The more I think about Christianity, the stranger it seems. Most of it makes no sense. If you want to gain your life, you must lose it. If you want true happiness, you must sacrifice what makes you happy. True justice means never retaliating. A kingdom is like a seed, and a person is a vine, or bread, or water, or light. Love your enemies. Only give to those who can't repay you. Take the place of least honor. If you want to be first, put yourself last. If you cry, you're lucky. If people are cruel to you, rejoice. A tiny scrap of bread embodies the Infinite, the Eternal, the person who makes you live in every moment. And then you eat it. If you want to be rich, give everything away. Don't think about how to clothe or feed yourself! The people who commit the worst crimes may be more justified in God's sight than the good citizens, who follow all the rules. The best leader is a child. The wisest among us doesn't know as much as an infant does. Joy may blossom under the most severe degradation and cruelty, while the rich and well-fed tremble in agony.
Despite the fact that none of it makes sense, I think it is easy to lose sight of just how far-fetched Christianity is -- how counter-cultural it is.
Why would anybody follow this strangest Way to live? I can only think of two reasons (if someone reads this, please add others I may not be considering): either we come to the point where the more "sensible" route betrays us and then we grope blindly for Christianity, almost without hope; or we see something amazing, something we can't explain, something that so astonishes us that we are willing to suspend our craving for the sensible path in order to explore what this strange thing can be all about.
At the moment when we are willing to sacrifice the sensible, the safe, and the best solutions we can come up with on our own, we become open (even if only infinitesimally at first) to the possibility that we do not make ourselves or the world we inhabit. But what could be more reasonable than to assert that I did not give birth to myself, and I do not keep myself alive? Why do I need an extraordinary push in order to recognize an obvious fact? Well, let's just say that remaining sensible within a sensible world requires that we ignore some of the evidence of our senses, to the point where we can barely use our eyes or ears anymore!
Now, according to my "sensible" mind, I make decisions, I know what I like and what I don't like, and I pursue what I like while avoiding what I don't. But if I begin from the most reasonable conclusion, that I don't make myself, then I need to consider that I am the work of Another; I breathe with the air of Another; I sing or work because Someone else gives me a mouth and hands. Who is this Other? What does He want with me? What am I made for?
I don't have to guess the answer! At a certain point in history, in a precise location, this Someone became a person, a brother who walks beside me. He made the claim that he is the one who generates me, gives me every breath I inhale. This human being claimed to be one and the same Person who has a particular desire for me that is so strong that he spoke me into existence and sustains me in every moment. He's the one who teaches me all the senseless things I listed in the first paragraph (and many others, besides).
Christianity rests on the edge of a knife's blade. Do I accept that this human being, born in Judea roughly two thousand years ago, is who he says he is or not? Why should I accept? What happens when I follow the strange indications he gave?
It is the same for each and every Christian. No one can escape exploring these questions. There will never be any substitute for this journey. So, allons my friends!
In 1996 there was a gathering of Christians and Buddhists at the monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. At the meeting were scholars and monks from both traditions, as well as the Dalai Lama himself. After days of intense conversation and shared prayer, one of the Buddhist participants spoke to an urgent point. What had been bothering him throughout the conference was the prominent display, in almost every room of the monastery, of a suffering man pinioned to a cross. To his mind, the crucifix represented the agony to which the meditation and practices of his religion were the solution. And thus, he asked his Christian interlocutors, what precisely was the point in showing this terrible scene over and over again?...
...I love that man's question. More to the point, I love the bother that prompted it. Christians have become so accustomed to seeing the crucifix -- in churches, in schools, on seasonal greeting cards, worn as jewelry around people's necks -- that they have long since lost any sense of how awful and strange it is...
...On both the human and divine side...there is a radical, even disquieting extremism about Christianity, and the best spirits in the Christian tradition do nothing to soften it; on the contrary, they intensify it. -- Robert Barron, from The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path.
One thing best demonstrates how much the community affirms the freedom of the person: it is realized even if others do not acknowledge me, even if they refuse me. If I want them, if I accept them nonetheless, then there is a more conscious, vigorous and thus ever truer communion with them. For this reason, no sign of personal greatness is more sublime than forgiveness. Freedom seizes in love even one who hates; not even the most dogged enemy can elude my love, and thus my freedom seizes him and dominates him much more deeply than he can violate and conquer me.
"Forgive them Father": abandoned by everyone, Christ created the universal community. (page 26)
Recently I called a friend for help with a particular problem. I needed to know how to maintain unity with someone else when the other person didn't want it. I had the feeling that this "invisible" unity that Fr. Giussani describes might not be "good enough" given the circumstances. I wanted to know what my responsibility was and whether there was anything I could or should do in this situation. My friend told me that this person and I, Fr. Carron and I, Fr. Giussani and I, he and I, we were all one thing. By virtue of our Baptism, we were already one thing. There is nothing that we can do to "make" unity or to enhance it. The only question is whether we are aware of this unity that already exists. How do we live this awareness? How does this awareness shape our lives?
This answer is so satisfying on so many levels. It is a terrible burden to imagine that unity depends on us or to imagine that we have the power to injure it. Along with this burden comes the idea, conscious or unconscious, that we are responsible for another person's response (for example: If I say x the wrong way, the other might be offended, and that could potentially destroy our unity). Pretty soon, this "unity" becomes an idol, to which we sacrifice our humanity, our zest, our freedom.
Our unity already exists. As I recognize this reality more deeply, I begin to see more, understand more, appreciate more, and enjoy life more. Not simply in those cases where there is a problem -- when it is necessary to forgive, or "to tolerate difference" -- but in everything that happens, if I give priority to this unity and if I love it more than I love myself or the particular people for whom I have affection, strange and impossible things begin to happen. I see miracles every day!
It seems morally repugnant or contrary to everything we understand and hold to be true to say one ought to love something, a "concept" or an "abstraction," more than one loves one's children or spouse. But unity is not a concept or an abstraction -- both of which are the sorts of things human beings invent. Unity is a Person, the Body of Christ, actually present in the flesh, here and now. Christ fulfills his promise to stay with us, until the end of the age, through our unity (which is made concrete and visible through the one bread that is broken and shared among us). And unity thus transcends any preference we may have -- it is the great leveler. The love and forgiveness that exist between spouses is a sign of the unity that binds us all...
Originally posted at Cahiers Péguy
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