Choosing Your Religion and Other Silly Tales
Recently, I have been in conversation with people who are “exploring their spiritual options”. They are weighing the pros and cons of each denomination and religion to see which one fits. The big question for them is “Which religion will fit with my lifestyle” or “Which religion to me feels the most comfortable”. In reflecting on this, I was reminded of what our Blessed Lord said,
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…”
Throughout Salvation History, this theme is quite clear – you don’t choose to follow God by your own steam alone, but it is God Himself who calls you and grants you the grace to follow Him. This grace is also known as “prevenient grace”.
This past Sunday’s Readings from the Novus Ordo Mass make this point so well. In the first reading, Amos is sent to Bethel to prophesy, and call the people of Israel living there back to God. Amaziah tells Amos to basically get the heck out of Bethel, and go be a prophet elsewhere, because he was crampin’ Amaziah’s style. Sounds a little like today’s culture, am I right? But Amos just says “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”(Amos 7:12-15). God called him and so he went.
In the Second Reading from this past Sunday’s Mass, we are reminded again by St. Paul who spoke to the Ephesians:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of God’s grace that he granted us in the beloved” (Eph 1:3-10).
So God makes this first move– always. Pelagianism, coined by the heretic, Pelagius (d. 405), was a movement that denied any sort of actual grace in the movement of the soul to God. This heresy was however overturned by the great St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine crushed this heresy, like a boss might I add, and by 416, at the Council at Mileve, the concrete doctrine on the necessity of grace for salvation was laid down and has been emphasized again and again, namely at the Council of Orange and Trent. By St. Augustine’s death in 436, Pelagianism was effectively destroyed.
So now that we know that God is the one who gives us the grace to seek the truth, what do we do with that?
Seeking the truth is not necessarily synonymous with finding your religion, as stated above. Seeking the truth demands a letting go, a surrender of our preconceived ideas of God, religion, church, church people, etc. It demands that we drop our nets. In the former example, some look for something that will fit them. They want religion to descend to their level instead of causing them to assent to something bigger. The paradox is that Jesus already descended. St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae, stealing his thought from the great St. Iranaeus tells us that, “God was made man, that man might be made God”.
God descended so that we might ascend. This type of gift demands with it a choice. Fr. Robert Barron in his book on Catholicism, speaks about the subversive nature of Christ. Unlike other spiritual gurus or spiritual masters of His time, Jesus demands not simply to only believe His Teachings, but to lay down EVERYTHING to follow Him. Fr. Barron explains:
“… Jesus compels a choice the way no other religious founder does. As he himself said ‘Whoever is not with me is against me’ (Lk 11:23), and ‘Whoever does not gather with me scatters’ (Lk 11:23). I realize how dramatically this runs counter to our sensibilities, but Christian evangelization consists in forcing that choice” (Catholicism by Fr. Robert Barron, 14).
The Scriptures are filled with instance after instance of God calling simple men and women to engage in a real relationship with Him, and then to be sent out; Moses and the burning bush, Abraham, Elijah, Jeremiah, Mary, Joseph, the Apostles. So why is it that people are getting the idea that you can choose Christianity like you choose a new shirt?
Perhaps we are to blame.
In ancient Rome, during the time of Nero and the great persecution, it was easy to see through the lives of the martyrs that this faith, which they were called to, was worth their very lives. These early Christians knew God had called them and they lived this with reckless abandonment. What changed?
The Gospel lost its relevancy. This is not because the Gospel has been drained of it’s power, not at all, but because of nominal, cultural catholics, who ignore its power. Therefore, it is now easy to put Catholicism on the shelf of other religions to peruse and see if it fits. Jesus has become another deity. But for those of us who know, this is not the case. What is the difference between the Saints and the vast majority of pew sitters today?
The Saints grasped the Power of the Gospel.
To the early church’s Saints and Martyrs, looking down the throats of lions, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was more than relevant. It was more than duty, it was their very life. These early Christians knew in the very fiber of their being that Christ had called them to follow Him- and this call was worth their blood. We can play the scapegoat game all that we want in this day and age and say “Oh but if the priests were better, I would be a better Christian”, or “If this community was stronger I would do more for God” but the responsibility falls directly on us, who have sat in our pews Sunday after Sunday, hearing the inerrant Word of God spoken to us, and receiving His Body Blood Soul and Divinity to put what we know into practice.
It’s time for us to respond to the prevenient grace that we have been given, and reach out and awaken the frozen chosen, because Christ first loved us(1 John 4:19). It’s time that our families, friends, workplaces, schools, seminaries, convents, parishes, here the call: