Sunday, May 19, 2019

Feeling And Not Doing: A Sunday Rumination

     Imagine along with me, if you please, a history other than the one recorded for us. Jesus is born in Nazareth, labors alongside Joseph as a carpenter during his early years, then at age thirty becomes a preacher whose message is exactly the same as in the Gospels…but he never cures the sick, never restores the sight of the blind or the mobility of the lame, and never cleanses a leper. Moreover, he does not travel: he preaches from a fixed base, not far from where he lived his first thirty years. Nor does he journey to Jerusalem, attract the ire of the Sanhedrin, and suffer execution. He lives a comfortable life, and dies old and well respected for his preaching.

     Would that Jesus of Nazareth have transformed the world as did the historical Jesus?

     I can’t see it. The Christ of the Gospels lived His message. Whoever appealed to Him received whatever gift He could bestow. Even had He not suffered His Passion and demonstrated His divinity at the Resurrection, He would still be a standout among the figures of His day. Add the Resurrection and you have the Son of God made Man. (No need to shake well.)

     So when He said to His disciples:

     Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. [John 13:33-35]

     …He had something more than just an emotion in mind.

     A wholesome philosophy of any sort must exhibit (at the very least) the willingness to tolerate those of other creeds, as far as possible without accepting subjugation or suicide. A better creed would mandate not merely tolerance but benevolence: to wish others well regardless of their divergent views. Christianity goes still further. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus commands us to beneficence: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

     That’s love as He loved those who came to Him. It’s the foundation for the Christian encouragement of its communicants to the works of mercy:

  1. Corporal works of mercy (i.e., ministering to the body):
    • Feed the hungry.
    • Give drink to the thirsty.
    • Shelter the homeless.
    • Clothe the naked.
    • Visit the sick and imprisoned.
    • Bury the dead.
    • Give alms to the poor.
  2. Spiritual works of mercy (i.e., ministering to the soul):
    • Admonish the sinner.
    • Instruct the ignorant.
    • Counsel the doubtful.
    • Bear wrongs patiently.
    • Forgive offenses willingly.
    • Comfort the afflicted.
    • Pray for the living and the dead.

     Is there anyone who would not want to be the beneficiary of such beneficence should the need arise?

     Christ commanded us to do all the above, most explicitly, in several Gospel passages. Merely to feel a pleasant benevolence toward others is not enough. When a sincere Christian encounters someone who is in genuine need, he is required to do what he can for that person.

     Christian love of neighbor isn’t just something you feel.

     It’s possible to overstress this concept. We are not commanded to range far afield in search of persons upon whom to perform acts of charity. (We’re also not commanded to impose ourselves on persons who are handling their own difficulties and ask only to be left alone. Indeed, that’s forbidden.) But most of us will find, in our paths at various points in our lives, persons in genuine need of assistance whom we are equipped to help. A Christian is expected to do what he can in such circumstances.

     Note in the previous sentence the qualifying phrase what he can. The beneficent Christian is not expected to endanger himself or his family. He is not expected to endure abuse. And he is not expected to give what he does not possess. God is just.

     God asks only that should the opportunity arise, we validate our professions of love with the appropriate action.

     This is not to denigrate the extraordinary lives of service to others exemplified by such persons as Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These lives transformed into acts of charity were surely laudable. Yet a just God would not demand them of all of us. He designed our lives as He did because we are allowed to live as we please, subject only to our acceptance of the Two Great Commandments and the Ten that follow from them.

     Still, they who came to Him while He wore the flesh always found that His love was sufficient unto their needs, whatever those were. He did not merely commiserate with His supplicants; He acted. In this His year of 2019, as the Easter season progresses toward Ascension Thursday and the mighty feast of Pentecost, it’s something to bear in mind.

     May God bless and keep you all.


JWM said...

Thank you for this. Just want to say in passing: While I seldom drop a comment, your blog is in the top five on the daily read list. I appreciate the insight and the perspective. Have a great Sunday.


Linda Fox said...

It's so coincidental that you referenced the Works of Mercy. I was helping my granddaughter with a school project (Theology class), and I mentioned them. Despite 10 years of Catholic education, she'd never heard of them (she MAY have had some instruction on them - hard to imagine that she had not, but she remembered nothing). What the #$%^&*&$#@ are they teaching in Catholic schools?

This is BASIC Christian instruction!

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) Well, Linda, as you're aware, the Church is in a state that would charitably be described as "an uproar." Many things are in flux. Consider in this connection the announcement a few years back that there are "five non-negotiables" on which the Church will not bend. When one says that "these things that I have enumerated are not negotiable," what else is he saying?

Catholicism has been the most conservative branch of Christianity, in the exact sense of the word "conservative." Yet it does change. It has changed certain positions as the years have passed, and further changes are likely. (They're not guaranteed to be good changes, mind you, but that's beside the point.) With instability in doctrine comes instability in evangelization and instruction. Catholics can only hope that the veneer of chaos will soon dissolve to reveal a reassuring sense of order, that all has been well despite appearances and that stability will resume on a basis ore familiar to us than not.