The most basic principle of Christianity is that Christ’s resurrection promises us eternal life. It gives us hope that, even though life stinks, there’s something better coming along. “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (1 Cor 15:14). As VeggieTales puts it, “the Hope of Easter” gives people the courage to put their lives on the line, to give up everything for Christ. Why?
Because Jesus Himself said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37) and “And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting.” (Matthew 19:29).
Even more, Jesus said, “For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25).
This is the constant theme of the Gospel. We see in the famous community described in Acts 2 that the earliest Christians lived in complete community. We see in Paul’s letters that many of the early Christians lived in constant expectation of Christ’s second coming: most trying to be the best people they could be so they could be “watchful and ready,” but others who were already forming little end of the world cults or otherwise focusing too much on the event and not what it signifies. We also see in Paul’s letters that even those early Christians began to fall astray–and we certainly see that in the letters to the churches in Revelation.
Saints are people who have their eyes set on Heaven, and they live their entire lives according to that view.
Christ warns the person who would save for the future, “You fool! This very night, your life will be demanded from you!” (Luke 12:20).
God and I have a kind of working agreement. I know that as long as I’m not too attached to this life that I’ll be around for a while. As soon as I started getting too attached, He knocks me down a peg.
These passages–and about half of Jesus’ actual preaching is along these lines (you know, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me”; “consider the lilies of the field”; “if you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father”)–seem abundantly clear, yet somehow they’re commonly ignored.
It is these teachings which led Stephen to be stoned.
It is these teachings which led the Apostles to give up everything and go around the world spreading the Gospel, at the cost of their lives.
It is these teachings which led Agnes and Cecilia and other virgin martyrs to not only offer up their virginity to Christ but to offer up their lives rather than lose that virginity. It led Maria Goretti a hundred years ago to not only give up her life for her virginity but to *forgive* her would-be rapist before she died (but it’s not politically correct to talk about Maria Goretti because her story is offensive to rape victims).
It is these teachings which have led so many to give up worldly things entirely as hermits, stylites, monks, nuns, friars and religious sisters.
It is these teachings which lead men to give it all as priests.
Some would cite Opus Dei as an example that these teachings are not absolute, yet even Opus Dei requires great sacrifices of its members, and whatever the Order he started may do, St. Josemaria Escriva certainly lived according to and promoted these teachings. In fact, Josemaria Escriva and the authentic spirit of Opus Dei are the exception that proves the rule, since the point of Opus Dei is that these teachings can still be lived in the modern world.
Yet, it seems like almost every dispute I have in Catholic circles boils down to the fact that people are so attached to worldly things, so desperate to preserve their lives.
I’m not even talking about the basic run of the mill issues.
Yes, there are the constant debates about interest, greed, and all that.
Then there are the people who are so afraid of being killed by Muslims, thinking they can justify their support for torture and intrinsically evil weapons because of it, even though Jesus says, “Don’t fear those who kill the body, fear the one who can send both body and soul to Gehenna.”
Then there are the Charismatics with their obsession with faith healing rather than offering it up, and the people who go chasing around after alleged apparitions and miracles.
The pro-war people get to me of course (and, as always, I’m not talking about self-defense. I’m talking about the people who are rabidly pro-war, who support foreign policies that necessitate war, who think that a just cause can justify any action taken in support of that cause), but perhaps the group that are the most perplexing are the ones who should most know better.
One of the best homilies I’ve ever heard was given at St. William of York in Stafford, VA, several years ago (I forget the priest). He talked about what South America has to teach North America and vice versa. In South America, he said, you’ll find medical doctors who still smoke. They say, “This life is ending, and what’s the point of trying to preserve it? I’m going to Heaven.” Here in North America, of course, people do everything they can to squeeze every minute out of this life, and they aren’t willing to sacrifice at all or to consider how this is not our real home.
Again, the purpose of the letters to the Thessalonians was to criticize those who were so obsessed about the end of the world that they were shutting themselves away and trying to prepare for it in some material way rather than being busy about the kingdom.
Lately, it seems like all my conversations with my friends revolve around two topics: the fact that I’m dying, and the fact that they think they’re not.
Both among my homeschool friends and Carmelite friends, everyone is talked, reasonably so, about the situation our society is in. It is certainly a Gospel mandate to be aware of the “signs of the times”, but, again, it’s a question of why we’re looking at it and what we’re going to do about it.
EMPs; total economic collapse; Iran; North Korea; China; pollution; natural disasters; comets; nuclear war; hurricanes; tornadoes; riots; looters; earthquakes; civil wars; Canadians. . . .
Are we trying to work so that these horrible things won’t happen? Are we praying for God’s Mercy to avoid them? Are we praying for the conversion of those who might bring them to bear?
Or are we focusing merely on worldly means of protecting our worldly lives?
My Carmelite friends and my homeschooling friends alike talk about material plans for a socio-economic disaster. It’s one thing to talk about organic farming (and even that I think gets way too materialistic and “let’s stay alive as long as possible”-y). It’s one thing to talk about getting off grid so one isn’t dependent upon huge corporations.
But when I hear people obsessing about having food stored up (Luke 12), when there are so many people starving now, and when I hear people talking about having weapons to protect their food against looters, that’s just plain freaky. It doesn’t seem Christian at all, especially when most of the sources they cite are Protestants and Mormons.
So many people cite Glenn Beck about this kind of stuff when he’s a Mormon, and the Mormons are a branch of the Masons–he’s a part of it!
Then of course there is the influence in Catholic circles of the novels of Bud Macfarlane. Mary always said one of the things she didn’t like about Macfarlane’s books is they seemed a little too much like he was looking forward to these disasters happening to usher in some kind of worldly utopia (this is of course what the Church condemns as the heresy of millenarianism, seeking a worldly fulfillment of God’s kingdom).
And Macfarlane was discredited by how he left his wife. Indeed, his divorce became public in the spring of 2004, but he actually left his wife in July 2003–shortly after he’d been the keynote speaker at a major homeschooling conference (long time regular readers should know how Macfarlane sued his wife for neglect for homeschooling). So that guy should have been totally discredited as a source (also noteworthy that Macfarlane is a “fruit” of Medjugorje).
Then you’ve got anti-Catholic guys like Alex Jones (the conspiracy theorist, not the Pentecostal minister). It’s kind of like false apparitions. A very convincing case is built, based upon, “all these people saying the same thing”, yet when you start looking at “all the people”, it’s really about taking a few “big messages” (i.e., Medjugorje on the one hand or Alex Jones or Glenn Beck on the other), and then trying to make the smaller stuff fit them. And when the big guys start losing their credibility, the “lots of people saying the same thing” argument doesn’t hold water.
If people really believe all this stuff about the end of western civilization as we know it, they shouldn’t be worrying about preserves and weapons and bomb shelters and whatnot; they should be stripping themselves of all worldly belongings and preparing in case Christ should come like a thief in the night and ask what they did with His gifts.
 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride.  And five of them were foolish, and five wise.  But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them:  But the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps.  And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept.
 And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him.  Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.  The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.  Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready, went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut.
 But at last come also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us.  But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not.  Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.  For even as a man going into a far country, called his servants, and delivered to them his goods;  And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability: and immediately he took his journey.
 And he that had received the five talents, went his way, and traded with the same, and gained other five.  And in like manner he that had received the two, gained other two.  But he that had received the one, going his way digged into the earth, and hid his lord’s money.  But after a long time the lord of those servants came, and reckoned with them.  And he that had received the five talents coming, brought other five talents, saying: Lord, thou didst deliver to me five talents, behold I have gained other five over and above.
 His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.  And he also that had received the two talents came and said: Lord, thou deliveredst two talents to me: behold I have gained other two.  His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant: because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.  But he that had received the one talent, came and said: Lord, I know that thou art a hard man; thou reapest where thou hast not sown, and gatherest where thou hast not strewed.  And being afraid I went and hid thy talent in the earth: behold here thou hast that which is thine.
 And his lord answering, said to him: Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed:  Thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury.  Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents.  For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away.  And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
 And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty.  And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats:  And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.  Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:
 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.  Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee?  Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?  And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink.  I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.  Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?  Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.
 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.