Pope Francis, speaking at the World Youth Day in Rio De Janeiro, certainly afflicted the comfortable when he urged those in attendance to take their faith to the streets and make a mess in their churches.
“I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!” said the Pope. “I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!”
Then, speaking to a luncheon with more than 300 bishops in attendance, Pope Francis urged them to get out of their churches and seek out those who are hurting, who are hungry, who have been shunned by the church.
“We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel,” Francis said. ”Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the periphery (of where we live), with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church. They, too, are invited to the table of the Lord.”
A few weeks before this, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia did his own afflicting of the comfortable when he said,
“A new evangelization must start with the sober knowledge that much of the once-Christian developed world, and even many self-described Christians, are in fact pagan.”
Did he really say that many who think themselves Christians are really pagans? Yes, he did. And, from my standpoint, I would say he is right. Wikipedia tells us that “pagan” can be used to describe a person who is “sensual, materialistic, self-indulgent, unconcerned with the future and uninterested in sophisticated religion.” That describes much of the Christianity and many of the Christians I observe.
Archbishop Chaput continued,
“Christian faith is not a habit. It’s not a useful moral code. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a restlessness, a consuming fire in the heart to experience the love of Jesus Christ and then share it with others – or it’s nothing at all.”
If this causes you to feel afflicted, perhaps you have been too comfortable in your faith. I know I have been. Let’s take a closer look at his statement.
Christian faith is not a habit. What is a habit? It has been called a tendency or regular pattern of behavior that occurs automatically, without thinking. Is that what your faith has become? Has it become so automatic that you don’t even think of what you are doing, or who you are doing it for? Is faith for you something that is alive, or are you just going through motions? Habits can be deadly to real life.
Christian faith is not a useful moral code. We all want to be seen as good, moral people. Who would want to be known as evil and immoral? The Jews had a moral code that was as good as any. Then Jesus came and afflicted the comfortable. He raised the bar so high, no one could reach it. “You have heard it said don’t commit adultery. I tell you don’t even think lustful thoughts. And you’ve heard that you are not to murder. Well, I tell you not to even get angry with others.” Great. You want to be moral? Try to reach Jesus’ demands. Of course, Jesus knew what he was saying was impossible. He was guiding his listeners, like a shepherd, to the narrow gate that can only be entered by faith, not by moral goodness.
Christian faith is not an exercise in nostalgia. We all have memories that give us good feelings. There are songs that recall a milestone in our life that we return to again and again. These are not bad things in and of themselves. God himself calls us to remember what he has done in days of old. But we are not to live in our memories. We are not to reside in the past. “The way things have always been” is very harmful to a living faith.
Look at the rest of the archbishop’s statement. It’s a restlessness, a consuming fire in the heart to experience the love of Jesus Christ and then share it with others – or it’s nothing at all. Christianity a restlessness? Yes—a holy restlessness. C.S. Lewis referred to it as a one always looking for a better spot for a picnic. Christianity should create a hunger in us, a hunger that cannot be satisfied in this life. And true faith must include a consuming fire, for we are told our God is a Consuming Fire.
And if we are not sharing this Fire with others, then have we really embraced it ourselves? If we are not, as the pope has instructed Catholic youth to do, making messes of our churches and our neighborhoods and our worlds, have we been embraced by the Fire?
If our faith is simply moral goodness and memories of the past, if it does not move us to make a mess of our world, then it is a dead faith. So this is your assignment this week. Examine yourselves to see if your faith is causing you to be restless, to get outside of your church and make a mess. I look forward to hearing what you find in yourself.
Let us pray.