Church Goer vs. Jesus Follower

Dear Friends in Christ,

We have now begun our Lenten journey. As I have mentioned before, this pandemic is a crisis in the true sense of the word. Our English word is derived from the Greek and means “to choose, decide or judge”. COVID-19, whether we like it or not, is forcing us to make tough and revealing decisions. For a year now, we have been making decisions and judgements. We have been making choices in our words, actions and attitudes. This time of crisis – choice, judgement and decision – has not only impacted our daily lives, it has also been a time of decision for our faith lives and our relationship to the Lord and to his Church. While we may not always think of Lent in these terms, Lent is in a sense a time of crisis, a time of choosing, deciding and judging. The bottom-line choice for us this Lent and every Lent is: do we choose God and His ways or do we choose ourselves and our own paths?

The Church is not neutral on the matter. On Ash Wednesday, the Church makes known how we should chose and what we should decide. With the imposition of ashes, we hear the words REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL! And even stronger and more ominously, we are warned, REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN! Choices and decisions have consequences.

On my desk in my office, I keep a pad of scratch paper where I jot down things. It can be random thoughts, little reminders of tasks I have to do, or something that I have read and want to think about later. I was reviewing my list and noticed that I wrote “Church Goer vs. Jesus Follower.” Ideally, we all should be and can be both. I am convinced that if we truly follow Jesus, then we see the necessity and importance and experience the joy of being part of His Body, the Church. Unfortunately, I think there are those times where we erroneously pit one against the other. We go to church and fail to follow Jesus in our lives outside of Sunday. This is where we go to Mass and then cheat on our taxes or the “I am Catholic and pro-choice” argument or we go to church and then give bad example to our co-workers. As the late Fr. Reginald Foster, OCD, Chief Latinist for the Vatican for 40 years, would tell his students, “non tenent aquam.” (It doesn’t hold water!). The opposite side is when we excuse ourselves from our responsibilities and duties as members of the Church by invoking Jesus or some kind of pseudo-superior position. This is the lame “I am spiritual but not religious” canard. To have Jesus as our head is to choose to live as a member of His Body, the Church, and to live as a member of the Church is to have Jesus as our head.

This Lent is crisis time. It is a time of choice. It is a time to judge. It is a time to decide. How do I want to live? Do I want to follow my own desires or do I want to follow God’s will for me? How do I want my family to live? By trying to figure out whatever might give them temporary or passing pleasure or knowing true happiness and joy in God? There are lots of choices out there that promise lots of incredible things (Buy this tooth paste and have whiter teeth, a brighter smile, fresher breath, more friends and phenomenal success in business! Buy this gizmo and lose 30 lbs. and watch all your hair grow back! Guaranteed or your money back!). Every choice has a consequence in this life and in the life to come. May we say like Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Josh 24:15) Choosing to follow God’s plan for our lives is not allows easy, but it always leads us to the right place. Following Jesus requires that we reject sin and all of the allurements of the devil. That is not very popular. To follow Jesus is to be different than the world. If we find ourselves in perfect lockstep with the world, we are probably not following Jesus and His Church. To be a faithful Catholic in today’s world is to willingly subject ourselves to ridicule, derision and every sort of accusation. Many will not understand or respect our choice to follow God. Being a faithful Catholic, living as faithful Christians, embracing the values of the gospel without compromise is becoming less tolerated every day in our society that so much esteems tolerance. So be it. Christianity is not a popularity contest. It is a choice, a decision.

I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you.  Dt 30:19-20.

Have a holy Lent!

In pace Christi,
Fr. Troy