About Jesus Hardly At All

Christ Pantocrator, detail of the Deesis mosaic

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Sherry at Intentional Disciples has an observation about intra-Catholic squabbles that touches on a theme I looked at earlier (Political Economy and the Church).  Sherry quotes Sara S “a very thoughtful young Catholic of less than a year from a “none” background.” In a comment on Mark Shea blog (Catholic and Loving It) Sara says that she wishes that Catholics “could stop referring to our experiences of 40 years ago when the crisis is with people who weren’t born when older Catholics were cutting and pasting for Jesus.” Sara goes on to criticize “old hippies” and “angry young men” and the tendency of each to blame the other for all the ills in the Church.  And then she says something that needs to be said to Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike:

I wish I could explain how disillusioning and ridiculous it all looks from the outside, and how much of it makes literally no sense to someone like me who doesn’t already have years of exposure to this stuff.   If you can “evangelize” more effectively–or put up a more heartfelt defense– about some bit of Church culture or liturgical issue or controversial teaching– than you can about the Kingdom of God–what is someone from the outside supposed to think is more important to you.

If Sara approached a typical Orthodox parish I wonder if she’d come away thinking that (like her Catholic friends) if she would think we too were just “nice folks” who loved music but who seemed (in our case) who could give a heartfelt defense about Church (or ethnic) culture but had little to say about the Kingdom of God.

And while we might invite her with greater or less grace to join the Church, we would probably do so in a way that neglected to invite her to enter the Kingdom of God.  Yes, I know we enter the Kingdom of God when we take part in the sacraments—but how many of us actually know this much less believe it?  As one priest friend of mine put it the problem is this:  “Here we talk a lot about the St X; somewhat less about Orthodoxy; but about Jesus? Hardly at all.”

Sara continues in a way that makes me wish she was in any of the parishes I’ve served over the years.

I love to evangelize and I don’t find it hard– to me it is just about, … , living with my faith on my sleeve. There are a lot of “nothings” out there, like I was, who are so deeply moved by people who live joyful, counter-cultural lives and aren’t afraid to say that they are motivated by a deep love of Jesus and a desire to follow Him.

Several months ago I was asked to write something that would help the Orthodox Church reach the fasting growing religious demographic in America, the “nothings,” the young men and women who, like Sara who aren’t only not Christian (much less Orthodox) but who have no religious affiliation at all.  Nothing I could write would match this young woman’s words:

The 20 somethings I talk to, who have abandoned the religion of their childhood if they ever had one at all, might *think* that they are dead-set against the Church because of its teachings (so did I, 5 or 6 years ago)– and if I were to approach them with Church teachings I would have some very short conversations.  But I find that I can talk with these same people just by talking about my own life– about Scripture, about saints, about how faith informs my choices every day– just give them enough to start feeling hungry. I trust that the Holy Spirit will do the rest when they get to the point that they are worried about controversial teachings.

My friend Fr Christian Mathias makes an observation about Sara’s experiences that are as applicable to Orthodox as to Catholics.

Sara’s description is exactly what I have seen in many parishes where I have served. …How often are we as Catholics more than willing to simply push our own agendas so that the things that we like the most might become more prevalent in the Church? How many times to we fall prey to the false belief that we can somehow control how others act, simply by arguing our own position more eloquently than another? I honestly believe that all these different “camps” that continue to spring up within our Church do violence to others rather than calling them to relationship with Christ.

Father continues “that if we are to truly be a Church centered in Christ, we must abandon these internal divisions among us and try to understand the strengths found in each person God has called to be in His Church.”  From my conversation with him, I can attest that he doesn’t “suggest this path as simply a pious platitude. It is difficult to live as a disciple of Christ and we as Christians will undoubtedly have disagreements with one another.”  But what is “key, I think, is how we approach those disagreements.”  We must disagree in words and tones and deeds that show “mutual Christian respect and charity.”

Sherry points that the challenge facing the Catholic Church is I think the same one facing the Orthodox Church.  Both communities are struggling for reasons that go “so far beyond a failure to catechize. We are two generations past that. We are on the edge of a demographic precipice that is going to make the post Vatican II [or for the OCA, the post-autocephaly] fall-off look like a golden age. We are going to have to (gasp) GO OUT and make disciples.

The reason this is important is because in “our culture, religious identity is not longer inherited, it is chosen. And reconsidering the religious identity of your childhood has become a rite of passage for young adults. So we have to evangelize when they are children and we’ll probably have to do it again when they are young adults. ”

The more I follow the online discussions about the Orthodox Church, the more I follow the debates and disagreements in the Church about administrative unity, or the concerns expressed about the moral or personal or administrative or leadership failings of the bishops or the clergy, the more I become convinced that whatever might be the truth of these concerns, ALL of this is simply a distraction.

No, it’s more than that.  It’s a justification, an excuse, for not helping each other and those outside the Church fall in love with Jesus Christ.  How easy it is to talk about everything, but about Jesus hardly at all.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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  • David B

    Ooooh, I like this gal.

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    • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

      David,

      Yeah, I got a brief email from Sara saying thank you. She’s sounds pretty neat! I wonder if she’d like to meet my any of my good Catholic family members? :)

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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      • Sherry Weddell

        Fr. G:

        Just FYI, Sara is married – alas, and the mother of three. She started young . . . .

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  • Michael Bauman

    Remember our first love? I’m in the Church because of Jesus Christ. That’s the reason.

    My 24 year old son recently brought a friend of his (age 20) to worship. Talking with him afterwards he said that he came with my son because my son had just talked about the effect the Church had on his daily life (much like Sarah). After a lot of short talks and at least one long one, my son invited his friend. It was the first Christian worship experience the young man had ever had. (Although he is native-American and has quite a bit of experience with that).

    Share the faith, not the theology. Tradition the faith, not teach it.

    That’s what I get anyway. Making disciples is about being one first.

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    • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

      Michael,

      Thank you, as always! for your observations here!

      “Tradition the faith, not teach it” is the way to go. Yes, the theology and the history are all important, central actually. But central though they are they are still secondary to the faith–to the trust we place in Jesus Christ. I make no secret of my concern that we have become so concerned about answering Evangelical challenges to the essential role of the Church that we sometime neglect to preach Jesus. We are saved by Jesus through the Church which is His Body. But, the Church is the Body of Christ and not (as it seem to be for some) an end in itself.

      Kudos to your son! And how’s his friend?

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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      • Michael Bauman

        My son’s friend has come twice. He is a young man in search mode for sure. We’ll see what develops by God’s grace.

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  • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your comment!

    I told people on Sunday that part of being a steward in the Church is using our talents and gifts to introduce people to Jesus. We are “matchmakers” called to help people fall in love with Jesus.

    Again, this isn’t to deny the essential role of the Church in our salvation–God forbid!–but essential though it is, it can’t overshadow Christ and His love for each and everyone of us.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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    • Jeff B.

      Fr.G.,
      Ahhhh…..”matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…” :-) It strikes me that our matchmaking must be made from the position of our own love, and awareness of that love, for Jesus. I see so many “Christians” who seem to know nothing of that Love. I have, at times, even been one of them myself.

      I’m reminded of St. Francis of Assisi saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”. One of those simple, but often far from easy tasks.

      In Christ,
      Jeff

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