vision that I was given they will be equally astounded by this most amazing religion.
When considering this shocking truth I am therefore not surprised nor am I particularly disappointed when people fail in their quest. That is to be expected. The person aiming for the high jump record will often knock down the bar. What is surprising is that any body makes the effort at all.
And what is the bar for which they aim? “It is to grow up into the full humanity of Christ Jesus”–to be divinized–to be transformed into an image of Christ–fully transformed from the inside out. This is why the modern attempt to soft sell Christianity as some form of therapy or method of improving one’s self esteem is such a shallow lie. It’s a false religion and a cheap scam. It’s like going into a steakhouse and being offered a vegan menu along with a self righteous sermon about how it is good for you.
Keep it. Keep your shallow feel-good faux Christianity with nothing on offer but virtue signaling “kindness” and a greeting card spirituality blended with soft rock music and banal preaching.
Give me the old, old story of a mankind fallen into the darkness and despair of sin and a savior who reaches down and redeems all those who long for forgiveness, and who then empowers them to go on the lifelong pilgrimage of seeking perfection.