Where has all the fervor gone?

Happy Easter!!

It’s time for joyous, bright, colorful feasts and celebrations. (Whoa, did you hear the news that we have two new Pope Saints?! Hooray!)

Blooms
photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

I especially love the Easter season for the Biblical readings that we pray with. We get to hear many of the inspiring stories from the earliest days of Christianity, when it was a brand-new baby religion, dealing with all sorts of identity issues. Wait, are we Jewish or something different!? What do we believe? How do we do this? 

Essentially, after the phenomenal resurrection and then the ascension of Jesus, his earliest followers were left staring at each other with their mouths all agape and a certain question written all over their confused faces: Now what?!  

To help clear up the questions, the Holy Spirit led the way and God provided some strong leadership (Hooray for Peter, the first Pope!). Those with agape faces quickly became very bold and then formed strong, prayerful, compassionate communities. United, they risked their lives for the Gospel. At first, they called themselves the followers of The Way (one of Jesus’ names). They professed in public that Jesus was the Messiah and got more and more people to join them in their faith, even though it was dangerous and deadly for them to do so.

Love was bold and faith was fearless. By the power of the Risen Christ, all sorts of miracles were able to occur through the believers. Some of the stories help us know that the Church was refreshingly human (like the one about the guy who fell asleep during some preaching) and some miracles were just amusing. (Here’s the entertaining article I use to teach my students about the miracles in the Acts of the Apostles.) In addition to the miracles, many Christians were tortured and martyred during this time. Amazingly, this inspired more people to get in on the action.

For sure, when things were just getting started in the early Church, there was no shortage of excitement and mind-blowing news. The believers imitated Christ and were eager to love others boldly, radically and non-violently. This meant they’d be loving and peaceful even if it killed them, literally.  A certain purity and fervor bonded the faith communities and helped the Gospel to spread like wildfire.

A lot has changed in 2,000 years and now the Church doesn’t look much like it did when it began. If the shrugs my students show when I ask them if they would be a Christian even if it were illegal and deadly is any indication, a lot of the original fervor of this faith has burnt out.

So, what happened? Where has all the fervor gone?

Well, Christianity became popular, acceptable and credible. Ask any historian and they’ll likely agree: once a movement enters into the mainstream, it is no longer radical and countercultural. When the unconventional becomes ordinary, it quickly conforms to the culture and gets watered down.

Theologian Greg Boyd does a decent job of summing up how this problem infected Christianity:

Indeed, we certainly need to stop trying to bend Christ into our image.Instead, we need to conform our lives to who Christ truly is: humble, non-violent, powerless, forgiving and generous.

Let us pray that our faith can become as countercultural and courageous as it was for our Christian ancestors. Let us remember that Christ has conquered death and we are free.

Let us be real, resurrection, Easter people who will rise up to Truth: the cross is no longer a symbol of oppression and torture, but a sign of how we are called to love and how we have been loved. We embrace the cross and boldly proclaim the song of our freedom: Jesus lives! Amen! Alleluia!

Christ and His Cross
photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

a holy man, a graduation, and a NATO protest

Yesterday I met one of my heroes.  Father Louis Vitale is a model peacemaker and Franciscan.  He received an honorary doctorate in ministry from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Fr. Louis’ accomplishments include many actions of non-violent advocacy, education, and much contemplation about the goodness of God.  He has spent two years in jail for actions of non-violent peacemaking plus he helped found Pace e Bene and the Nevada Desert Experience.  Now he is a parish priest in San Francisco.

At the graduation, I was so excited to hear Fr. Louis speak and I had brought my journal and pen in order to take fervent notes.  His acceptance speech was not anything highly academic nor formal though; instead he guided us all in a meditation and celebration of the goodness of God.  He ended his speech by blowing kisses at the crowd and saying “I love you!”  In the end, with a big smile I wrote a simple note:  “Always celebrate the goodness of God!”

Earlier this week, Fr. Louis was on the news explaining what freedom means to him. His statement was part of a story about the awesome social action that my Catholic Worker friends engaged in on Monday at which they bravely proclaimed “NATO Feeds War! Community Feeds People!”  Through bread-breaking, song, prayers, signs, statements, leaflets and presence my friends and fellow Christians asked the leaders of NATO to join them in the works of mercy and stop the works of war.

Clip from Chicago's CBS news re: NATO protesters
Click to watch video

Fr. Louis’ statement about freedom has been rattling in mind since I saw it a few days ago. Then there was something about Fr. Louis’ pure joy and love for Christ and humanity that overflowed at the graduation last night that reminded me of other holy Christians, but from a long time ago.  Certainly, St. Francis would probably be grateful for his courage and witness.  But, I was thinking more about Saints Peter and Paul.

I have been teaching the book of Acts and the life of the early Christian church to my students this week. As I re-read Acts (and hear it proclaimed at mass during this Easter season) I keep feeling excited and amazed.  And, I am challenged.

Do I have the same faith and courage in Jesus that the early Christians did?  Am I willing to lovingly, non-violently proclaim the Gospel in public places, even if it’s really risky? Am I healer, a preacher and a teacher in a way that invites more people to the Christian community?  What would my faith be like if people were plotting to kill me for it and the Christian community was also not accepting me?

All who heard him were astounded and said, “Is not this the man who in Jerusalem ravaged those who call upon this name, and came here expressly to take them back in chains to the chief priests?” But Saul grew all the stronger and confounded [the] Jews who lived in Damascus, proving that this is the Messiah. After a long time had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. Now they were keeping watch on the gates day and night so as to kill him, but his disciples took him one night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. When he arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.  Acts 9: 21-26

I am not sure how brave I really am.  I’d like to think that I am willing to share the Gospel no matter what, but I haven’t really ever been persecuted for my faith.

But, I do know that I am inspired and grateful.  I am inspired by those, like Fr. Louis and my Catholic Worker friends, who non-violently, publicly testify that the non-violent, good God and Jesus is more powerful than any other force.   I am so thankful for holy men and women throughout history who boldly said yes to God and Love no matter what the cost!

This weekend, as NATO convenes in Chicago and the fear, tension and excitement escalate, I pray that all people of all faiths can experience the real peace of Christ and be able to celebrate the goodness of God.  Then, we really will graduate to The Way of peace and justice. Yes, let us pray, let us love and let us proclaim the Truth no matter the cost. Amen!