November 27, 2009

Catholics Called to Change or Not?

In homilies and retreats, we sometimes hear that we are already perfect, that God is already pleased with us, and likes us just as we are. Perhaps these speakers grew up watching Fred Rogers on television, but we are no longer small children in need of comfort only, but adults in need of both sustenance and growth. Certainly, God may be pleased with some of us, as we are pleased when we pass a familiar point on the road that indicates we are getting closer to home. But some of us are on the right road, and some are not. To those on the right road, the Scriptures say “beware of corruption, stay on the road.” To those off the road, “get on the road before it is too late.” To tell people they are fine, as a blanket statement to a thousand at once, is to call Christ a liar. The argument might be that our perfection was achieved by the cross and resurrection, and we no longer need to hear warnings and correction, but this is not Catholic, and it is not human. We are not yet complete and humans change constantly: we call it aging. We grow complacent at times and need to wake up; we go astray at times and need correction. Jesus gives us a wake-up call and our leaders hit the snooze button.
At the same time, God does love us just as we are, because He loves us — period. This love provides defense against discouragement, comfort when we fail, and incentive to rise up to try again. Some voices claim this love means we have no reason to exert ourselves, and there is no heroic effort to be made, yet when we read about the Saints we see heroic effort, and past writers have told us that to live an ordinary life well takes extraordinary effort. Perhaps this is why we read about the disciples falling asleep while Jesus prayed? And perhaps Samuel Beckett was thinking of this when he wrote Waiting for Godot:

Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be?
(Estragon, having struggled with his boots in vain, is dozing off again. Vladimir looks at him.) He’ll know nothing. He’ll tell me about the blows he received and I’ll give him a carrot. (Pause.) Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on.
Let us not sleep on, but awake and begin the work of growth and change, starting with ourselves.

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