Hmmm … a couple of weeks ago we were looking at a potential coup d’état in Russia, and this weekend (7/1) we’re witnessing all sorts of uprising and rioting in France—just as we’re coming up to Bastille Day on July 14, no less. Well, it IS summer, after all—the favored time for such things. But, in violation of Newton’s law, such action results in an opposite yet unequal reaction—oppression, violent quelling of riots, sometimes curfews and even martial law, depending upon the humanity and morality of governments involved, as well as the determination and resources of those rebelling. And within a few days of this writing, we Americans will recall the American Revolution, a time “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” (Declaration of Independence).
But these days many uprisings seem to emanate as tantrums when groups don’t get their way, or if others have differing opinions than themselves. We might just dismiss such if they were isolated, but with social media, like finds like, resulting in packs manifesting mob tantrums, often terrorizing those who express disagreement, not infrequently because the attackers may hold positions which hold little or no logical merit, but rather based upon emotion only—often expressing “toleration” all the while apparently unable to tolerate those with whom they disagree.
Now, sincere disagreement and debate is fine and even productive, of course, and in fact very necessary at times. One might think of this weekend’s Gospel cited in the Catholic Mass in which Jesus states something likely astonishing to his listeners: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me …” (Matthew 10:37-) Some in his audience likely thought: “Who does he think he is?!”
But Jesus was speaking of the emotional and physical challenge of being His disciple and following that which is truly good, often against the dictate of culture, or society or even tradition.
Even a moral of the Adam and Eve story gives a glimpse of the eternal struggle between good and evil, the spirit and the flesh, obedience to God and rebellion. As St. Paul warns: “…the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other…” (Galatians 5:17) … the Spirit leading to charity, obedience and virtue … the desires of the flesh leading to selfishness, disobedience and vice, or “sin”.
Now the idea of “sin” is ridiculed in today’s culture, considered outdated and prudish; it certainly was not, however by Jesus or the apostles, who referred to it often. “Sin” is essentially a purposeful departure from the will and teaching of God, and therefore from the absolute Good, its gravity depending upon the nature and circumstances of that departure.
But we not infrequently hear: “The guilt that you Catholics/Christians elicit in people by warning about sin is not healthy!” But it is not the guilt that is unhealthy; it is the sin which is unhealthy … and destructive. Guilt and shame are simply goads of conscience calling us back from doing wrong. Guilt and shame should not be rejected, but heard and heeded, for they often tell us that we’re on the wrong track. Depart from wrongdoing—depart from sin —and guilt and shame vanish.
But, of course, this requires self-discipline. Self-control. Self-mastery. And more and more in our world we just don’t like that as our culture draws further away from the ways of God and His commandments … just as Jesus said it would, by the way.
But as St. Paul assures us in that passage often quoted here: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) What is that “way of escape”? Getting up from the computer when tempted to click on porn. Opting out of the lunch “meeting” with that attractive co-worker. Killing the sin before it grows. And, as God gives grace for self-control, those faithful to the good can joyously proclaim the words of that poem Invictus:
I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul.
Finally, concerning the quote above, the Christian—or any person dedicated to good—is called to conquer his fear of being disliked or challenged, even by family members, taking rather a stand with the Good. This is a primary message of that Gospel today: “Whoever loves father or mother…son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” It is spiritually suicidal to let even our closest earthly relationships get between us and God … between us and doing what is right. And, yes, rejection is a real possibility, but do we love the gift, or rather the giver, more? Goodness and truth are not dependent upon how many adhere to it.
And so our choice becomes: Love God and neighbor, though it may risk your relationship … or don’t love God or the other enough to warn him of danger. Otherwise, we sacrifice fidelity to the god of “getting along”.
So let us take courage and rebel against the false refuge of complacency and minimization. Yes, we lament the loss of someone’s love and affection, but remember that one of the spiritual works of mercy is “admonishing the sinner”—kindly, patiently, tactfully, and always lovingly. And yet remember to remove the beam from our own eye first to help your neighbor; else, you will simply be seen as a rank hypocrite, and virtue disdained. But God is with those who seek the good and you will be doing nothing wrong, but rather exercising the same charity—the same true love—as the prophets, as John the Baptist, as the apostles, and as Jesus Himself. Not bad company to have!
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.