Our parish priest, Father Joseph, is a good preacher. His sermons are practical, but exhortative, and he preaches with such conviction. Today he preached about evangelism, and how there’s far more to it than simply telling people about our faith. The faith has to be lived; our lives themselves should be the best testimony to the truth of our faith. And you cannot really live a Christian life if you don’t pray and read Scripture regularly. Something he said today really hit home with me. I can’t remember the exact line, but he spoke of the necessity of having a “relationship” with God, in such a way that made me think about reading Scripture as like reading letters from God, and prayer as talking with God. Sounds pretty basic, I know, but I then thought about how much time I spend each day reading and writing e-mails, and talking with family, friends and colleagues. Then I thought how comparatively little time I spend talking to God, and reading his “letters” (that is, the Bible). But my relationship with God is the most important one in my life! Or is supposed to be. Yet any objective observer would look at me and conclude that there are many more people who are far more important to me than God.
I’ve got to change my life.
See, I’m grateful for sermons like that one. Father Joe never talks down to people; his effect is one of encouragement, I find. But he clearly sees Church as training in holiness, not therapy. Of course, the authentic Christian life really is therapeutic, in the sense that it comforts us in our sorrows, and heals what’s broken in us. But the way toward healing often involves dying to ourselves, and that kind of therapy can be painful. I really needed to hear what Father Joe said today, for the sake of my soul.
This all goes back to last week’s big to-do over “Catholicism for solipsists.” Father Joe is my pastor. It’s his job to help me stay on the path to salvation. Sometimes that will mean purely comforting me. More often it will involve challenging me to do better, to love more, to pray more, to be more merciful — or, above all, to repent. He knows where I need to be, because he confidently believes in following the path given us in Scripture, and followed by generations and generations of those who have walked it before us. He doesn’t believe he has the right to change it, or to make it up as he goes along, or to allow us to believe that we have the right to pick and choose to believe as we please — because if he did, perhaps we would all be lost in our own selfishness, and that would be partly his fault, as our pastor.