The rough edges of Gospel imperative



Investment counselors report difficulty in convincing clients to wait. Since so much of business is rigidly fixed on the present quarter and that only, the thought pattern carries over to personal investing. Our culture lives and breathes instant gratification even as we make token efforts to advise our children about waiting for marriage. We want it all now. What is more obsolete these days than mistletoe or honeymoons?

If brokers feel this, imagine Christians who have caught the spirit of the New Testament. St. Paul roamed Israel and the Mediterranean urging Jews and gentiles to wait for the triumphant return of the risen Lord. It is understandable if people were in a hurry to get out from under Caesar’s military jackboot. Nobody likes military occupation, and Israel’s started in 63 B.C. At first, Christians believed that the Lord would return immediately, and they were supposed to be ready. Early on, Paul even went so far as to counsel against marrying since its adjustment time might be too lengthy a commitment. Hence his boosting celibacy. But as one decade yielded to the next, believers realized they had to unpack their psychological suitcases. The Lord was coming on his schedule, not ours. So, being faithful Christians in the interim meant retooling their thinking as they waited.

Today we still wait, and impatiently. We pray one of the last words of the Bible, Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus, and “Thy kingdom come,” because we long for the deliverance of God’s kingdom, the subject which Jesus preached more than any other, at least as the evangelists quote him. But as we do, we try to adapt to changing conditions. For instance, we try to make our communal prayer at Mass balanced between local needs and those of those of the world church. We realize that our prayer has to reflect the value system of the Lord, who would have us pray for not just “our troops” but for our conscientious objectors — let alone for our enemies. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. Paul told us love would heap coals of fire on enemies’ heads.

So at our liturgies and in our churches, we’ve been instructed to have no national flag in the sanctuary, or else to have many flags in church, perhaps representing the origins of local parishioners. With nearly 40 percent of the U.S. Catholic church Latino, and with the half-way tipping point a few years off, many varied Latino flags could suggest a harmony most Latinos want. By so doing, we would show ourselves favoring ethnic outreach and rejecting anti-Christian values espoused or permitted by our government, like abortion or capital punishment.

There is so much more we could do to make our behavior more like the Gospel. How often is non-violence preached as the calling of us all and not just of a minute category of the Selective Service Administration, which still requires youth to register at 18? What have you heard lately about the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration getting the largest two allotment of the discretionary federal budget, leaving pennies for the social needs available from the other cabinet offices?

Granted we have to wait, but are we using our time well? Sometimes it seems our church has sand-papered off the rough edges of Gospel imperative, afraid we would not fit in well with the other three-quarters of the population if we came across as counter-cultural. Any believer should be proud to stand against the seemingly pervasive racism that could make Ferguson and its violent reactions permanent features of the news cycle. Any disciple can join millions of non-Catholics in admiring Pope Francis for his newsworthy courage calling for reform, building bridges and healing intransigent divisions. This is the kind of church leadership that corresponds with that of the first-generation church, which saw all but one of the apostles martyred for their rough-edged discipleship, which saw the first 30 bishops of Rome slain for their faith, which endured three centuries of intermittent persecution.

Mary had her nine months of waiting. During that time she actually said, “[God] has shown might with his arm, he has confused the proud in their inmost thoughts. He has deposed the mighty from their thrones … while the rich he has sent empty away.” No sandpaper there.

Since these things are so, the Second Amendment must be repealed.