May 22, 2024 at 2:38 p.m.

What’s wrong with me?

The commission to follow the actions of Jesus is given to you and me personally, to take to heart and to live here and now, throughout this day, this hour, this minute.
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

By Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

As I often remind my confirmandi — those upon whom I am about to invoke the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation — it is one thing to know their catechism, and another thing to live it. Ignorance of God and of the teachings of our faith is purportedly widespread. Orthodoxy, that is, adherence to doctrine or the truths of our Catholic teachings, in mind and heart, is the foundation of our Christian life, it seems reasonable to affirm. Can it be assumed, however, that even if we know what is right, true and good, we will do it? 

G.K. Chesterton wrote in “What’s Wrong with the World?” that “(t)he Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” No doubt that is why St. Paul counsels his readers, “Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Rm 12:11-12). To me, this is another way of saying that orthodoxy — knowing and even believing the truths of the faith — is not enough. Orthopraxis is required. Our faith must be lived and practiced. Or, as one of God’s people exhorted me as a young priest after Mass one day (words I never forgot): “Don’t just keep the faith, spread it!”

And how do I or any of us spread the faith unless we live it, and become living examples of what it is to be a disciple of Christ? We often fall short of that. Maybe “fall” is exactly the right word. We end up, like St. Paul, being knocked off of the high horse of self-righteousness, whereby we take more account of what we know and what we have done or plan to accomplish, where we stand over the world and propose to rise above it, when the position that Jesus Christ himself assumed was that of the servant, to go down deep and low.

We remember the powerful example Jesus gave to his disciples the night before died, at the meal in which he instituted the Holy Eucharist. He literally got down on his hands and knees, disrobed in a way that prefigured what would happen to him the following day, and washed the feet of the Apostles. As we know, his action was resisted at first by, of all people, Peter, the one he had positioned as the head of the Twelve (Jn 13:1-20). This passage is well worth reading again, if you have a copy of the Bible near you. Or you can go online to the USCCB website (bible.usccb.org) and find it under “John.”

Jesus is leading us to discover that faith and praxis are intimately united. Why? Because having “faith” is not just believing in the thing we call “doctrine” or “dogma,” but believing in HIM — and enough to become so one, so united with him and in him that we truly become his presence in the world, which is what the Church is commissioned to be after all. 

I am not at this point going to dramatize the resistance and opposition that we will experience if and when we do this. One does not have to look far into the past and present to see what happens to Christians who preach, teach and live the Gospel. Yes, they are routinely resisted and persecuted, as happened to Jesus and the Apostles, and about which he repeatedly warns his disciples. What I want to do, as I do in counseling the confirmandi, is to remind myself and my dear readers, that this commission to follow the actions of Jesus is given to you and me personally, to take to heart and to live here and now, throughout this day, this hour, this minute. Rather than become wrapped up with “What’s Wrong with the World” the more basic question is “What’s Wrong with Me?”

I suspect the title of this article may have been a bit provocative, for a brief moment making one wonder if I were signaling some personal crisis. Quite honestly, I often feel ashamed of myself, how I fail to live up to the ideals of the Gospel. I am humbled by my own sins and short-sightedness. One thing I am not, however, is unhappy or lacking in the joy of the Gospel. I have never been happier as a priest and know it is not because of anything I have earned or deserve. It is a pure gift. That’s why I have to share it. It is like what the chorus of women in T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” recite, perhaps not fully realizing what they are saying: “We are forced to bear witness.”

Back to the question, I think the answer to “what’s wrong with the world/what’s wrong with me” is found in a Gospel read earlier this week (Mk 9:30-37). I hope you will read it again. It’s so simple and down to earth (literally!) that it is easy to overlook. It’s the one where Jesus just gets finished reminding his disciples (again) of the lot that awaits him — his passion, death and resurrection — only to find they are caught up in an argument about who was the greatest among them. It sounds so much like the “office talk” and, quite frankly, “church talk” we find ourselves in every day. To get their worries and attention off themselves, Jesus gets down on the ground again, to the level of a child, whom he takes in his arms. Then he tells them that they must become like that child and, in so doing, they will receive him and “whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me” (Mk 9:37).

POW! What is it about a child that Jesus himself so identifies with and is offering us as a way of getting out of our funk of personal fear, inadequacy and frustration over all that’s wrong with the world and with ourselves? I have heard my share of confessions (including my own conscience) and I must say that so much sin seems rooted in feelings of powerlessness and incompleteness, the desire for more control, more influence, more stuff. And here is Jesus telling us to get down low and innocent and guileless, poor and humble like a child. Like Him! This is exactly what he does. He sacrifices everything, even the claim to and power of his divinity, to get close to us and live among us as our servant. This is how he leads by example. Servant leadership, it might be called. It’s a paradox to behold and, when lived in the life of a disciple, it takes off and sets sparks like fire. It also happens to be the secret for happiness and the path to eternal life. In the end, the Gospel is not so much about what we believe, but Whom we believe — and follow, and live by.

 @AlbanyDiocese


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