Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Sunday, February 19, 2006

mistaken identity

It can easily happen that a person loses his Christian faith as a result of forcing himself to try to accept a view of the Church, or of God, or of life in Christ, which is so distorted that it is practically false. Yet he may be under the impression that this view of the Church is the right one, since it appears to be the view actually held by most of the Christians with whom he associates. In such cases, the effort to cling to a deficient and imperfect concept of Christianity not only does no good, but actually contributes more quickly and effectively to loss of faith. What is necessary in such a situation is not force, not self-castigation and confused efforts to conform to second-rate Christians, so much as a clarification of the real issue and a restoration of true perspectives.

- Thomas Merton Life and Holiness

Whether or not we ever have a crisis of faith, and whether or not the crisis causes us to lose our faith, we all have distorted concepts about God and about the church. We can't help it; as human beings we each have a limited perspective.

Merton goes on to say:
...we may also have to confront in our lives inadequate ideas of God and the Church. Indeed, we may have to grapple with actual abuses in the life of Christians, in a so-called Christian society, and even in the Church herself.

Indeed, the concept of a "Christian society" is one that needs to be clarified today. Certainly the affluent, secularized society of modern Europe and America has ceased to be genuinely Christian. Yet in this society Christians tend to cling to vestiges of their own tradition which still survive, and because of these vestiges they believe that they are still living in a Christian world. Without a doubt the pragmatism and secularism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have entered deeply into the thought and spirit of the average Christian. On the other hand, the violent defensive reaction of the Church in the nineteenth century against the French Revolution and its consequences has left a spirit of rigidity and even a certain fear of new developments. This difficult situation results in many conflicts and apparent contradictions in Catholic life.

... and in Protestant life. None of us are immune from the distorting filter of human nature. In a nation where Christianity has been the dominant religion for centuries, the distortions are even thicker as societal mores become intertwined with church teaching to the point that we forget (if we ever knew) which is which. And there can be no doubt that many political leaders have encouraged the church not to take its role and its message seriously.

But regardless of the state's level of interference with church activity, the fact remains that the church is made up of human beings, fallible people each with a distorted image of God. Should we merely accept this as the best we can expect? Merton didn't think so. If nothing else, we can use this reality as an incentive to look within ourselves, to examine our own distorted pictures. That, of course, is not easy.
Some Christians are not even able to face this task directly: they can never fully admit it to themselves. But they cannot escape the anguish which wrings their heart. Perhaps they do not know the source of the anguish, but it is there. Others are able to admit to themselves that they see what they see: but it becomes a serious scandal to them. They rebel against the situation, they condemn the Church, and they even try to find the means to break away from it. They do not realize that they have now come close to the real meaning of their Christian vocation, and that they are now in a position to make the sacrifice that is demanded of adult Christian men and women: the realistic acceptance of imperfection and of deficiency in themselves, in others, and in their most cherished institutions.

Honestly, I wish Merton had stopped there. That much I can do, without much difficulty. But he continues:
They must face the truth of these imperfections, in order to see that the Church does not merely exist to do everything for them, to create a haven of peace and security for them, to sanctify them passively. On the contrary, it is now time for them to give to their community from their own heart's blood and to participate actively and generously in all its struggles. It is time to sacrifice themselves for others who may no longer seem to be very worthy.

Merton seems to be asking a lot. Yet, Jesus sacrificed himself for us who were not worthy. All Merton is asking is that we follow Christ's example. After all, isn't that what the name Christian means?


At 2/22/2006 12:19 PM, Blogger HeyJules said...

I do love Merton and I did love reading this post.

Great points made. Thank you.

At 2/22/2006 9:44 PM, Blogger Luthsem said...

whoah- I need to pick up Merton again.

At 2/26/2006 5:37 AM, Anonymous Lorna said...

Great stuff :)



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home