Some days I look around and can’t help but wonder if there is any hope left for society. It can be easy for those of us who want to fight the good fight and strive for holiness in our lives to get discouraged. There are so many things wrong with society. So many things that were rightly viewed as immoral or scandalous just a few decades ago are now seen as normal and are even encouraged. What is more discouraging than the state of the secular world, though, is the state of things even amongst those who profess to be Christian or Catholic.
I say this not to cast judgement. I certainly do not want to be like the person in Luke 6:41-42. No, I say it to highlight how daunting the task of the New Evangelisation can be when it seems evident that even many within the Church have fallen under the spell of the secular world. Since the time when Christ first called His apostles we have been a Church of sinners. No one expects us to be perfect. I certainly fall very short very frequently when it comes to trying to live in a way that is pleasing to Christ. The problem is not that we sin. We all make mistakes and we all have our weaknesses. No, the problem is that people have become immune to the idea of sin or the need to repent. I’ve heard it said that what matters in life is not how many times we fall but rather how many times we pick ourselves up again and continue on our journey. Sadly though, for many Christians there is no longer a recognition of the need to strive for holiness.
I am of the opinion that one of the most abused and taken-out-of-context bible passages ever is John 8:7. How many times have we all heard both Christians and non-believers justify anything and everything by simply making the reference “Let he who is without sin…”? Maybe we even do it ourselves sometimes. The thing is, yes, Christ did remind us to be aware of our own sinful natures before we start condemning others, but that isn’t justification for us to do whatever we want. Jesus does not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but at the same time He does tell her to go and sin no more (John 8:11). That’s what a lot of people either don’t seem to realise or choose to ignore – Christ offers us forgiveness but He also calls us to a change of heart and conversion of life.
Blessed Pope John Paul II once compared being a Christian to being an athlete. In order to succeed in a given sport an athlete cannot simply show up on the day of competition. They must dedicate weeks, months and years to training, and live lives of commitment and sacrifice, in order to be the best they can be in their chosen sport. Similarly, as Christians we must work hard, commit to our faith and make sacrifices in order to achieve holiness. Unlike athletes, though, we cannot reach a peak and then retire but rather our journey will continue for the rest of our lives. In the words of JPII, “Your training will never be finished. Christians are always in training.”
I have said it before and I will say it again – as Christians we are called to be in the world but not of the world. Part of this involves frequently examining our beliefs and the way in which we live, and striving through prayer and our actions to overcome our weaknesses and grow in virtue. It’s not about metaphorically beating ourselves up and making ourselves feel like we are terrible people, but rather about acknowledging our sinful nature and recognising that through the grace of God we can draw closer to Him and be better witnesses to Him in the way we live out our faith. We shouldn’t be judging one another, but we should be encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ to become the men and women that God created us to be.