Sunday, March 23, 2014

Radical Christianity

Every now and then, Catholic sites on the internet rise above petty squabbles and inside-the-Roman-beltway gossip and, seemingly out of nowhere, prophecy pours forth.

Take, for example, an October 2012  post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker.  Fr. Dwight for some reason
shared some excerpts from this post on Facebook today, even though the original was published 18 months ago.

He writes on Fullness and Foolishness and says some profound things, including this ...

Sin is the outworking of the lack of God’s glory in our lives.  Sin is the symptom.  I am not a sinner because I sin. I sin because I’m a sinner.

This seemingly simple observation gets to the heart of the matter.  To be a Christian is not about "faith vs. works", it's not about being in an exclusive club and turning your nose up at others, it's not even about ethics or behavior.  It's about an ontological change.  It's about an old self dying and a new self coming to life - coming to everlasting life - through God's grace.  

This is why the Faith is analogous to Acting, as I've written about before.  When an actor portrays a character, he might focus on individual external aspects, such as accent, posture, costume, attitude - but these are symptoms of a person, indicia of an organic being that an actor is attempting to become.  Of course the actor does not "become" his role "ontologically" (on the level of being) - an actor merely pretends - but what an actor aims to do is to pretend well and to portray the heart of his character's soul, and from this "ontological center" (as it were) the entire characterization flows.  The closer an actor comes to the center-of-being of his character, the more things like accent, physicality, motivation and so forth - the more the externals - will take care of themselves.

Now sometimes in Faith as in acting we have to focus on the externals.  Sometimes an actor in rehearsal can't easily get to the heart of his role, to the center of his character's soul, and so he imitates from the outside in.  Sometimes an actor can discover that a distinguishing walk or a way of speaking or a gesture or some external hook that he adopts as a kind of mark or imitation turns out to be a key to understanding the wholeness of his character.  Sometimes an outside expression makes the inside come alive.

So it is in life.  Sometimes, even when we don't feel like it, doing a good deed - even reluctantly - awakens something inside of us and starts to make us into better people.  This is certainly true for prayer, which is often forced or dry, but which, if persisted in, can yield great grace, despite a lack of a subjective sense of interior motivation on the part of the one who prays.

Fr. Dwight continues ...

I want to address the problem at the root. [My note: "at the root" means "radically".  Fr. Dwight here is describe what even "mere Christianity" aims at, which is the most "radical" thing on the planet.] I want to be filled with the fullness of God at the foundation level. Then everything else will take care of itself.

In other words, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Mat. 6:33)

Fr. Dwight concludes (and here's where the prophetic tone rings out) ...

The main problem with Christianity today is that it has forgotten these astounding ambitions promised in the New Testament. Christians of all sorts–and Catholics especially–have turned Christianity into a bland exercise in trying to be nice people. We’ve turned the faith into some sort of dull middle class club that meets on Sundays to sing awful, sentimental songs before we discuss how we’re going to make the world a better place. Hasn’t anybody figured out that you don’t need religion to do all that? If that’s all religion is, then to hell with it. (h/t to Flannery) Making religion into a milquetoast milestone once a week is foolishness in the extreme. The next generation will ask quite rightly. “Why bother to go to church?” Excellent question. The world does trendy music, uplifting self help sermons and do gooder activities much better and without all the getting up early on Sunday morning stuff.
Real Christianity is about a radical transformation from the ground level up. The real thing is strong wine–not water. The real thing is the greatest adventure. The  real thing requires enormous courage and unbelievable stamina. The real thing requires a total, extreme makeover.
I wonder how many of us are really ready for that.

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