Fr. Charles Irvin
Diocese of Lansing
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Many people believe that living the Gospel message is unrealistic. Numerous times people have begun a conversation with me using the phrase: “Father, out there in the real world …” Their unspoken assumption is of course that because I am a priest I am somehow not in the real world.
History has given us a number of philosophers and thinkers who have told us that Jesus was a beautiful man, possessing tenderness of heart, infinite sweetness, and universal charm. In other words they are saying that Jesus was an idealist who saw and lived life in an idealistic dream world, not as it really is. They like to talk about Jesus, admiring His ethical code and His moral standards while at the same time they are locating Jesus out of this world, out of touch with reality.
I suspect there are some here in church who are here just now for a few moments of relief in order to get out of this world and enter a dream world of sweetness, vague poetry, and universal charm, a place of refuge from the world that is cold, hard, greedy and overly competitive. But the truth is that we are here in order to enter into the world. The truth is that God has sent His Son into the world with the purpose and mission of transforming it and redeeming it from within it and that in Christ God is sending us to do the same. How else do we understand the prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?”
Just before He died we hear Our Blessed Lord telling His disciples: “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” This phrase was based on Christ’s understanding that He is utterly a realist. For Him, religion wasn’t a quiet side street, a sort of lovely garden or park in the middle of our metropolitan world. Oh, no! Christ was asserting that His way, His truth, and His understanding of life is the main road.
In fact it is the only road in this world that’s going anywhere. All other roads lead us into blind alleys and dead-ends. Christ’s declaration was not vague poetry, a beautiful novelty to be applauded and admired from a distance. It was the real thing; the only kind of living that ultimately works and has a true destination, one beyond even death itself.
As a matter of fact, Jesus believed His way was the cornerstone for all living. A cornerstone, we must remember, locates the site upon which a building will be constructed. It orients the direction toward which the building will face. It sets the characteristics of all the other stones that will surround it, along with their texture and their quality. All other stones are measured against the cornerstone. It is the essential stone which grounds the reality of the entire structure.
The worst thing about sin is not what it does to God, even though it put God’s Christ, God’s Anointed One, on the Cross and into the tomb. No, the worst thing about sin is what it does to the sinner. It brings pain, suffering and ruination to the sinner. Jesus told us the story about the young man who, in total prodigality, threw all restraint and responsibility to the winds, went out on his own willful way, and ended up in the pig pen of life. Jesus then went on to give us the only realistic thing to do with sin, namely to face it, acknowledge its existence, see it for what it is, repent of it, and then to accept healing forgiveness.
Anyone recovering from any sort of addiction, anyone who has found the only realistic way out of the hellish jail of compulsive addiction or alcoholism, will tell you about it only in the utter realism of recovery. There is no hope of recovery without realism, without ruthless and courageous honesty, without a total grasp of reality. Ask yourself this question: Are people living in successful recovery living in the real world or a dream world?
The Twelve steps for recovery are all radically grounded on the way, the truth and the life of Jesus. So are the fourth and fifth steps which require that we make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and then admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. As a matter of fact, when you take a look at the fundamental process of psychiatric therapy you will recognize right away the fact that the road to recovery involves the taking of responsibility for one’s actions and then seeking a healthy resolution for what we’ve done. And in what do we find that resolution? We find it in taking ownership of our decisions and in seeking forgiveness.
Years ago TIME magazine published an article in which Dr. James Tucker Fisher, an esteemed American psychiatrist declared: “If you were to take the sum total of all the authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists, if you took the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these bits of knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount.”
Let me suggest now that if you were to make a short summation of the way and the truth and the life of Jesus Christ you would speak of living together as members of His family. He gave us His Father. He died on the Cross giving us His mother. He declared that we are His brothers and sisters. And He asked us to live each day in a conscious decision to live out our lives in the relationships that are those that are proper to living in His family and under the care of His Father and His mother.
In this fragmented, hostile, and broken world of ours, a world filled with broken hearts, broken promises, broken trusts, and broken families, in this world that is more and more littered with damaged human hearts and souls, in a world with an ever increasing culture of destruction and death, what is more realistic, to live as Hollywood TV producers depict us in their so-called “reality” shows, or to live in the family in which Jesus Christ invites us to share life?
When anyone declares to you that Jesus was an idealistic dreamer, a man of “infinite sweetness, vague poetry, and universal charm,” when anyone talks to you about religion as if its purpose is only to mold us to live politely and to have good manners, then realize that such a person is only fooling you. He is himself “utterly unrealistic about life.” God expects much more from us than that.
Jesus told it like it really is: “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” Living in truth and living in love make demands on us, demands that require the courage of faith and the sacrifices of love.