Everywhere in the history of religion, in various forms, we encounter the significant conflict between the knowledge of the one God and the attraction of other powers that are considered more dangerous or nearer at hand and, therefore, more important for man than the God who is distant and mysterious. All of history bears the traces of this strange dilemma between the non-violent, tranquil demands made by the truth, on the one hand, and the pressure brought to make profits and the need to have a good relationship with the powers that determine daily life by their interventions, on the other hand.”
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 98
Reflection – ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one’… but if you want your crops to grow, you have to sacrifice to Baal. ‘There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is Father over all’… but for a peaceful life in the empire, burn a few grains of incense to Caesar, right? ‘The brotherhood of men under the fatherhood of God’… but keep your mouth shut about all the disappearing Jews or the Gestapo may be at your door next.
In this Year of Faith we have all sorts of lovely invitations from the Pope. We are invited to delve into the catechism to deepen our understanding of the faith. We are called to study the lives of the saints to come to understand the dynamic and drama of faith. We are called to return to the documents of Vatican II to gain renewed insight into the pastoral program of the Church for the new evangelization.
All of that is very lovely and good and bound to produce good fruit in our lives. Just… let’s not forget that the good fruit it is to produce is a willingness for martyrdom, right? In other words, there is a point in all of our lives when the absolute claims of faith and of God come into conflict with the world we live in, and we will have to choose.
Depending on the tenor of the times we live in, that choice may involve martyrdom (imperial
Germany), or it may not (say, Victorian England, Canada 2012). But it will certainly
involve some cost. Rome
It may involve humiliation. It may involve ridicule. It may involve a loss of money, of jobs, of prestige, of status. It may involve the loss of a relationship, or of easy family ties. God is absolute, and the demands faith in God makes of us are absolute. The world, its powers and principalities, its social norms and written and unwritten laws also want to be absolute in their demands. We have to choose.
Of course, we can choose to compromise, to burn that incense, sacrifice to Baal, keep our heads down and say nothing in the face of injustice or evil. ‘The Jews’ are not disappearing in our day, but a lot of unborn babies are. And it appears, anyway, that many and maybe most people in our society are fundamentally OK with that. Are we? Are we speaking out? Are we doing anything about it? We really must, you know.
The choice to compromise with ‘Caesar’ has its own cost, of course, And that cost is God. Oh, God is merciful and I suppose we can spend a life compromising and making half-measures and awkwardly trying to straddle the world and faith, and at the end repent and be saved, but the cost is a high one for that.
God wants to live in us and love in us, you see. But He cannot do that if we are compromising, if we have one foot in both camps, if we allow all the pernicious nonsense of our times—the culture of death—to have sway in our hearts and minds. The Year of Faith is a summons, not merely to a sort of adult education program, but to action, to mission, to the Cross, and to the Resurrection.
Origen famously said that a Christian is either a martyr or an idolator. He lived in an age of martyrdom, of course, and so we cannot take his words strictly literally. But… he is right, you know. Either God has an absolute claim on our lives, no matter what the cost, or we are worshipping other gods. We have to choose. Let’s choose well.