05 February 2013

The Adventure Awaits!

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
            It seems, at least historically, that the American people have an adventurous nature.  Look at the way we spread across this land, moving out into the unknown to establish new States.  While I’m not positive, it wouldn’t surprise me that an American invented the sport (though I consider it more rash than adventurous) where you get a snowmobile up to terrific speeds in order to do flips and twists in the air, before trying to land it safely on the ground. 
G. K. Chesterton
            Given this adventurous nature, there should be droves of people lining up to be Catholic.  Now, Catholic and adventurous may not always go together in your mind.  Our liturgy, though altered in noticeable ways in the late 1960s and early 1970s, dates back (at least in its basic form) to the first century, and old and adventurous do not always go together.  It is sometimes said that those who are Catholic are simply afraid of pursuing other beliefs and opening their minds to other realities.  The Catholic Church, fairly or unfairly, is often associated with conservativism, of holding on to the past, rather than the liberalism of plowing ahead on a new, undiscovered path.  But, as G.K. Chesterton said, “People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum and safe.  [But] there was never anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”
            What do I mean?  What does Chesterton mean?  Well, look at our readings today.  In our first reading, God calls Jeremiah to be His prophet, His spokesman.  But being a prophet for God means that God’s own Chosen People were going to fight against Jeremiah.  And so God assures Jeremiah that God has made the prophet “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass.”  Jeremiah had to tell the people, especially the leaders of Judah, that they could not trust in foreign alliances to save them; that they needed to turn away from the false gods of Canaan and Assyria; that only by fidelity to God would salvation come.  But the people preferred the foreign alliances and the idolatry that came with it.  It would be no easy task to try to get the people to turn away from sin and be faithful to God.  It took a true adventurous heart to say “yes” to God’s call and fight the cultural norms of the day.
            Or, look at our Gospel.  What an adventure to follow a guy who claims to be the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, but looks exactly the same as everybody else; is thought of as the son of Joseph, and has been doing miracles everywhere else, but when it comes to His own home town, nothing major happens.  And then, rather than just passing by, Jesus condemns the people’s disbelief, and says that God prefers the pagans to the Chosen People because at least they have faith, as in the days of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, or in the days of Elisha and Naaman the Syrian.  And, based upon this critique, the people, Jesus’ own neighbors, try to drive Jesus off a hill to at least do Him bodily harm, if not to kill Him.  What an adventure to follow the guy that everyone wants to put to death!
            Catholicism now is no less an adventure now than it was when Jesus was founding His Church in the first century.  It takes real courage to follow a Person who is not half-God and half-Human, but 100% God and 100% Human, without any mixture or confusion.  It is so much easier to say that Jesus was just a really good, but really misunderstood, sage.  It is so much easier to assert that no one has a special office and we can all just vote on what we want to believe.  But as a Catholic, we’re not into easy.  Our faith is adventurous in what we believe and in what we preach.
            The Lord God still reminds us that we are called to be “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass against the whole land.”  We are not necessarily morally better, but we are called to be faithful to the truth that God has communicated through His Church, governed by the apostles and their successors.  The gift of truth that we have received, the Spirit of Truth who leads us into all truth, is not meant to be something that we just hold by ourselves in smugness, but spread to others so that they can find the freedom of living as a child of God.  But we will get pounded for this.  When we defend marriage as created by God between one man and one woman we are called bigots.  God’s truth is called lies, light is called darkness, and good is called evil. 
            It is in those times that we should turn back to St. Paul and his second letter to Timothy:
proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.  For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desire and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.  But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist.

Of course, we are called to preach the truth in love, as our second reading reminds us, so that we are not “a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”  We are called to invite to the joy of the truth.  We are called to propose, but not to impose.  But this love is not the emotion which encourages someone to do whatever he or she wants, but the will for the best that the other person can be.  And in the end, being Catholic means that we believe and hold firm to teachings that the world considers folly.
Being Catholic is an adventure, and is not for the faint of heart.  But a crown of righteousness awaits those who are faithful and complete the adventure on earth.  “People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum and safe.  There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”