Jesus is not optional

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Sometimes I decide what I’m going to write about. And sometimes God does.

I just came back from the FOCUS conference in Phoenix. It was awesome, incidentally, and I highly recommend that you all look into it for next year. Yes, it is sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. And yes, there are a lot of college kids there. But there is also a marvelous adult track, with wonderful speakers and fabulous activities. 

But I digress. The very first speaker was Father Mike Schmitz, and the theme of his talk was that Jesus is not “optional.” It was a wonderful talk and gave me so much spiritual food for thought.

I wrote “Jesus is not optional” in my little column ideas list.

Then I came home and went to a movie. The movie, A Hidden Life, was about Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian conscientious objector who was executed by the Nazis in 1943. Also highly recommended. In the movie, there is a scene where Franz is talking to a man who paints frescos in the church. He’s talking about how he paints Jesus as nice, unthreatening. He says he does it because “[W]e create admirers. We do not create followers. Christ’s life is a demand. We don’t want to be reminded of it.”

Similar message strikes me twice? That’s my message from God. And it’s my column.

So, let’s talk about Jesus.

I don’t think, in our culture, you’ll find a lot of people who openly regard Him negatively. Even the Doobie Brothers said that “Jesus is Just Alright.” (Which, in the parlance of the day, meant that He is “cool.”) It’s kind of a form of weak virtue signaling to speak highly — but vaguely — of Him. Of course, the “Jesus” to whom people frequently refer bears little if any resemblance to the actual Jesus who walked the earth — the one whose life and message are recorded in Scripture.  No, He is mild and pleasant and somewhat feminized, and He just wants everybody to get along.

I actually read a Facebook post the other day (I don’t remember the context) in which a woman was lecturing someone about how Jesus’ message was all about UNITY and EQUALITY. Apparently, she never got to the part about how a father will be divided against his sons, and a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law.

We all see “outsiders” shape-shifting Jesus to fit their own agendas. But what about those of us who call ourselves Christian — followers of Christ? Where does Jesus fit into our lives?

I maintain that a vast majority of “Christians” probably fall more into the “admirer” category than the “follower.” We speak of Him, occasionally, but always in reverent tones. We put his picture in a corner of the house somewhere. Perhaps we even quote Him when his words bolster our argument.

But is that what He asks of us? Did He say “Join my church, and give me lip service every once in a while”? Did He say “As long as you’re a basically good person, you really don’t need to pay too much attention to me”?

No. He said “Follow me.” Actually, technically, it was “deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow me.” He invited us to lose our lives for His sake. He commanded us to love Him with our whole heart and soul.

What does it look like to follow Him? It looks like St. Teresa of Calcutta, who never worried about funding her ministries, but prayed for an hour every day and the funds arrived when they were needed. It looks like St. John Paul II, who risked his life pursuing the priesthood in an underground seminary in defiance of the Nazis. It looks like Bl. Franz Jagerstatter, who refused to swear allegiance to the murderous dictator Hitler, even when it led to his execution.

It also means you and I strive to put Him first in our everyday lives. It means we read his word and ponder what He is telling us through it. It means we work to live lives of service instead of merely comfort. It means we see his image and likeness in every person we encounter. It means we stand up for his truth in our own little ways, even when doing so will cost us popularity or business or “likes.”

But that can be unpleasant at best, and can cost us our lives at worst. Why do we have to go through it all? Are these just the hoops we are supposed to jump through so we can get to Heaven?

No. We bother not because He needs us, but because we need Him. We need Him at the center of our lives. We need him because, as Father Mike said in his talk, we are not “fine” without him. We are desperate, in need of a savior, to save us in this life and in the next.

Also, lest you think I am preaching at you from some high spiritual perch where I have attained this incredible one-ness with him, think again. I’m just the girl who heard a reminder twice in a week and had to take a good hard look at her own life.

Let’s all make a commitment to take Him out of the corner in 2020. Let’s put Him first. Let’s make sure his voice is the first one we seek in the morning, and that his word informs our every decision. Let’s ask Him to shine his love through us. Let’s recommit to his sacraments.

And then we can show the world who He really is.

COMING UP: Archbishop Aquila on ad limina visit, Pope Francis and more

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During his ad limina visit Feb. 10-15, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila was granted an audience with Pope Francis for over two hours where they discussed several topics pertinent to the Church today.

Archbishop Aquila was among a contingent of U.S. bishops representing Region XIII in the United States, which includes the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming and Utah. He along with the bishops of those states met with the Holy Father Feb. 10. With the release of Querida Amazonia scheduled just a few days later on Feb. 12, Pope Francis discussed the document produced from last year’s Amazon Synod with the bishops.

“He brought up the question of celibacy, and he said [his] primary concern is that Gospel be proclaimed in the Amazon and that all of us need to focus on Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel first,” Archbishop Aquila said in an interview with EWTN. “If they proclaim the Gospel and are faithful to the Gospel, then vocations will come forth.”

Archbishop Aquila with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit Feb. 10. (Photo: Servizio Fotografico Vaticano)

With much discussion surrounding the Amazon Synod and possible implications it would have for the universal Church, Archbishop Aquila was reassured by the Pope’s comments on synodality and the Church’s application of it.

“Even in the understanding of synodality, which we spoke about, it always has to be ‘under Peter and with Peter’ and that synods cannot be going off and creating things that they want done,” the archbishop said. “He made it very clear: that is not synodality in the Catholic understanding. That was very reassuring.”

Among the other topics the bishops discussed with the Holy Father were some of the challenges faced by the Church in the United States and how to address them.

“The Holy Father was very clear: He said transgenderism is one of the great challenges in the United States right now, and the other is abortion,” Archbishop Aquila said. “Both of them really deal with the dignity of human life and the understanding of human life and do we truly receive from God the gender that he has given to us.

Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit Feb. 10. (Photo: Servizio Fotografico Vaticano)

“There are only two genders, male and female, and so how do we open our hearts to receiving that as gift.”
Archbishop Aquila said that they Holy Father also “spoke of media, and how the far left goes after him and the far right goes after him, and neither one really presents who he is.”

In a time where Pope Francis’ comments can be rather polarizing and even mischaracterized, Archbishop Aquila was struck by the depth of the Holy Father’s faith in his audience with him.

“[The Pope] has a very, very deep faith. He is convinced of the Gospel, he is totally convinced of Jesus Christ, he is convinced that there are teachings in the Church that can never change and that we have to be faithful to the Church.”

Hannah Brockhaus of Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.

Featured image by Paul Haring/CNS