Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Americans love options. We love the fact that we can walk into just about any store and have our choice of products. Different sizes, flavors, shapes, and prices. Take milk as an example: whole milk, skim milk, buttermilk, low fat, fat-free, 1%, 2%, organic, soy, half/half, heavy cream, milk with acidophilus, and even lactose-free milk. As the world's leading consumers, we thrive on the illusion that having these options available somehow gives us control of our lives! Choosing from a menu of options is a very American way of expressing our individuality, of showing others that we are independent and discriminating consumers. What we really don't like is being told that there are only two choices. Black or white but no gray. Yes or no but no maybe. Moses, for example, would've made a terrible American salesman. Here's his pitch, “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. . .obey the commandments of the Lord. . .loving him, and walking in his ways [and] you will live [and He] will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen. . .and adore and serve other gods. . .you will certainly perish. . .” What?! Only two choices? Where's the compromise? The dialogue? Moses answers, “Choose life. . .that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God.”
As a reformed secular humanist, I can tell you that this kind of Black/White thinking drives the enemies of the Church crazy! It drives them nuts when we say that abortion is always—under all circumstances—a moral evil. It drives them nuts when we say that women can never be ordained priests. They go bonkers when we claim that other faiths might teach religious truths but only the Church teaches the fullness of truth necessary for salvation. Those superlatives—always, never, only—send secularists into fits b/c they see themselves as the guardians of infinite options, the defenders of relative truth and value. Their Pick & Choose ideology demands that the we, the world, and even God Himself bow before their inalienable right to fashion for themselves a comfortable reality, a reality that somehow always manages to cater to every individual whim and “felt need.” For them, life is one long bargaining session, one long shopping spree.
For us Christians, reality is a little less confusing, a little less crowded with options. Moses says, “I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.” Now, choose. Love and obey God and you will prosper. Turn your backs on Him and worship false gods and you will surely perish. Jesus lays these choices out for us in slightly different terms, “I must suffer, be rejected, killed and on the third day be raised. . .If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” What?! That's it? Where's the compromise? The dialogue? Can I follow you w/o a cross? Can I take up my cross but not follow? How about denying myself, leaving out the cross, and just staying at home? What are my options here? Jesus answers, “Come after me or don't. Those are your choices.” Lent is an excellent season for contemplating this decision. And as the Church is pressed more and more in our consumer culture, making that decision becomes more and more imperative. Those who see our faith as an obstacle to their lifestyle options want to know if you are going to follow Christ or wait to defend their never ending shopping spree. Those are your options. Choose.
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