Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Here's the problem.

On the left, we have "Christianity Lite" which wants to water down the sacraments and the requirements of Christianity to some sort of New Agey validation ceremony. This is plainly stupid, on the face and in substance. Christ himself laid down some pretty clear requirements, challenging ones, to every person in the Gospels who approached him seeking salvation.

On the right, we have the Law and Order folks, the armchair canon lawyers, and the modern pharisees--what Mark Shea calls the "Lidless Eye" folks. They want to reduce Christianity to rules, almost a self-executing computer program that requires little to no user interface. It just happens. This is also plainly stupid. Christ made short work of pharisees on many occasions.

There are those who would welcome almost any wanderer without ever bothering to challenge that person, and those who would lay obstacle after obstacle in front of sincere but misguided people, showing them the door more easily than the Way. We have a Magisterium that defines rules and requirements and pastors who ignore them. A laity that wants accountability but will not be held accountable.

Christ did not tell Mary Magdalene to keep on hooking, or the rich man to stay rich. He also did not tell the pharisees to keep on writing ever tinier distinctions into the law, nor did he tell the lawbreakers they were off the hook. If he had a bias towards any group, it was to those hapless souls who tried muddling through as best they knew how. The tax collectors and prostitutes, the lepers and beggars. Roman soldiers and Samaritans. The people who had neither the advantage of the phariseic education nor the self-indulgence of the leisured classes. The foreigners and sinners who approached him mindful of their own failings and flaws.

These are not the people history would record as Virtuous, but that is who they were. They might not have been the wisest people of their day, but they used the wisdom they had. There may have been more fearless people, but such courage as they did possess was given to living courageously. Humility they seem to have had, and charity. Faith, plainly.

The rules really do, truly matter. Accepting people as they are, really does matter. But what matters most is navigating the course between these two poles. Accepting people as they are must also mean helping them become what they can be. Following the rules must also mean following the ones that have no algebraic solution. The examples Christ chose for us in his lifetime are those who embodied some virtue or virtues. In the present age, we are given to insisting on binary choices, one or the other. But virtue defies binary logic, requiring a synthesis of virtue even to consider virtue itself. How can one distinguish between Prudence and Cowardice without Wisdom?

Stop it. Stop it now. While we turn Christ's pilgrim church on earth into a scantron test, the physically and spiritually hungry are starving on our doorstep. We are to be fishers of men, but while we argue over which fish to throw back, the rest rot in the nets.


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