By Guest Blogger Fr. Richard Schamber
There is a certain attitude abroad that presumes Christianity to be easy, almost common sense. This attitude greatly underestimates and domesticates the radical challenge presented by Christian faith, and consequently does not give Christianity a full hearing. It stops short, by its own prejudice and bias, of permitting Christ to speak, giving the Christian faith only a partial hearing. The consequences are disastrous.
Christianity has yet to surmount this presumptuous attitude that characterizes much of the contemporary frame of mind.
Faith: A Trial Run
All to often, the faithful are willing to give the Christian faith a test-run, but do so without wholly investing themselves in the experiment. If the ‘trial run’ should fail them, they have a backup plan, a nest-egg that will provide them with a sense of security, peace and happiness. Taken to its logical conclusion, this line of thinking would make the Christian profession at best a no-risk faith with benefits, rendering its power to bring genuine joy and transformation impotent. Christianity would, then, be merely an addition to something else that already lays within my own grasp.
Why, then, should Christianity be given a second hearing? I would suggest a response along the lines of the Catholic apologist G. K. Chesterton who once famously quipped, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Unless the Grain of Wheat…
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Christianity is its “destructive” character. The unconquerable beauty of the Christian credo hinges on an adequate theologia crucis, a “theology of the cross.” Divine wisdom has paradoxically erected the Cross of Christ as both the definitive revelation of God’s own self and as the instrument of our salvation. In the excruciating beauty of the Cross we find a loving Redeemer who has been lovelessly spurned because he is not the Christ we want, but the Christ we need.
As soon as we profess that Jesus is the Christ, we, like Peter, turn around and rebuke him saying, “You cannot possibly suffer greatly, be killed and rise. This is wholly ludicrous to my idea of the Anointed One, whom I believe God is sending. Save yourself from such a fate if you are truly the Christ!” (see Mk 8: 31; Lk 23: 39). The identity of Jesus defies convention. Christ’s rebuke, in turn, wounds the stronghold of our distorted reasoning: “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not a God does, but as human beings do.” Even when Peter is given the singular privilege of confessing that Jesus is the Christ, he misunderstands and initially rejects this new data of revelation. He interprets it according to the limitations of his ancestral history and his own personal expectations.
Something must be undone within Peter if he is to espouse the credo correctly and allow it to reorganize his worldview.
But this destructive aspect of the Christian faith does not stop there, at the profession of faith. It becomes a treacherous road, a road “less traveled” that must be walked. It does a certain violence to its practitioner by dismantling any semblance of individualism in order to bring about a new unity and a new charity in the image of Christ. The Christian might as well hear, “If you are to think as God does, then you must follow the humanity of Christ and allow your pathway to enmesh with his. Only then will you know by experience who the Christ is, whom I am sending you for your salvation.”
Of this “treacherous” road Christ says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mk 8: 34-35).
Hence, the Christian faith is elusive inasmuch as it refuses to yield its treasures except to the one who will allow the impenetrable walls of his being to be breached.