Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Prodigal Son or the Saint

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matt. 11: 28-30

I was taught growing up to look at the bells and whistles of Catholicism, their sacraments, their rituals as being like the Pharisees in scripture. Catholicism was equated with this text:
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their
phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. Matt. 23: 4-7
Protestants teach that Catholicism takes away  from simple faith in Jesus. That Catholicism turns that wonderful rest we have in Christ into a works-righteousness. 

Yet, there is another way of looking at this.  Step into the world of Catholicism, put on her glasses and see what she sees and I think
you might be surprised.

From a Catholic perspective, it is sin that weighs us down and enslaves us. Sin takes away our freedom to think, our freedom to act, our freedom to love ourselves and others. Sin takes away our very ability to love God. For sin demands our full and total devotion. Sin grows till it consumes everything. It has a scorched earth policy.

And this is where the Protestant model of salvation comes in.

As a Protestant growing up, personal testimonies were emphasized. Think back on those spiritual emphasis weeks in Christian schools. The pulpit was often handed over for people to give their personal testimonies. These were to inspire the student; but almost always, the testimonies involved the person falling into deep, depraved sins (and that was the part that was entertaining and provocative to us children.)

Our innocent ears were enticed with the allure of drugs, alcohol, lust, perversion, greed and self-centeredness. When the speakers choked up and explained that their fun had been exhausted and they were sitting in the ruins of divorce, broken relationships, drug addiction, self-hatred and shame, then—then they felt regret. God took pity on them and they had a born-again experience. 

To our young ears, this part of the story wasn't nearly as convincing as it was supposed to be.

The message was—be bad, really bad and then look at what a witness you will be when God saves you. It is because they were wild they got to have the pulpit. Of course our teachers and pastors didn't intend on this being the message, but our little ears took note of who got the attention—not those who had been faithful to God and obeyed the rules. No, it was those rebellious against God. After that, all the kids began to want a dramatic testimony.

Many of those giving these inspiring stories were not from our congregation. So there was a disconnect between their families and friends and the audience. But occasionally, a parent of one of the students from our school would speak. Then a light went on. 

I knew these speakers' kids. They were usually depressed or rebellious. Often they were the ones experimenting with drugs or sex. As I listened, anger would grow in my heart. I would silently scream to those parents as they spoke, "Wow, so God must have preferred you to all the people you devastated along the way. Your family—your children! They are wounded and bleeding from your mistakes and you are standing up there bragging that God saved you!" I hated those testimonies. Their lives were squandered and painful.  It seemed to me God was just letting His children play in the street and get hit by cars and then got the credit for being the physician who saved their life.

Why would we need to sink to the depths of moral corruption and hope that God will come rescue us. It was tempting God. And yet year after years this came across as the model of salvation. The only Christian story was that of the prodigal son. It was expected, in fact it was prayed for. What a waste! Sin got to shackle us and devastate our lives and then the rest of our lives were spent in clean-up and warning others not to follow in our paths. 

Something was wrong.

What if Jesus gave us a different model of salvation. Maybe Christians were never supposed to go rogue and come back corrupted and spent. Wouldn't that be a much better and easier road? Wouldn't it be nice if our heroes never had to live a life that shattered those they loved, who didn't spend most of their lives trying to undo the addictions and character destruction that the Devil had done to them? 

The model of the Catholic life is not the bad guy turned good, but the saint who never left. (Not to say there isn't a lot of prodigal sons, its just the saints lives are emphasized as Christian models.)

When I began to study the sacraments, I realized these graces were to keep us from sinning. The sacraments were put in place so that we could, from the beginning, remain free as Christians and never have to experience the wounds of grave sins. We did not have to fall prey to the lie that sin is fun. We were not destined for divorce, drug addictions, sexual addictions, pouring out our youth and life forces down the sewer.  

Yes, all of us fall short of the glory of God. All are sinners, yet, why would God want to stand back and watch us free fall into hell, just to have to take the long road back up to level ground?

We were destined for greatness. ("Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.") By faithfully following the sacramental path Christ laid out, we would live as Children of God in His light and love from the beginning. That is a path of rest, that is the light burden God gave us. Sin is heavy, grace is light.

It is Satan who wants us to look at Christ's path as burdensome because it requires us to go to mass, go to confession—repent and be reconciled with Him and flee from temptation. 

Yes, it may seem a great burden when you'd rather watch football, or sleep in, or watch a movie—or give into lustful thoughts, selfish thoughts. It can be inconvenient to get on your knees and pray or walk out when someone or something is tempting you to sin.

But those things are really rather easy compared to rehab, divorce court, watching your children fall to temptation and follow the same steps of ruin that you followed. 

The sacraments are truly a wonderful blessing. Little miracles that we need to reach out for 


The sacraments make your life easy and your burden light.