This post is part of the First Friday link-up at O Most Sacred Heart.
Ours is not so much the age of invention as the age of “reinvention.” Certainly, people were reinventing themselves long before our time; Jay Gatsby is literary proof of that. But in the modern era we are not content to merely reinvent ourselves; we also enjoy reinventing others. You would think that we would use our sophisticated 21-century historical and archaeological techniques to more closely approach the truth concerning famous folks of the past, but that’s no fun. What is fun is reinventing them – making them over in our own image….
A Newsweek article from 2012 urged the world to “forget the church and follow Jesus.” But sadly, there are many reinventions of Jesus – alongside the Jesus of orthodox Christianity we have the Jehovah’s Witness Jesus, the Mormon Jesus, the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar, the homosexual Jesus, etc. Lest the reader follow the wrong one, the journalist behind the Newsweek article defined Jesus for us: His Jesus lived among us to heighten our awareness of the “constant struggle to liberate ourselves from what keeps us from God.” His Jesus minded his own beeswax, avoiding controversy like the plague, and would have shunned the current discussions on abortion and homosexual marriage rights, for he was a Jesus who embraced a simple life, living close to nature, refusing to meddle in the affairs of others, gently serving the unfortunate, abstaining from the comforts material goods can bring – kind of a St.-Francis-of-Assisi Jesus who just wanted to be left alone to do good. His Jesus’ meddling followers later embellished their master’s teachings and gilded his portraits until the Jesus of the Church bore little resemblance to the humble carpenter. Unsuspecting humanity was sold a fake Jesus whom his followers then manipulated for their own worldly purposes. The Jesus that this writer proposes brought mankind a message of renunciation, of a refusal to wield power, of an abhorrence of pontificating on controversial topics. His Jesus would not have dreamed of picketing outside of abortion clinics; he would instead have been waiting outside town to offer forgiveness to any woman who sought him out, having realized that she had killed the children God had sent her. His Jesus preached a Christianity that butted out. St. Francis apparently got it; St. Catherine of Siena clearly did not. It is this totally unengaged Jesus who will, nay, who must serve as our example if we Christians hope to survive as a religious entity. Following the Jesus of orthodox Christianity, the writer claims, is a dead-end proposition.
There was a predictable response to these suggestions. The article began with the assertion that Christianity is “in crisis.” So what else is new? Historically speaking, Christianity has always been in crisis – the gates of you-know-where have yet to prevail. Christians would agree wholeheartedly with the writer’s proposition that what the world needs is Jesus. However, while the world needs Jesus in the worst way, what the world must not do is leave the Church and follow THAT Jesus. Jesus established a Church; to leave the Church means to leave Him. Theologically speaking, there’s no getting around that point.
Yes, the world needs Jesus. Cults, schismatics and even atheists are all eager to provide some kind of Jesus for the world to follow. The Catholic answer to that must always be: Jesus – yes! But not THAT Jesus. The world needs God the Son, Redeemer of the world, full of goodness and love, in Whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead! The world needs Jesus, patient and rich in mercy, rich to those who call upon Him, Who found it unthinkable that any person be left alone to die in his sins! The world needs Jesus, Source of all consolation, Victim for our sins, Who would love the young woman considering abortion so much that He would not shy away from talking her out of what she was planning to do. The world needs Jesus, Who out of the burning depths of His charity refused to leave the world the way it was….
The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus has faced a similar public relations fiasco. When asked, “Can an increase in devotion to the Sacred Heart help to restore the 21st-century Church?” many would answer, “Are you kidding me? Devotion to a soppy, maudlin, kitschy superstition? How is that going to restore the Church of our day?? That’s exactly what we need less of!”
And the answer to that objection is, of course: Not THAT Sacred Heart.
The REAL Sacred Heart was revealed to St. Margaret Mary by Jesus Himself with these words:
Behold this Heart, Which has loved men so much that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love ….
The folks who reinvented the Sacred Heart as a throw pillow are the same ones who reimagined St. Francis of Assisi as a garden gnome. Yet the real St. Francis traveled to Egypt to request of the Sultan a trial by fire to prove the claims of Christianity – pretty gutsy behavior for someone who supposedly just wanted to hide in the woods and serenade the fauna. And the Real Jesus inflicted upon the real St. Francis the gift of the stigmata, that he might suffer as the Real Jesus suffered. So much for a refusal to confront the culture or to get involved in someone else’s affairs.
To anyone with a doily allergy, devotion to the Sacred Heart evokes images of limp wrists and low blood pressure. The Real Sacred Heart is anything but. The Real Sacred Heart is ablaze with all-consuming love, and anyone who approaches It can expect to go up in flames.
Does the Church of the 21st century need more of that? You bet your garden gnomes we do.
On the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi
Deo omnis gloria!