My new car came with a trial subscription to satellite radio and so earlier last spring, I got into the habit of listening to Joel Osteen in the morning when I would drive over to the gym. I enjoyed starting my day with a positive, encouraging message rooted in the word of God. It wasn’t the sole source of my spiritual nourishment, but Osteen’s preaching certainly enhanced my relationship with God. Why aren’t Catholics preaching this way?
I can certainly understand why Osteen is subject to more than healthy portion of criticism. First, he often speaks of material abundance. Second, he avoids all talk of suffering as a sacred part of life. He’s been called “cross-less Christianity.” Finally, his lifestyle is subject to much scrutiny, as Joel and his wife Victoria live in a multi-million dollar home– but how is his living arrangement any different from leaders of other religions who live in luxury? His ministry reminds people that they are good, that they are worthy, and that they can bring the light of God’s love to others. I don’t care how much Joel and Victoria payed for their home. The Osteens are filling a huge need in the market of spirituality.
Furthermore, one might see the purchase of a large home as a sort of testament to personal faith. A supersized home has supersized expenses. A supersized home-owner needs supersized faith in God’s ability to provide enough resources to satisfy the utility companies, employ someone to clean all of those rooms and keep up with property taxes.
Back to the topic at hand…
We would be remiss if we ignored the presence of sin on our own hearts and in the world.
Pope Francis says:
“Maybe his [Satan’s] greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist, and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.”
Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1783 states:
Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.
We are subject to negative influences, to temptation and to pride, but does that mean we
are inherently bad? So much of my early spiritual formation told me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was weak, and that I was meant to be unhappy in this life. Our Catholic fascination with guilt and sin has allowed good people to excuse themselves from the sacraments, distanced good people from God’s love and discouraged some of the most gifted, dedicated and humble Christians I know from pursuing a vocation to public ministry. Last I checked the heresy police blotter, Gnosticism and Docetism were addressed at the Council of Nicaea. It’s been decided already–in 325A.D., to be exact– that if you born as a human, you’re a-okay!
So what can we do when these old school heresies create divots in our spiritual self esteem? What’s our mallet in this game of heretical whac – a-mole?
Each week I am entrusted to draft the introduction to Sunday mass. It’s a mini-moment of liturgical catechesis which touches on the readings and calls attention to any extended offering (second collection.) Since Ash Wednesday, when many people return to Church, the first few words of the introduction read:
“You are worthy. You are loved.”
Why aren’t we talking about our worthiness? Everything about Lent, especially this year, speaks to repentance, to mercy, to forgiveness. The fig tree. The prodigal son. The woman caught in adultery. In each of these instances, the protagonist was worthy of a second chance, and the opportunity to a more abundant life.
I’ve compiled the introductions that I prepared for our parish for the 2016 Lenten Season. Feel free to check them out here and if you are so inclined, incorporate them as you continue to affirm your community, especially during this season of renewal and abundant mercy.