June 26, 2002

Robert Bauer of Hokie Pundit asks if we can be Christian and follow the American dream. He says: "To my Protestant sensibilities, it seems as if you're saying "um, so long as we don't kill anyone and put our $5 in the plate every week, it's all good." Also, if I'm understanding him correctly, he's asking why all Christians don't give up all their money and become missionaries because Jesus and the disciples lived a pretty austere life, and were told to even reject their families. Several times they went out as beggars with only one tunic apiece.

I wade into these murky and dangerous shoals by saying my take on it is that first and foremost we are radically damaged due to original sin. Damaged beyond belief. And so therefore we start life in a huge hole but have the ability, via baptism, to receive grace. Now just as Jesus healed sometimes very quickly and sometimes more slowly (witness the man whose blindness gradually dissipated), so does our growth via grace sometimes move fast, sometimes slow.

The point is that we don't heal ourselves. We don't say to God, "I'm going to be a Mother Teresa" and move to Calcutta. Rather God says to us, "you're going to be a Mother Teresa..." Why? Because a) maybe that is not God's plan for us (i.e. bloom where you are planted) and b) we can't manufacture the grace necessary for that tremendous sacrifice. That has to come from Him. Just as priestly celibacy is possible only from Him. Someone who doesn't have a vocation to the priesthood and yet attempts celibacy...well..you see the results.

All of this is hopefully not an excuse for our laziness and/or sin. And the danger, of course, is more likely that we will miss God's call than we will volunteer for something God hasn't called us to - but the point is that it imprudent to do something 'heroic' (that might have more to do with our self-glorification than His) without his backing.
"Story of a Soul" by St. Therese of Liesux makes the point that little things mean a lot to God.

Also, don't we, in a sense, test or tempt God if we put ourselves in a situation that demands his grace? Does the Christian scientist who refuses medical help to their child because they prefer to rely on God's help not error from a lack of prudence? Is that different from someone who, without perceiving a definite call from God, gives away all their money?

I may sound dogmatic here, and I don't mean to. I'm still trying to sort it all out. I do agree that we are called to much more than $5 in the plate and to not kill. But that's where "Story of the Soul" is so powerful because it convincingly argues that when we hold our tongue instead of criticizing someone at work or refrain from talking behind someone's back those are little acts of praise that sound large in heaven.

Obligatory Disclaimer: As Bill O'Reilly says, "tell me where I'm going wrong". It's very possible I am dead wrong about all this and should hie me to a monastery and wear a hairshirt. In fact, I have a feeling Dorothy Day would disagree...

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