Immersed in Christ: Thursday after Pentecost: May 27, 2021
Christ in You, The Hope of Glory!
I was preaching a mission on St. Paul — in St. Paul parish. And the pieces just keep falling into place.
The Good News: Paul puts it into three words: “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27).
Christianity: Paul describes it in four words: “Faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
In these two lines Paul gives us everything we need to keep the “Year of Faith” on course. This year was conceived as “the New Evangelization.” But there is danger it might be tragically stillborn. What may emerge instead is another review of “orthodox” Catholic doctrine, with a myopic focus on “fidelity to the magisterium.” This insistence on “myopia over mystery” is what has kept Catholics from being evangelized in the first place.
Paul sets us right. He summed up his whole mission in one line: it was to preach “the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” His message was this mystery. That is the Good News.
So if anyone asks, “What do Catholics believe?” we should answer, “We believe in Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Everything else is explanation.
And if anyone asks, “What do Catholics do?” the answer is, “Our religion cannot be explained that way. Our religion is faith working through love.” The minute you try to spell it out in rules and obligations, you have denied the faith.
Does that sound extreme? Paul sounds worse. Writing to those who felt it was an obligation to keep a fundamental law of the Covenant, circumcision, he wrote: “I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
Paul would say Catholics who identify “being a good Catholic” with obediently affirming the right doctrines, keeping the right rules, and observing the right practices of our religion have cut themselves off from Christ; they have fallen away from grace.
That is pretty strong. But it is the inspired word of God, bursting from the mouth of a man who saw the Church in his day threatened by the same Phariseeism of self-righteous, closed-minded insistence on legalistic morality and narrow dogmatism that is being sown throughout the Church today.
Paul says our religion is “faith” — that is, deep, personal, grace-enlightened knowledge of God — “working through love.” Our “morality” is our sharing in the “mind of Christ” translated into actions that are unpredictable because they are inspired by the Spirit, not codified in law. Our “doctrine” is the gift of sharing in God’s own act of knowledge (the theological definition of “faith”) translated into human thoughts and words. The ancient definition of “theology” is “faith seeking understanding.” Any insistence on doctrine, even true doctrine, that is not coming out of deep, enlightened, personal sharing in God’s own act of knowing is a denial of faith in action that distorts one’s affirmation of faith in words. Those Catholics, whether bishops, priests, deacons or laity, whose teaching is anything but “faith working through love” have “cut themselves off from Christ” and “fallen away from grace.”