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Relationship — Not Rules

In Christianity on April 3, 2020 at 9:10 pm

In the COVID-19 crisis or just the “ordinary” challenges of everyday life, is there any point in turning to the Church? The only sensible answer is:

That depends on whether what the Church says is true of not.

If the Church is only a matter of rules and regulations, then forget it. Many have. If it is no more than a religious social club, then an athletic club would do us more good. If the Church is no more than a badly run organization providing social services, then others do that. Is there anything unique or worthwhile about the Church?


If the Church exists based on an accurate account of Jesus Christ, Who actually lived in the same stream of history we do and did what He is reported to have done, then there is a good bit that is unique and worth our attention.

Jefferson Was Wrong
“It’s all fairy tales. No one believes that miracle stuff any more.” This attitude is not new. For centuries, people have worked to downplay and even remove the miraculous from Christianity. Thomas Jefferson edited his Bible, doing a cut-and-paste job long before computers made that task easier. He sought to eliminate the supernatural and limit Christ to moral teachings.

The Church is Supernatural
“Supernatural” is not a smokescreen the Church hides behind when the Bible talks about “the mystery of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:9). A mystery is something that can be experienced, even if it cannot be explained.³

Think of love. We know it exists. Most of us have experienced it. But can all the dimensions of love be explained? Or think of light waves. Light exists. We know it is real. Yet there are light waves beyond the visible spectrum, beyond the range of light waves we see — for example, infrared and ultraviolet. Anyone who has ever gotten into a closed car heated by the sun, or who has had a bad sunburn, has experienced the invisible-but-real.

We sense what mystery is every day, when we feel that we seem to be made for more than we are.¹ We’re right about that. What’s more, if you take away the miracles, the Virgin Birth, healings, and Resurrection, then faith becomes dull and uninteresting — and more important, without power. The reality of God breaking into history, walking this earth, dying, and rising from the dead is the basis for all faith (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Credo ut Intellegam
Credo ut Intellegam,” St. Augustine wrote. “Believe, so that you may understand.”

This does not mean the uncritical acceptance of every crackpot idea that comes along. Rather, the belief Augustine had in mind is to accept the historical narrative of Jesus Christ — including the miracles because they are part of the narrative — then test it by application to our own lives.

How do we test it? We test the historical account of Christ through relationship, by entering into a relationship with Him. As the first Scripture reading of Good Friday says, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3, ESV translation).

G.K. Chesterton said:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” ²

To accurately say anything about Christianity other than, “I guess I never really tried,” we must open our lives to Jesus Christ. We must enter into a relationship. If we stop with only the rules, regulations, or ritual, we have stopped short of relationship.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.³  (Matthew 11:28)



¹ The Order of Things, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), page 19.

² G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (1910), chapter 1, section 5.

³ Longenecker, Dwight. Letters on Liturgy (Kindle Locations 554-555). Kindle Edition.

Be Simple, Be Bold

In Christianity on March 31, 2020 at 3:40 pm


Healing is what we seek today, as COVID-19 ravages societies around the world. Thinking of “societies” rather than “countries” reminds us the virus’ most dramatic impact is on people, not just economic systems. We don’t live in GDPs, or Dow Jones averages, or currency exchanges. We live as people, among people, in societies.

No Coffee, No Concerts
The barista who greeted us every morning when we stopped for coffee is gone; the coffee shop shut. Coworkers at our office, factory, or school are in lockdown at home. The server who always recognized us, and cared for us so wonderfully at our favorite restaurant, is furloughed, maybe never to return. Doctors and dentists no longer see patients. Concert halls, theaters, and most heartbreaking of all, churches are shuttered. Where is God now when we need Him most? Has He turned His back on us, on our societies?

No Christ?
“I am with you always,” He says (Matthew 28:20). Thanks be to God, our pulpits are not silent and our priests offer Mass daily. One Mass is more powerful than all the stimulus programs in the world; more powerful even — without exaggeration — than a nuclear bomb. How? Because in the Mass, our world, our societies, our own lives, are visited by God.

The Unbounded breaks into the boundaries of earth. The Timeless breaks into time. The Eternal Other makes Himself present, comes to us, accompanies us through the dark valley.

It is no coincidence then, that the Gospel reading for the Mass two Sundays before Easter recounts Christ restoring Lazarus to life, healing his sickness, and restoring him to his family. Lazarus’ return to life foreshadows Christ’s rising from the dead on Easter morning.

Is God Indifferent?
In the Lazarus account, a touching lesson lesson for the present is offered to each of us. Fr. Sergio Muñoz Fita points out that despite Lazarus’ death, and despite Christ delaying His departure to visit Lazarus and his sisters, and even despite the apparent failure of Christ’s promise Lazarus would not die, the Son of God was not indifferent. He was not uncaring. He was not distant. As St. Augustine said: “Deus interior intimo meo.” God is closer to us than our own intimacy.

These sisters knew that Jesus loved their brother. They didn’t doubt His love even in terrible circumstances. The message they send to Jesus [“the one you love is ill,” John 11:3] is a supplication, a prayer that they throw as if it were a dart to the Heart of Jesus. “Lord, you love our brother . . . and our brother needs you now.”

Love and intimacy with Christ make them bold. It is a request like that of Mary at Cana: “They have no wine” [John 2:3]. These are people who trust the Lord and know how good Jesus is.  They don’t ask, they just express their need, in the hope that Jesus will help them as soon as he knows what their situation is.

No Fear!
This is the lesson for us: simplicity, boldness. As Catholic Christians we have many aids to faith — prayers, sacramentals, summaries of our beliefs in creeds and catechisms. Yet during this time when we are deprived of our chief aid, Christ in the Eucharist, He still is near. As Paul said to the intellectuals of Athens, “He is not far from any of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28).

Pray where it hurts. Pray about what hurts. Take your cares to God, just as Lazarus’ sisters and Our Lord’s own mother did. Be simple, be bold. Be not afraid. Believe — but not in belief itself, as if to say, “Oh, if I just have faith, everything will be OK. We will come through this.”

No! “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you and your household will be saved” (Acts 16:31).