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God Loves You: Nobody Cares

November 14, AD 2013 17 Comments

trygodDisclaimer: This article is going to sound cynical. It might even sound anti-Christian. Please stick with it. There is a point. I am sarcastic and sometimes offensive. Again, there is an overall point.

This New Evangelization thing in the Church is pretty cool, you gotta admit. I mean, JPII said it’s time for the Church to re-evangelize itself, and for crying out loud, we can all sit there and nod our heads. There are so many of those Catholics out there: the liberals, the ultra-traditionalists, the nuns with no habits and bad haircuts, all of those people who just don’t get it. To help with this New Evangelization, there have been plenty of folks hopping on the bandwagon with a VERY important message. Some are good, some are just professional Catholics trying to make a buck, and some are trying to push changes in the ideological battles in the Church such as abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, yadda yadda yadda. All of a sudden, EVERYONE has something to say to THOSE people in the pews that so desperately need our wise evangelization.

Some people in Catholic media drive me nuts. They talk about all sorts of great things that are all theologically correct and great for those folks who are definitely in tune with the Church, but don’t do much to reach out to those who are not already in the choir being preached at. Hosts in both radio and TV take on that voice, you know the one, when they raise the pitch of their voice and speak in quasi-hushed tones in order to sound holy or something. If you paid some random gang members enough money to actually listen to a bit of it, most would probably run for the hills. What I’m trying to say is that a lot of Catholic media is great and has some awesome content, but it doesn’t reach into the paradigm of those who are either completely outside of natural law and those who are “but-Catholics.” A but-Catholic is someone who says something like, “I’m Catholic, but I just disagree with the Church’s teachings on female ordination, abortion, sexuality, the Eucharist, etc.” 

How can we reach the drug dealers in the inner cities, the hardened stripper who dances because she needs the money and has become calloused and hates men? You can tell these people that Jesus loves them all you want, but in the end, why should they care? Does seeing that nice little John 3:16 bumper sticker make a difference worth a hill of beans? The secular paradigm is so far removed from any religious thought or truth that the mere mention of Jesus or the Gospel is enough to generate a certain hostility or mere dismissal. In other words, Jesus has become a cliche. What has Jesus done lately for the single mom who was walked out on by her live-in boyfriend and the father of one of her three kids and is struggling to make ends meet or who is just gaming the system to get as many benefits as possible? Why should the Wall Street hedge fund manager who is making six figures care about the Good News of the Gospel when he has all that the secular world can give him?

Christopher West has a great quote in his book “At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization.” Ready? Even if you have issues with Christopher West, just suspend disbelief for a moment and contemplate this.

“If Christ is to become present within the secular world’s understanding, that will mean walking a fine line, a place of tension, between the sacred and the secular. That will mean, in some instances, using a language with which a more pious and refined audience might take issue so that a much less pious and refined audience might be reached. As Pope Benedict put it, ‘one has to meet one’s listeners halfway, one has to speak to them in terms of their own horizon.’ We do this not to ‘stay’ there, but to ‘open the horizon, to broaden it, and turn our gaze toward the ultimate.’ Finding that language is a duty of charity. Finding that language is also a process of trial and error. So let us try, and when we err, let us correct those errors and try again. That’s how we grow. There’s no ‘one right way’ to proclaim the ‘great mystery’ to the modern world, but this much is certain; out of love for others, we must stretch ourselves; we must break out of our comfort zones; we must be courageous, bold and daring. We must strive to be all thing to all men, so that some might be saved.” (1 Cor 9:22)

I don’t know about you, but that’s some powerful stuff. He is calling us to meet people where they are, in whatever their life circumstances and present the Gospel to them in a way that they can actually relate to and understand. Sometimes we might have to put it a little callously or with some colorful language. It means we will have to leave our nice little Catholic bubble and go where we are not comfortable.

It’s a messed up world out there. People are struggling with addictions, terrible sins, broken families and broken lives. When Jesus was on earth He sought those people out. He associated Himself with the dregs of society. He didn’t seek out the rich, the famous, and the most holy. He went into the homes of those who were hated and despised. Who would He visit in today’s day and age? Drug addicts? Child molesters? Prostitutes? He visited with the worst kinds of people offering forgiveness, and ACCOUNTABILITY. Jesus never forgave someone and failed to tell them to sin no more.

Where does that leave us? It’s natural to want to avoid certain situations where we may be in danger, both physically and spiritually, but who do we help when we stay in our nice little Catholic bubble? It’s nice to read articles on how to more deeply pray the Rosary, and we sure can’t do much without Mama Mary’s intercession. But how do we bridge the gap between the sacred and the secular?

Jesus called us to be in the world and not of it, but that still means that we are IN the world. We are here. We are the Church Militant, fighting for God’s Truth.  All of God’s Commandments are reflected in the the natural way of things, and when we break His laws, there are physical and emotional consequences. When presenting God’s Truth, we can present it without even mentioning God to the secular world, and instead focus on Natural Law.

It may look like an uphill battle, but we know Who wins in the end. Christ called us to make disciples of all nations and we are far from that. You may have heard another pseudo-cliche bantered about: “Preach the Gospel every day. If necessary, use words.” When speaking to the secular realm, I’d offer a twist: Preach the Gospel every day. Try not to mention God, Jesus, the Church, or any of Her teachings. Love always.

About the Author:

Is this where I tell you how amazing I am and list all my impressive accomplishments? I am just a guy. On a daily basis I betray God and the Faith I claim to profess through thought and deed forcing me to beg His forgiveness on an often weekly basis. All of my talents are unearned and all of my accomplishments merit me nothing. I am completely at the Divine Mercy of Jesus the Redeemer who is willing to erase my daily sins when I am sensible enough to confess them.

  • Jarl Nischan

    You don’t sound even a little bit cynical to me. I say that because, from my experience, you are right on target. I meet many people who are “but-Catholics,” former Catholics, and anti-Catholics, as well as folks who are just fed up or disgusted with “religion” (which really means fed up with those of us who call ourselves Christian). Think about it – you have to work pretty consistently hard to make Good News sound like a bitter pill or disgustingly overcooked broccoli. Along with the “new evangelization” (meaning the original evangelization done all over again, for real?) we need the new reconciliation, to reach out to all those folks who need healing because of our failings in living the Good News. We, the church, need to heal the wounds we have caused – the wounds that make folks flee when you mention Jesus or Church. They would be a good place to start our outreach.

    • Chris Ricketts

      Thanks for the comment! The reasons people cringe when they hear about Jesus or Church are many, and some caused by the wounds those in the Church have caused. I believe that reaction happens sometimes because some people are living a lifestyle so contrary to the Truth that the mere mention of Truth is like being handed a hot potato. I’m not just talking about the obvious things either. When we live a lifestyle based on mortal sin, our consciences become twisted and avoid the light of Truth.

      • Jarl Nischan

        Thanks for the reply. You are right about that, in my view, and it applies to all of us, not just to the egregiously sinful. We tend to like only the truths that makes us comfortable and, so, need conversion because sin makes us blind to our slavery. In helping others “open their eyes,” I believe that Pope Francis had good advice in his Nov. 12 homily: do it the way God does, with a caress, not a slap. My point in my first post was simply that we have tended to be a bit slap-happy rather than caressing, and need to examine our methods and our sins of spiritual enthusiasm.

    • Howard

      When dealing with people who are upset because they have been told, “No, you may not do what you want, because God says so,” I’m not sure they will be receptive to being told, “No, you may not do what you want, because the Natural Law says so.” They are still being told no. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that Catholics who are rude or hypocritical or whatever will suddenly become nice people who are fun to be around as long as they avoid the Name of Jesus. Instead, they will be rude hypocrites who are too embarrassed of Jesus to mention His Name, or who think that a little dishonesty about what they are doing is a fine way to spread the Gospel — if they even remember what the Gospel is. No, SoCalChick was right; the key is to be more authentic Catholics, not to pretend we are Deists or ancient Greek pagans.

      • Jarl Nischan

        And the question of wisdom that we must all answer for ourselves is how to be more authentic Catholics.

      • Howard

        Perhaps, for certain definitions of “wisdom”. I suspect that most of us know the answer that pertains to our own cases. I know the first few errors in my own life that need to be corrected.

  • HowardRichards

    So this is your message to us people in the pews, who so desperately need your wisdom? How can you not acknowledge in your post that you are doing exactly the same thing you are being critical of?

    But to get to your main point: I know of many cases in which preaching the Gospel while explicitly mentioning God, Jesus, the Church, or some of Her teachings has been successful, and I know of many cases in which it has failed. I know of no example, ancient, medieval, or modern, in which “preaching the Gospel” while carefully and persistently refusing to “mention God, Jesus, the Church, or any of Her teachings” has succeeded in actually preaching the Gospel, let alone contributing to a conversion.

    The main problem with what you suggest is that THE GOSPEL IS NOT A PART OF THE NATURAL LAW. The Natural Law is true, and all truth is God’s truth, but that does not mean the Gospel is part of it or even that it is part of the Gospel. The truths of mathematics are also God’s truth, but educating the public about mathematics is a lousy way to preach the Gospel. That’s not to say that we should not teach about the Natural Law, or for that matter about mathematics; it is only to insist that those activities, worthy though they are, are no more preaching the Gospel than saying the Rosary is the same thing as celebrating the Mass.

    • HowardRichards

      To elaborate a little further: Yes, it is no doubt a rare thing for someone to see a “John 3:16” on a sign or an athlete’s wristband and think, “Hmmm…. I should find out more about this Jesus.” It is no doubt rare, but at least there is connection, insofar as John 3:16 is about Jesus. But it must be much more rare for someone to hear a natural law argument for exclusively heterosexual, exclusively monogamous marriage and think, “Hmmm…. I should find out more about this Jesus.” Of course this exclusivity is correct, and it is important in itself, but it has about as much to do with Jesus as does the Pythagorean Theorem.

      Especially in your conclusion, you seem to echo the cliche falsely attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” In too many cases, that is transparently an attempt to be ashamed of Christ while simultaneously claiming a superior “spirituality”.

      The Gospel is always scandalous. Your proposal is to avoid the scandal by avoiding the Gospel.

      • Chris Ricketts

        Thanks for the comments, Howard. I do appreciate it, including your points that help keep me on my toes. I will try to answer a couple of your points.

        “So this is your message to us people in the pews, who so desperately need your wisdom? How can you not acknowledge in your post that you are doing exactly the same thing you are being critical of?”

        I suppose I could, but in this piece I was mainly making observations and raising questions. It was more intended to engage folks than to offer my invaluable wisdom. If that were the case, we’d all be waiting for a LONG time!

        Without getting into lengthy discussions of natural law and the Gospel, I’m gonna say that the entire point of the piece is to ask the question: how to engage people? If we want to bring Christ to people, we have to know how to engage them in a way that they will be accepting. Some people get angry and close off as soon as you mention Jesus or anything deemed “religious.” So that’s out of the picture. It is possible to arrive at God’s Truth through only natural law (just ask Aristotle). Maybe they won’t realize it’s Jesus right away, but we have to at least get someone thinking first. The Christopher West quote was all about that very idea. How do we engage the secular culture that views Christianity as an outdated cliche? We have to be sneaky about it. We have to use what is right in front of their eyes and ears in order to help them realize the Truth. God’s creation and natural law all reflect back to Him because it’s all His! How can natural law (God’s creation) be entirely separate from the Gospel (the Good News)? One leads to the other. They are both interconnected with each other.

        Jesus warned us about those who end up calling good evil and evil good. Well I’m sure we can agree that there’s a whole lot of that going on nowadays. That’s why we have to be sneaky about it. If people are going to call the Good News evil, then we obviously can’t go in preaching about how Jesus loves them. They won’t care. We need to find that way to help them walk right to Jesus without even realizing what’s happening.

      • HowardRichards

        “It is possible to arrive at God’s Truth through only natural law (just ask Aristotle).”

        Let’s. What exactly did Aristotle know about the Gospel? Um, not much. He knew, at least on some level, that there was one ultimate God. There is no indication that he ever sought out that one God. In particular, he does not seem to have investigated the Jewish claims that there is indeed only one true God. On the contrary, he appears to have gone along with his fellow Greeks in the conventional worship of many gods. And this is ARISTOTLE we are talking about. I think it’s fair to say that he had a better grasp of natural law than most Catholics, let alone your average American.

        Even if he had sought out Judaism, though, he would still not have found the Gospel, but only foreshadowings of the Gospel. In 500 B.C., the Jews had access to the Natural Law, and they also had a pretty fair share of Divine Revelation — but they did not yet have the Gospel. That’s why we find the Apostles preaching the Gospel to the Jews; the Apostles were telling them something they didn’t know yet, something they could not have guessed based on general principles.

        It’s one thing to say that we should be judicious about when and how we preach the Gospel. That’s obvious, and St. Paul was doing that 1960 years ago. But that’s not what you’re saying. You’re not saying to wait for an opening and seize it, which might be helpful if you had some brilliant idea about how to identify these openings and how to steer the conversation at that point. You might even have said that we should work to save our civilization in parallel with preaching the Gospel, and not make conversion a prerequisite. This also is not what you have said.

        Instead, you’re saying DON’T MENTION JESUS. A “gospel” that does not dare to mention the name of Jesus is another gospel. You (and James below) should read the first chapter of Galatians. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.” St. Paul was not joking when he said that.

      • Darren Anderton

        I don’t think your interpretation that Chris is preaching another gospel by not mentioning God, Jesus, etc. is within context of his entire article. Sure, his concluding statement was a little provocative, but when you encounter a culture that deems the church’s traditions and teachings as obsolete and even evil, basing your views off of the Gospel and Catechism will, in their point of view, discredit everything you have to say.

        I had a friend once tell me, “I wish there were no religion in the world because they are the root of all conflict.” If i responded with an argument about how the church condemns war and how the Gospel condemns it I would wind up in a historical conversation about the crusades and Galileo because, face it, that’s all those who vehemently oppose the Church see. Any theological value of the conversation will be out the window.

        If, however, I replied “I wish there were no religion in the world too, because if there were no religion, there would only be Truth. It wouldn’t be called religion.” Of course I would believe that the “absolute Truth” is the Gospel, but, for the sake of this particular individual, I would be arguing for the sake of the Truth within logic and natural law. If the person I’m arguing with has a semi-open mind, then this might lead into a theological discussion over time, and open him up to the Church.

        We have faith that the Gospel is the truth. If we evangelize secularists with conversations about Truth and Natural Law without directly mentioning the Church or the Gospel, we could still lead them to the Truth without immediately turning them away. Logically, this means they will ultimately be led to the Gospel anyway, and then continue to be educated and evangelized.

      • Howard

        I note you do not say that your friend was convinced of anything, except perhaps that you are not sincere in your Catholicism. Catholics like that are all that I met until I was almost 30: Catholics who do not know or believe the Faith, or who refuse to defend it. I was Protestant, and let me tell you such Catholics DID NOT make me think they were “with it” dudes with whom I could have deep conversations; instead, they were shallow frauds who turned me away from the Church. Thanks be to God I finally found a Catholic who was willing and able to defend the Faith.

        I suppose if either of you ACTUALLY READ THE BIBLE it might help you see that the problem you describe is not new. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness,” as St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:23. Chris and you, however, find that Christ crucified is a stumblingblock and foolishness to the world, and your solution is to talk about something else and call that the gospel. Sorry, but that is EXACTLY the sort of thing St. Paul was talking about. Throwing Christ and the Church under the bus so that you can be one of they guys may let you keep an unbelieving “friend”, but only because you will become more like him, not because he will follow you into a Church you have just pooh-poohed.

  • james

    I get it, Chris. Great job. Poor HowardR, he doesn’t.

    • Chris Ricketts

      LOL, thanks James.

  • SoCalChick

    How to engage people is the key question, as well as the start point of a true evangelization. The ‘but-Catholics’ are trying too hard to be liked – they are desperately looking to belong to the world… or … they’re regurgitating what they heard some ‘recovering Catholic’ say. They’re their own worst enemy. I believe that people still respect an authentic person (say, a nun in a habit) who exudes humility, Love, Light and is actually living an active faith. I say that first, let’s look to ourselves. What are we showing the world? Live your faith without artificial saccharin stirred in. Be real. Know your faith. Delve into theology. Live an authentic life that truly reflects the ‘Light’ of Christ. In this worldly, secular, dare I say sub-human society we live in, there is nothing more beautiful than a spiritually authentic person who wordlessly exudes Christ’s truth.

    • Howard

      AMEN, sister!

    • james

      ” there is nothing more beautiful than a spiritually authentic person who wordlessly exudes Christ’s truth.”

      Like you could differentiate between Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic or atheist
      “truth and beauty”.