IT IS NECESSARY

Author: Fr. Michael Byron
May 19, 2019

I am often aware that I live one of the most easy Catholic lives of anybody that I know.  And the reason is simple: I spend almost all day, every day, being among people who are, more or less, just like me.  They are people who take faith in God for granted.  They are people who simply presume that things like compassion, solidarity, kindness, generosity and forgiveness are just things that real human beings are required to do: It is rare that I am made to be with people who don’t accept those things as a baseline for what it means to be a competent, decent person.  But that’s not where most people live.  In that sense, I am privileged—and isolated.

I remember when I moved from my Catholic grade school to my public middle school when I was about 13 years old.  Through my first 6 grades I was made to learn (from the nuns) that compassion and mercy were basic expectations of living together with other people.  Then I discovered in my new environment that this was not necessarily to be presumed.  I learned that being mean and self-centered and rude and abusive were actually things that some of my peers believed were acceptable, presumably because their parents also thought so.  It was life-changing.  I remember when I was in 7th grade a couple of boys at school stole the watch that I kept in my locker.  They wanted me to pay a ransom in order for them to give it back.  What?!

I went to the school counselor to report all this, and he actually sat these boys down with me in an attempt to have a conversation about it.  At the time I was too young and stupid simply to say, “No!  I get the watch back!”  It’s probably not an accident that I recall this after 45 years.

But it all goes to the heart of today’s 1st reading from the earliest church, which finds the apostles Paul and Barnabas preaching to the new Christians that “it is necessary to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”

That’s quite a bit stronger language than merely to say that the gospel requires some self-discipline and some humility on our own part.  No, it implies that there is often the need to confront bad behavior on the part of ignorant or malevolent people and to say out loud, “No, you don’t get to do that.”  The gospel requires us, at least every so often, to name that which is wrong, and sinful, and evil, and selfish, and greedy, and awful—and to say that to individuals and to groups and clubs and politicians who may have no sense of what it means to be otherwise.  No you don’t get to steal my watch and then to have a sober conversation with me about what conditions should result in its return.  And if the middle school counselor won’t call that out, I will. 

The reading today does not tell us that it is possible or that it is risky that we may undergo hardships in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  No, it says that it is necessary in the job description of any disciple…as it was for Jesus.  To say it another way, if our commitment to Christ does not ever bring us into conflict with people and values that promote something else, we are probably in need of re-evaluating our way of being in those situations. 

The purpose of the gospel, of course, is not conflict.  But the purpose is to proclaim a way of being together that is quite distinct from the brute forces of bullying and lying and cheating and exploiting and money-making that can be so much a part of what a lot of us confront every day.  As I say, I don’t confront it all the time because I’m usually at church and among churchy people.  This is primarily your job, and it’s not an easy one.  You are the ones who have to take this outside.

“It is necessary,” says our Sacred Scriptures, “to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”  So if your experience of the Christian life is devoid of hardships, it might be very useful to ask why that is.

Do I let greed and the pursuit of money coexist with my professed faith?
Do I let the poor not be of a concern in my prayer?
Do I align myself with causes that oppress aliens and strangers?
Do I allow myself to be satisfied while others struggle to survive?
Do my profession of religion and my status in life co-exist a little too easily?

It is necessary, we are taught.  It is necessary.
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