Focus On The Message
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18

Given Christianity’s belief that Jesus died for the world’s salvation, it’s ironic how often its message seems to be that the world is incapable of redemption. Many Catholics, growing up before the second half of the 20th century heard repeated admonitions against trading life’s blandishments for heaven’s sure joy. Most of what seemed good in this life, the story went, was either tainted by sin or would lead to sin if pursued too energetically. The only realistic hope of uniting oneself to the love and purpose of God was to leave the world, as far as practically possible, by becoming a priest or sister or, even better, a monk or nun living completely apart from the world.

When the growing tension between rejection and a positive appreciation of the world reached the breaking point, Catholics reacted by turning away from warnings against the world’s evils and embraced the possibilities of life. They searched for and found reflections of God’s love everywhere. Their faith in the Spirit of God’s power led them to view their daily work the arena of God’s ongoing Creation.

Now we face a reaction to the reaction. Those acutely aware of God’s will and the Tradition of his commands point to the refusal of many, especially the well-off, to cooperate. They criticize what they see as a naïve belief in the world’s goodness and a self-centered focus on comfortable happiness when chaos and suffering seem an insurmountable evil. They see in the end-of-the-millennium optimism not Christian hope but a quasi-atheistic assertion of human self-perfectibility.

Are we fated to endure the reaction to the reaction to the reaction? Jesus asked one thing of his community: to carry his promise to the world. We’re not Christians for ourselves. The world hasn’t the slightest interest in our internal theological arguments. It doesn’t care about the good feelings we may or may not get from Mass or our particular spiritual practices.

Do we still believe that we can inspire the world? Do we think ourselves capable of giving practical encouragement to those struggling toward human dignity? Can we be the reason people believe in God’s love for them.

There are things more critical to us as a church than whether we’re liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional, hierarchical or democratic. Do we make God’s love believable to those around us? That matters.