Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Who wants to be saved?

The evangelization of Europe and from Europe across the world fulfilled the Lord's word of Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the world.  It is a tremendous story.  Though some of the conversions could have been less than voluntary, these abuses do not detract from the reality of a world in search of hope and meaning and redemption.  In the confident story of Christ crucified and risen, the Church led a people ripe for conversion to know their eternal destiny in the hands of a loving God whose mercy is revealed in the Word made flesh.

So what happened?  Why do we work so hard today and find such different results?  Where is the Church on fire at Pentecost and the thousands who from a single sermon wanted to know what they must do to be saved?  Is the Gospel no longer a power and force to touch the hearts of sinful men?  These are the haunting questions that lie under the good hearts of those who serve in parishes and missions, the front lines of evangelization today.

But we would do well to remember that the soil is different.  In a world where death was always near, where grief was part of everyday life, where disease claimed young and old, where life was a struggle, where hope was in short supply, and where people felt powerless in the face of forces greater than themselves, the Gospel was the answer to the question everyone faced.  Now, though we live with all the same circumstances, we no longer yearn for answers.  We have made our peace with death, we celebrate life with a good story rather than mourn, we turn to medical technology more to relieve pain than heal ills, we invent hope when we need it, we have confidence in our technology to supply our entertainment, we expect happiness, and we are inebriated with a sense of entitlement.  The Gospel is nice enough but hardly needed to live a rich, full, and happy life on our terms.

It is not the Gospel that has changed but we have changed.  The soil is different today, to use our Lord's own imagery.  We are rocky and hard and the seed of God's Word does not make it into our hearts either to convict us with respect to sin or save us with mercy.  We no longer think we need God or anyone.  We have come to believe we are complete and whole on our own.  We have a take it or leave it attitude toward our faults, failings, and foibles as well as our virtues.  We no longer accept the idea of any truth true for all time, for all places, and for all people.  Everything, including truth, has become captive to the power of preference.

We raise our children to believe that they are wonderful, they can do whatever they want, that they can trust the desires of their hearts as the surest voice of wisdom, and that if things go wrong it is not their fault.  And guess what?  They listened.  Not just the current generation but going back years and years the children grew into adults with a sense of entitlement but without a great sense of responsibility, with a demand for privilege without a willingness to work for it, with an expectation of freedom but without a desire to earn it.  It shows everywhere -- even to the point where when individuals exhibit the ordinary virtues it becomes newsworthy and a YouTube sensation.  So of course it shows up in religion or the lack of it.

There was a time when it was nearly a universal desire to be saved.  If you asked who wanted to be saved, almost every hand in the room went up.  Today we no longer want to be saved because we are not sure being saved is needed, all that important, or even all that great.  Today God is not the giver of perfect freedom but a fence trying to box in our freedom to be what we want, who we want, and to have all of it accepted and approved.  So when Jesus insists the Son will set you free, we respond like the Jews of old, "Who needs that freedom?  We are not in bondage to anyone."  And they are correct.  The life we live today is not captive to anything -- not to restraint, not to morality, not to history, and not to truth.  And where has it gotten us?  We are fine on the outside but inside we are weak, vulnerable, fearful, gripped by angst, and so worried about the future that we think it unwise to bring children into it.  This hard shell is what the Lord has to crack before the Gospel makes its home in us.  But the Church dare not despair.  God is at work.  His Word will not return empty.  He will accomplish the purpose for which He sends it.  It is only ours to speak that Word in witness and hold to the doctrine once delivered to the saints.  The rest is God's to do -- as it always has been.

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