Sunday, February 17, 2013

Have You Read the Manual?

Overcoming the temptation to place God in submission to oneself and one’s own interests or to put Him in a corner and converting oneself to the proper order of priorities, giving God the first place, is a journey that every Christian must undergo. "Conversion", an invitation that we will hear many times in Lent, means following Jesus so that his Gospel is a real life guide, it means allowing God to transform us, no longer thinking that we are the only protagonists of our existence, recognizing that we are creatures who depend on God, His love, and that only by “losing" our life in Him can we truly have it.

This means making our choices in the light of the Word of God. Today we can no longer be Christians as a simple consequence of the fact that we live in a society that has Christian roots: even those born to a Christian family and formed in the faith must, each and every day, renew the choice to be a Christian, to give God first place, before the temptations continuously suggested by a secularized culture, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries.

General Audience, February 13, 2013

Reflection – Well, when Pope Benedict is in top form (which he is remarkably often), I don’t think there is anyone writing today who is as succinct, elegant, and penetrating in their analysis of the Christian call in the modern world. The above paragraph is as neat and concise a description of what conversion means and the fundamental path of Christian life in the world as any I have ever read.

You know, for a man who says he is old, sick, and tired, he is sure doing OK on some fronts at least. Meanwhile here we are with this luminous path and challenge laid before us. This whole business of making the Gospel not just words on a piece of paper or something we hear in church every Sunday, but an actual life guide. So we hear today that ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test,’ for example. Well, are we going to test God this week? Decide how much we trust God based on how He is performing in our lives? How much He’s giving us of what we want and like, and turning away from Him as soon as our prayer life is a bit dry or the road is a bit rocky? Because, you know, that’s not living the Gospel, and that’s therefore an area we need conversion.

Or ‘love your enemies’. Or, ‘give to those who cannot repay you.’ Or ‘forgive seventy times seven.’ Or… well, you can read, right? Read the Gospels, and put them into practice. This is the instruction manual of our faith. This is what it means to live a Christian life.

Now of course we have to know the Gospels if we are to do this. When we’re in the thick of life and its challenges we usually don’t have time to go run get our bibles and start flicking through them for the relevant passage. The words and precepts of Christ should be so familiar to us that they are second nature.

Someone is rude and horrible to you, and you should automatically, as a Christian, think ‘turn the other cheek!’ There is someone in some small or great need presented to you, and as a Christian you should think ‘foot-washing time! The Son of Man came to serve!’ That kind of thing. But that kind of thing simply will not happen if you don’t know the Gospels backwards and forwards, will it? If you are reading this (all you wonderful anonymous readers of this blog who never leave comments but keep coming back here every day!) and it hits home for you, perhaps a Lenten priority would be to simply read the Gospels, study them, work them into your mind and heart like yeast into dough. Get those words down, memorized if possible, but deeply familiar.

Meanwhile our lovely secular world is drilling in its message, its ‘Gospel’ into our heads night and day, day and night. The Gospel of consumption, of pleasure, of power, of cleverness, of so many things that have very little to do with Christ and Christianity. And we have to watch out for that, too. I am a Catholic priest and have lived in an intensely Catholic community for over 20 years, and I have to watch out for that. So all you out there in the deeply secular wilderness have a real struggle on your hands, and it’s no joke.

But at the same time, it’s a matter of daily choices, daily taking a stand with Christ and for Christ in your little world, your corner of creation. It’s all very big and can seem overwhelming, but it is a matter of here and now and what we are doing next in life—the Gospel, or something else? And all the little and big conversions and repentances that come on the heels of those choices each day. And God in the midst of it all, not remote up in heaven somewhere, but by our side, in our hearts, gracing us with his presence and help. And that’s the whole story of our life, so beautifully expressed by our wonderful Holy Father.


  1. Uh oh, I'm no longer anonymous! Since I often miss the gospels during mass due to the trials and tribulations of a two year old ("will I get my donut after mass? I said sorrrrryyyyy!!!") this is pretty much a perfect lenten practice for me. Thanks for the suggestion Padre!

    1. Oh yes... we all can easily miss the Gospel during Mass... alas, we don't all have the perfect excuse of a two-year old! Glad the suggestion is helpful.


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