The difference between being the saint God is calling you to be and being a “nice Catholic person” is, in a word….risk.
I find myself thinking a lot lately about the witness of my parents. By the grace of God, all six of their kids, as members of the least religious generations in U.S. history, are practicing the faith and, even, have active and living relationships with God. In our parlance: disciples. Now a father of three myself, and realizing that kids just keep getting older (does that ever stop?), I catch myself wondering: how exactly did my parents do that?
Maggie and I were talking about it this morning, as we wrestle with some of the thousands of discernments and decisions, big and small, that confront a growing family as we try to follow Jesus (where will we live? do we buy a house? where should the kids go to school? how should we prioritize our time?) and I realized, while it’s hard to pin it on any one thing, my parents greatest testimony to the reality of the God they had encountered, their most profound witness to the veracity of their personal faith, which I think, confronted and perplexed their children to such an extent that we couldn’t help but be curious at some point about whether they were, in fact, right, was precisely their willingness to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel. To prioritize Christ, above all. Even and, perhaps, especially, when it didn’t make sense to others.
Both of my parents would testify to you personally about their brokenness. Neither are perfect, by any means, with every parenting strategy, decision, and critical conversation personally nailed.
But I remember friendships they left behind because they were no longer feeding their faith and family.
Homes and communities they moved from, in faith, just to follow the tug in their heart that said Christ had more.
Conversations, where I was certain I couldn’t go on that summer retreat because I had just won a starting spot on the football team, where my mom made it clear that she would rather have me quit football than not give God the time he deserved.
Career decisions that put God and family first, before money and personal fulfillment. Promotions, declined. In an age where everyone tries to find meaning first in their job, my dad’s brilliant and creative mind spent years pouring through spreadsheets and suffering through corporate climbing managers as a financial analyst for AT&T. My mom took her summa cum laude Notre Dame business degree, her MBA, and her incomparable work ethic and served for a decade as the secretary of a Catholic school.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be a “good Catholic family.” I just think, in the Church’s missional moment in which we live, lay people have to resist the temptation to conflate “blessed” with “blissed.” Practicality, prudence, responsibility…these are great things. But while to live a sort of polite religiosity might require that God never demand more of us than what polite American society expects, namely, that we prioritize degrees, salary numbers, and security above all, if we would be perfect, we can’t forget that it was Our Lord himself who once said, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Aslan is not a tame lion. He is good. But not even a little bit tame.
As Catholicism has “come of age” in America, we have been persistently tempted to baptize the prestige and honor offered by high society, the “highest places at the table,” as unequivocal goods. A poor Church, for the poor, might have done a better job of saving souls, though.
The apostolic Church baptized pagan Rome by a “confessedly wonderful and strikingly different form of life.” When our lives, as lay people, in the world, look like everyone else’s, when they contain no risk that proclaims, in action, “Our Lord is, and will always be, enough,” we lose the impact of our preaching.
God will certainly never begrudge our security. But, as I said above, the difference between the saints God is calling us to be, and just being “nice Catholic people”, is, inherently, risk. In the words of Mike McDermott in the movie Rounders, “You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle…but you can’t win much either.”
Ni nisi te, Domine.
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