“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
“Here he goes again,” Frank thought, as Father Joseph quoted the day’s Gospel. Frank knew it was good for his wife and kids to be here at Mass. He was there for them, but he began to realize it might be another one of those days when Father went on the warpath against the lukewarm — against guys like him.
“Does the world love you?” Father Joseph asked rhetorically. “Well, then you are probably doing something wrong!” It was confirmed. Today was one of those days. Maybe he should start reading the bulletin, Frank thought to himself.
“The world’s love or hatred is a litmus test for each one of us to know whether we are following in the footsteps of the Lord,” the priest continued. “‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.’ But, if the world loves you, then it must mean the opposite, that we are following the world over our Lord. How can we be a disciple if we don’t believe what Jesus taught? How can we follow him through the narrow gate if we focus only on what pleases us and don’t even try to repent?”
“This is exactly why people hate the Church,” Frank thought. “Where is the mercy here? Doesn’t Jesus love us and want what is good for us? I’m sick of priests telling us that we need to believe whatever they tell us and follow all their rules. I’m doing my part after all and write a check when he asks for it. That’s more than most people do. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t care about the world.” He felt indignation, but also some sweat.
It was almost as if Father was reading Frank’s thoughts. “You might say to yourself, ‘I’m doing well for myself in the world and so I can give part of my success back to God.’ That is all fine and good, but God doesn’t want a part of you. He wants all of you. He has called you out of the world so that you would be different from the worldly way of thinking and living. The world puts self first. My success. My desires. My own beliefs. I can think and live the way I want. People want mercy, but they want it without conversion. They want to keep living their worldly life and also receive all the promises of mercy.”
Frank began to fidget in his seat. He looked over at his wife. She seemed to be smirking to herself, probably thinking of him. They had an argument in the car on the way to Church. “Why is the Church so focused on things like abortion and sex?” he had complained. “Shouldn’t the Church be happy that Catholics have influence even at the top of our government, people who care about the poor, unlike most Christians. Aren’t even Cardinals telling us to move beyond petty issues of morality?” She had smirked somewhat even then. She was one of those Catholics who read mystics. A fanatic, I guess you could say. She had even pulled out one of her well-worn, crumpled devotional books and read a line from St. Bridget: “All believe and preach that I am merciful, but almost no one preaches or believes me to be a righteous judge.”
Father continued, “Jesus came to save the world, but not to affirm it in its sin. Leaving people in sin doesn’t do any favors for them. The same is true for us. We can be worldly even in the Church. If we choose to stay in our sin and claim to be a Christian, we are lying to ourselves. We have broken our communion with Christ and need to come back to him in Confession. Come back to confession! Mercy doesn’t ignore sin. Mercy is justice, because it deals with sin by healing us and bringing justice into our souls. Only with this mercy can we live as Christians in the world.”
Confession again. Yes, that is what his wife had been nagging Frank about for weeks. That was one of Father Joseph’s favorite topics. “I am not a sinner,” Frank repeated to himself. “I try to be a good person. I don’t hurt others, at least not directly. Maybe my business practices could be a bit more transparent. Maybe I could be more faithful to my wife. But it’s not hurting anyone if I take some pressure off. It helps her too. The world isn’t as bad as this priest makes it out. The world has done more for me than the Church.”
As if in response, Father Joseph affirmed: “Come out of the world. You can’t have it both ways. Choose Christ or the world.”
Frank wondered how long he could keep up appearances, bringing his family here, fidgeting in his seat and remaining worldly. This priest wanted him to make a choice. He looked over at his wife again, and then at his kids. Maybe he did need to make some kind of choice.