Christmas flows into 2014, and the busy-ness of the worldly life pulls us away from our true center. These times when we are to be most spiritually on fire and aware, our nerves tingling with the intense love of Christ and the miracle of our very existence, we can be at our laziest, our deafest and blindest. What a trick of the Foe, eh? He presents us with shiny distractions that have every appearance of existing as part and parcel of our Holy Day, but he turns them inside out and turns our eyes away from the lover of our souls. Oh, to be shrewd to his tricks in the new year! Let this be our prayer.
I find New Year’s resolutions to be at worst tedious and insincere, and at best added pressure on people who are already feeling enormous pressure from a dozen forces a day. I seek humility, that most elusive of qualities, in 2014, and I seek Truth in all things. I also pray in 2014 to see, to really see what is before me and what the world and the Foe are trying to hide from me. And to connect all these: to have the humility to empty myself of the need to be liked and approved, to share the Truth that I see, even as doing so becomes increasingly more perilous.
There is peril and there is peril. Americans don’t face much in the way of grave peril when sharing the Gospel. But we do face social and possibly professional peril, familial peril, and no small measure of distress as we watch ourselves rejected and dismissed as holy rollers, judgmental religious nuts, idealists, ideologues, Jesus Freaks, dinosaurs, uneducated rubes, Bible clingers, and hypocrites. How does a person face such outright and widely promoted labeling? How do we resist caving into the temptation to “go along to get along”? The Catholic body of teaching, if adhered to strictly, is bound, without any shade of doubt, to clash violently with the paradigms of our modern media, our families, and our co-workers.
I’ve written before about the near impossibility of belonging to a political party if one is truly Catholic. That’s because I’ve been buffeted on both sides, even when trying my level best to “speak the truth in love.” Speak on the death penalty and watch the narrowing eyes, or watch the comments pile up on Facebook. Speak on abortion and watch that first group smile with approval while another group rises up to condemn you as a misogynist, an antiquarian, and wish a venereal disease on you.
“But I see!” you cry. How can you not speak of what you see? If you take your blinders off, if you see Christ in each person, if you love each person as you are called to love him or her, then you have a holy obligation to share the Truth! What a conundrum. What a lonely life it can be. And how we can be accused of pride when in fact what we are doing is attempting invisibility, to eradicate ourselves and let Jesus fill us up with His law and His authentic love. That authentic love HATES sin. Yes, a paradox. Surely you’ve heard of them. Modern thought doesn’t like them. We are commanded to hate what is evil. We are commanded to warn our brother of the oncoming truck before it runs him down. And as we warn him, we are pelted with stones from our ostensibly tolerant society.
So: a self-examination. Are we speaking the Truth for the right reasons? Are we representing Christ or are we representing a political ideology? Are we defending the Holy Mother or are we defending our pride in our own traditions? Are we sharing truth to save souls or sharing truth to earn our way in to Heaven? Are we warning our brothers and sisters about their sin in order to set them firmly on the road to earthly peace and eternal bliss, or are we obsessed with being right and being proven right, which is the opposite and enemy of humility?
I guarantee you that if your interior motivations are “off” by one degree, you will be unsuccessful in sharing the Truth with anyone. No one has been won to the Truth by being called names or told he was too uneducated to speak about Jesus. No one has converted her heart because you called her a whore or trumpeted your own record of chastity. So before you read on, know this: if you in your heart do not truly love your neighbor as you love yourself, you have to go back on the game board to the beginning square. Start over; do not pass go, do not collect any souls. You need to refuel with the unconditional love of Christ before you can share it with anyone else. Prideful evangelization is an oxymoron. Repeat: prideful evangelization is an oxymoron.
What a year this has been. I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard such a combination of vitriol and moral laxity in all my years on earth. There is virtually no escape from the demonic twins of pride and gluttony. Compounding that, there is a ceiling of sexual depravity over all of us, and it prevents us from looking above to our Heavenly Father, who taught us in our hearts how our bodies and souls are to be rightly ordered. We have reached a day when, if you say aloud that you believe it is harmful and unnatural to insert a sexual organ into the back end of the digestive system, you are immediately and irretrievably stamped with a scarlet letter. You are a brainwashed hater. You are not one of us, they say. Because you see.
We have a new Pope to shepherd us, and his invisibility is inspiring. People of all stripes can look past him and see Jesus. It’s miraculous. It’s what we need, and the Holy Spirit knew it when He guided that Conclave! And yet there is a backlash against him. Catholics who have decided they know better than the Holy Spirit have our orthodox, loving, humble Pope Francis on probation. If you love Francis, you betray the previous popes, or you are an unread simpleton who simply doesn’t know your history! You are not one of us, they say. Because you see.
You have a friend whose life is in a downward spiral. Money, alcohol, drugs, casual sex, and sarcasm are the waters he swims in daily. You try to throw a lifeline, from Scripture, or from the Saints, or just from your own heart, simply spoken, “I’m worried about you, friend.” In a matter of seconds, you are cast out from his inner circle. You are judgmental, a Pollyanna, a limited thinker, backwards, provincial, a nutcase with a Bible and no guts to live life in the moment. You are not one of us, he says. Because you see.
So there is your choice for 2014. To see or not to see. Not seeing is easier. I won’t lie to you about that. Everyone will like you if you agree with what everyone is saying all the time. But if you start pointing out truths, even in love, even in invisibility, you will be mocked and even hated. Then there is the work involved. Because you must constantly be renewing and reperforming that examination of conscience I spoke about earlier. You must be daily checking that your invisibility is your top priority. Every morning the prayer is to be filled with Jesus and emptied of you. Not easy. But if you aren’t up to it one day or one month, then don’t try to evangelize. You will fail spectacularly.
I choose to see in 2014. I choose to see myself as a sinner and ask for mercy daily. I choose to ask Christ daily to make Nicole invisible and to put Jesus in her place. I choose to speak the Truth in charity when it is called for. I choose to examine my conscience daily. I choose to open myself to the rebuke and fraternal correction of other Christians so that I can be assured that pride is not creeping into my plans and my words. I choose to see every person and love every person as I see my own children: this means loving them unconditionally and praying for them daily, and caring enough about their souls to share the Gospel with them — Jesus’ very real and current existence and action in this world, God’s perfect Law for our lives, and the Holy Spirit’s gifts within them. Will you join me in this resolution? It’s not just for 2014; it’s for eternity.