Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Contrition and the Love of Christ

The Reading for Compline on Mondays, from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, is indeed incomparable, or at least so it strikes me today: 

“God chose us to win salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that, alive or dead, we should still live united to him.”

These words encouraged me at the end of my day today, as I was annoyed by another instance of aggressive intolerance against us Christians and most specifically against us Catholics which the news services announce may soon in the UK be treating ministers of religion as if they were “Marrying Sams or Samanthas” at the beck and call of the state for joining and “blessing” anyone that can get themselves up the aisle in pairs demanding a “church wedding”. I don’t believe it; it has to be an ugly rumor or something which touches only “state religion”, but then again, after the recent assault on religious liberty in the US, well, who knows.

A very aggressive part of our world doesn’t seem to want to be or think that it needs to be saved. Bad as that is, they don’t just turn their backs on us and walk away; they seek to fill the Temple with their abominations; with clenched fist or claw they seek to bring down in the West what Lenin and Stalin never got far enough afield to trample upon. Atheism, materialism, humanism or (pick your terminology) will not tolerate that there is an option for us in life beyond that of the beasts, besides ultimately crawling off in a hole some place and dying.

“God chose us to win salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that, alive or dead, we should still live united to him.”

While the bottom line obviously is Easter, the good news of the Resurrection, of Jesus' victory over sin and death, I cannot help but think that part of the problem, part of the reason for these incursions into our space, if you will, is to be found on the Catholic side. You might say that we ask for some of what we get. Today being today, I think we egg on our aggressors through our own disbelief, our own lack of love for Christ, our failure to bind ourselves to Him and to His teaching. There is a lack of prudence or wisdom in the way we go about rather glibly claiming Catholicity. Catholic or not, it used to be a compliment to be described as a God-fearing man or woman. Who speaks that way today? Who gives evidence of cultivating that virtue which is the Fear of the Lord? How often can you hear a Christian or a Catholic speaking about their dread of offending God? 

We need to face squarely our reticence to talk about Hell, our refusal to admit eternal damnation, everlasting death, as a real possibility or consequence of our sins, of our failure to choose Christ and life with Him forever. Our adherence to Christ, our chosen-ness by God requires more than an entry in the baptismal registry and putting our envelope in the basket at church.

 "Fire and brimstone" preaching from the pulpit? Well, yes, in the sense that we need clarity; we need sound teaching. I cannot claim to love God where no real love exists; I have to give evidence of my love and adherence to Christ. Part of this is certainly living by the Commandments; part of it is recognizing that my sins also offend God. My commissions and omissions have consequences both now and for eternity. To explain, I'm thinking of my act of contrition which I have used since childhood when I go to confession:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.

 Granted, fear of damnation is imperfect contrition, but it is identifiable as contrition and perhaps more readily so than I can prove my love for the Lord I have so grievously and often offended. There is no love without reverential fear. A truly loving husband fears, yes, fears offending the wife he loves with all his heart. My point would be that growing in love, in perfection, in terms of the God I cannot see, might best be rooted in a healthy dose of fear of eternal damnation.

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