Good News, Not Good Advice

Christians in the First World today have a serious image problem, one which cripples our attempts to share our faith with others, and — sadly — one which is in many ways our own doing. As the Anglican scholar N.T. Wright has noted, the unfortunate reality is that many people — including many Christians! — have fundamentally misunderstood the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Good (or Not So Good) Advice.

To put it another way, many people — again, including many Christians — see the essence of Christianity as a moral code, as a set of rules and regulations which require certain behaviors and forbid others, as a bunch of “Thou Shalt Not’s”.

 

We’ll dive deeper into this topic in other posts, but for now I simply want to note that while Christianity certainly entails a morality, it is not, at its heart, defined as a morality. Rather, it is the proclamation of Good News: of something that has happened, that is happening, and that will happen.

 

What are these things, these events, that have happened, are happening, and will happen? They are

  1. the coming of Jesus Christ into the world 2000 years ago and the redemption which He accomplished and initiated then;
  2. the encounter with Him which is offered to each and every human being in the midst of their lives, and encounter which has the capacity to slowly but surely transform them and their lives; and
  3. He return at the end of history, at which point the transformation which began 2000 years ago will be fulfilled, completed and accomplished.

Let me conclude this “teaser” post which this quote, describing the essence of Christianity: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Google the quote… you might be surprised at who wrote it.

The encounter with the Risen Jesus can transform your life now… today.

Do you believe this is possible? Why, or why not?

 

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Tom Cruise, First-Rate Philosopher

Theatrical Poster

Okay, maybe not.

But one of his characters was more intellectually- and existentially-consistent that many (or even most) Americans of any religious affiliation, including Catholics, living his life in a way that corresponded with his belief-system.

I’m talking about the hitman Vincent in the 2004 film Collateral, starring Cruise and Jamie Foxx and directed by Michael Mann.

Read on…

Continue reading “Tom Cruise, First-Rate Philosopher”

Prayer & Babysteps

Jean-François Millet, The Angelus, 1857-1859

If someone were to ask me what the most important thing is for growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ, among my first answers would be a regular, deepening prayer life. Not a perfect prayer life, mind you, nor a profound one — at least initially — but a regular and deepening one.

I can personally testify to the utility of a “babysteps” approach to prayer: if you don’t pray regularly right now, start with thirty seconds… maybe one Our Father, said slowly and attentively. Then bump it up to a minute or two, maybe with some prayers of thanks for the gifts of the day and/or intercessions for someone — maybe you — who is in need. Then maybe five minutes… then ten. Read the Scripture readings read at Mass that day, prayerfully and carefully. Listen for the word, phrase or sentence that jumps out at you, and meditate on that.

You’ll probably plateau at some point, but that’s okay… like any relationship, the time spent together is more about quality than quantity. But also like any relationship, don’t let that become an excuse either.

As I said, I’ve found this to be a helpful way to consistently improve my prayer life; what about you? What’s worked for you in your own prayer life?

The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done… Do You Believe It?

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, David Roberts, 1850

 

Catholics and other Christians living in the United States today often feel as though they are under assault, but the deeper reality is just the opposite: they are the ones who should be confident of their victory. Why? Because that’s what their Captain promised in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.

Before getting to His words, though, let’s set the table by looking at the cultural context in which we find ourselves today.

Continue reading “The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done… Do You Believe It?”

Unexpected Lessons

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1668

 

You know what was one of the most surprising things about this Lent for me? The unexpected lessons from the Father, the bearhugs He gave me that have been both a little painful and a lot heart-warming.

He’s shown me some hard truths… some of the dirt I’ve missed — or frankly, ignored — but He’s been pretty gentle in how He’s done it. In my case, it was a good dose of humility… just when I think I’m well on my way to having this pride thing licked, He shows me that it’s a lot bigger onion than I realized!

But even more than pointing the dirt out to me, He’s shown me how much better I look when I get cleaned up!

I used to be afraid of that kind of Fatherly discipline, but now I thank Him for it. If I remember.  🙂

What are the unexpected — but good! — lessons that He’s taught you?