Friday, March 14, 2008

Jesus' disciples: humble,odd, and patient

Last evening the Church in Utah gathered for our annual Chrism Mass. We celebrate this joyous event the week prior to Holy Week because of the large size of our diocese, which, geographically, is the largest in the continental United States. Therefore, it was particularly providential this morning to read the thirteenth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel and Hauerwas' commentary on all the parables in this dense collection of our Lord's teachings, which amount to many reflections on discipleship and the church.

About three weeks ago The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey was released. In its wake there has been much hand-wringing. Just prior to drifting off into that little death we call sleep last evening, I read in the current issue of Commonweal, one of the best Catholic publications going, an editorial entitled The Missing, which is indicative of the response within the church to the Pew survey. The editorial concludes with this exhortation: "Yes, many Catholics have drifted from the church, and those who remain are often polarized. Yet no Catholic can take satisfaction in learning that the church has lost a third of its members. The church in America must give a better account of the hope that is in us".

It was helpful to be reminded that size, status, wealth, etc., are not what really what matter at the end-of-the-day. What matters is faithfulness to the Master, to Jesus Christ. "The gospel," Hauerwas observes, "is dangerous" (Matthew 129). Therefore, "[t]here is a kind of madness commensurate with being a disciple of Jesus" (133). "Too often those who propose strategies to recover the lost status and/or membership of the church do so hoping that people can be attracted to become members of the church without facing the demands of being a disciple of Jesus" (129). These strategies revolve around telling people what they are missing by not being members, what benefits to their lives, their prosperity, their relationships they would accrue by joining or returning to the church. Far from the madness commensurate with being Jesus' disciple, all of the above mentioned strategies are exercises in rationality, of calculation, determined by some kind of cost/benefit analysis. The idea being that in order to join or return to the church the benefits must outweigh the costs by a significant margin. Well, the cost of discipleship is steep. Jesus asks us for nothing less than everything we own and everything we are, for our whole lives poured out as an oblation in service (diakonia) to others. Christianity is not at all about what we get out of it. Jesus tells the disciples: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10,37-39). So, the question is one of trust, of letting go, of following Jesus.

Let's use the last sentence of that passage as our evangelization theme and put it on billboards next to some of the church advertising billboards I've seen, like Go beyond religion. Beyond religion for me would mean staying up really late Saturday and sleeping really late on Sunday, making a great pot o' coffee, reading the Sunday NY Times, and going for a hike, topped off by watching a movie, or, better yet, a film. I prefer religion, I love worship, I love Mass, I can't love without Sunday, I digress . . . Following Jesus will not make you better looking, richer, or even a whole lot happier, if we use the world's definition of happiness. Neither will it make you smarter, help you get a promtion, or make it easier to write your master's thesis, even if it is in theology. It will help you become who God made you to be, but first you must die to yourself, then you must really, physically, die. Jesus, I trust in you.

Sentimentality is the enemy of Christian discipleship. Nonetheless, it is the "[t]he task of the church is to be uncompromisingly patient" (134).


  1. Chrism Mass is cool. It means that anytime a baby is baptized or an someone receives the anointing of the sick, they are anointed with oil blessed by the bishop. Confirmation is the sacrament of maturity because it makes us aware that we belong to a larger, universal Church through the hands of the bishop (or his representative)...

  2. Like you, dear friend, I love it all! I was confirmed by a mendicant Dominican myself.


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