Christ-like Forgiveness

As you know, all of Christianity is wrapped around this idea of forgiveness–even non-Christians know that Jesus’ death was for the forgiveness of sins. But really, the Christian idea of forgiveness goes much deeper than that. Suppose you’re standing at the gate of Heaven and see someone sitting at the banquet table who you would not sit next to, or whom you have a grudge, or even who you suspect has a grudge against you. You might need to step away and find that person and reconcile. You can’t sit at the banquet table and bring your dispute (or even so much as an awkward silence) to such a celebration. Because there will be no rivalry, no bitterness in Heaven–there won’t even be such a thing as one person disliking another. We will see each other for who we were made to be–unique, loving individuals.

So, haste should be made in reaching mutual reconciliation: Matthew 5:23-24.

Matthew 18:21-35 takes this even further, and after that last sentence of Jesus’ wisdom, one has to wonder: is a prerequisite to our entrance into Heaven the complete forgiveness to those who have wronged us?

But it’s fairly obvious: how can one enter into Heaven without a heart like Christ’s: that heart of Christ’s which would die for the betrayals and backstabbings of billions of selfish human beings? How would you sit at the banquet table if Jesus asked you to sit next to the one whom you dislike–or perhaps have more deeply-rooted feelings than a shallow disliking? God knows your heart better than you do. If, right now, you can think of a person whom you wouldn’t talk to or sit by at Heaven’s banquet table, then you might not be ready for Heaven’s banquet table.

But I don’t know who will be there. Only God has the guest list. You may find yourself surprised at who you see. But the best way to be prepared is to forgive those who have wronged you, seek forgiveness for your wrongs, and do everything in your power to bridge each relationship in your life with the openness, trust, and love that Christ gives us–we are called to imitate him, after all.

Love, love, love your enemies–whether they deserve it or not. It is the only way to reconcile with them. If you can think of a single person you dislike, distrust, or would rather not talk to, then you had better talk to them. Be honest. And prepare yourself to become that person’s best friend–just as Christ became our very best friend.

Many years ago, a mentor of mine once told me: “Imitating Christ is like this: that every time you meet a new person, from the moment you shake their hand, your heart, mind, and will are prepared to become that person’s best friend. Whether that person is cruel, rude, needy, disabled, dishonest, or simply plain and uninteresting, none of that matters. What matters is that your love for them transcends prejudices, judgments, and wrongdoing.”

So: love your enemies. Love strangers. Love everyone. God called everyone into an eternal and substantive friendship with him; so, choose everyone for friendship with you.

The Devil is not in our phones.

“The Devil is not in our books! He is in our hearts!”  (Reverend Moore, Footloose)

Growing up in Christian circles there was a subtle stigma against the evils of “technology.”  It was a distraction from God, prayer, serving your neighbor, etc.  Cell phones, iPods, etc are prohibited from retreats and pastors often encourage the congregation to “unplug” in order to hear the voice of God.

Let me be the first to say “Yes, Yes!” to any pastor who encourages his congregation to look for God and separate themselves from distractions.  We as humans tend to walk through life looking at the dirt, at whatever is on the ground right in front of us.  Sometimes God lets us walk into things which hurts for the time being but is no more evil when their child runs into a lamppost because he is bent over texting a cute girl.  In both cases, we tend to look up and take stock of our surroundings (sometimes discovering that God or that cute girl is within sight and we never would have known).   But to say it is entirely technology’s fault is ignoring the fact that there is a girl on the other end of the phone and a drive inside of that child to be attractive to her.

Technology is merely a means to our own ends.  It enables us to purse our own various passions.  When an unfaithful man neglected his family two hundred years ago, to pursue his own passions or interests, he went from work to the racetrack, or the pub, or the theater.  Today, he will come home after work.  But he won’t really be at home.  You will still find his heart at the racetrack, or the pub, or the theater as he vegges in front of the TV, or computer, or Xbox.  In the former case, would you blame the man or the places where he frequented?  Is his unfaithfulness to his family the theater’s fault?  No, of course not!  You would blame man for being too caught up in what does not matter and hope that he would learn choose what matters more.  So, too, with the latter.  It is a character flaw.

What we have run into is not technology’s inherent ability to distract from focus on our Lord.  What we have run into is our inherent desire for things that aren’t Him.

The reason behind its absolute propensity to take over peoples’ lives is two-fold.  First, our individualistic society allows people to make their own decisions.  Not a bad idea in its own right, but when obsession is being manifest in a person their friends and family (namely parents) either just do not possess the moral hutzpa to prevent it or they themselves are too distracted by their obsessions to prevent that in their children.  A practical example of the sins of fathers resting on their children.  The second reason is like the first, and that is we have been taught that the pursuit of our passions is rightly placed as the first priority in our lives because that will make us most happy.  Consumer technology is merely a means to our happiness, and a particularity attainable means to that end, so why change our behavior?

The very reason why we have improved our ability to do tasks (i.e. Technology) is so that we can accomplish what we want to do more easily, or to fulfill the dreams our imagination, things that were previously impossible to do.  Technology exists to accomplish man’s goals.  If our goals are to talk to a pretty girl, follow the latest sports news, do business, or learn more about our Christ, technology makes it easier to do so and to do so more efficiently.

“The Devil is not in our books!  He’s in our hearts!”

(Reverend Moore, Footloose)

The Devil is not in the theater, not in the pub, not in the races.  He is not in our TV, our internet, or our games.  The Devil is not in our phones.  He is in us, turning our focus away from those we should love and towards useless pursuits.  If we find ourselves running into lampposts, we can hardly blame the phone in our hands.

So let us go forward in the freedom of Christ, to avoid whatever leads us to sin and strike a blow to our bodies in discipline so as to render us more perfect servants of Christ.

Catholicism as “Capitalist”

A recent article posted over at Vox-Nova linking to Ivan Kauffman’s piece, “After Ideology” brings in to focus some of the issues that I have been meaning to point out over what I see as the “politicizing” within the USCCB. I agree with Julia Smucker when says in the Vox-Nova combox:

…Catholicism is not supposed to be an ideological group. It’s the alternative to ideology.

This video, featuring the Bishop Fr Robert Sirico speaking on the compatibility of Catholicism and Capitalism, is a wonderful example of kind of harmful ideological affiliating I am trying to point out.

If the bishops aren’t explicit about the fact that no political/economic system can accomplish what the Church is commissioned to accomplish, political factionalism within the USCCB and subsequently within the laity become inevitable.

Granted, upon a more thorough examination of Fr Sirico’s project I don’t think he is saying that Catholics need to endorse a kind of neo-liberal economic policy, full-stop. Again, I don’t think it would be bad even if he did. The advocacy of certain economic/political schemas become dangerous when they are justified as being Catholic economic policies or Catholic political schemas. Neo-liberalism is not Catholic. Neither is communism, neither is any other economic system. We may have reasons to say that such-and-such a system can be justified by a Catholic moral framework in certain instances, and we have even more liberty to denounce systems like National Socialism that cause obvious evil and harm (as the Third Reich certainly did) based on Catholic principles. But to say that a “good Catholic” is one who subscribes to this or that ideology? Let that be anathema!