Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
An Acquired Taste?

Readings: Romans 4:13, 1-18; Psalm 105:6-7, 8-9, 42-43; Luke 12:8-12

Probably few, if any, of those who read this blog (including its author) will have had the experience of actually being taken before synagogues and before rulers and authorities in order to speak in defence of the faith. Thankfully, most of us live in environments that are not explicitly hostile to Christianity. Even so, we cannot deny that to live truly Christian lives, to truly acknowledge Christ in our daily living, often requires that we think and act in ways that can best be described as counter-cultural. At work, for example, when everyone seems to be looking out for number one, do we not find ourselves invited to heed a different call, to run a different race? But how do we know how to run this alternative race? How do we learn to recognize this divine call? How do we know what is the Christian thing to do in any particular situation in which we find ourselves?

One common approach is to try to learn more about what the rules say. We try, for example, to read up and even to teach others what is the church’s current teaching on various issues, such as living wills, or homosexuality, divorce and remarriage... This emphasis on norms is, of course, important. But it’s not the whole story. I’m reminded of an experience of mine, some years ago, when I was asked to share a short reflection with some university students. Perhaps imprudently, I chose to illustrate my point by referring to a movie, and an R(A) movie at that. After I’d said my piece, a student, whom I later discovered was a member of a rather conservative religious group, questioned me thus: Do you mean to say that your religious superiors allow you to watch movies? Don’t you think movies are an occasion for sin? I was rather flabbergasted at the time, and was led to reflect further upon the experience. Can movies be the occasion for sin? Probably. Are all movies always an occasion for sin and so to be avoided by everyone, on every occasion, and at all costs? I wonder…

To overemphasize the adherence to norms over and above all else is to fail to see the whole picture. For, as Paul continues to remind us in the first reading, it was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants… but through the righteousness that comes from faith… What does this imply? What’s the difference between the law and faith? Jesus’ words in the gospel highlight for us one crucial difference. To live by the law is to always be concerned with having all the answers before hand. It is to think that we can respond adequately to life simply by clinging rigidly to certain norms of conduct. But notice what Jesus says in the gospel: Do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say… The inspiration to do and say the right thing is given in the Spirit at the particular moment and in the particular situation of need.

Does this mean that norms are unimportant in living a truly Christian life? By no means. To quote Dean Brackley again:

Norms have a part in this, but not the most important part. Authentic freedom is about responding to reality under the guidance of the Spirit. There are three dimensions, or “poles,” of moral experience to which we must attend: ‘reality’ itself, the world outside us; ‘norms,’ which signal what is at stake in a given situation; and the action of the Spirit on our interior life. As we mature beyond moral minimums, we follow the Spirit more than we are guided by norms or abstract ideals in responding to the world. For Christians, Christ is the norm of norms and his Spirit guides them…

But all this implies that we Christians are continually learning to be more and more attuned to the voice of the Spirit, that we are gradually acquiring the taste for the Spirit's inspirations.

How might we continue to acquire this taste today?

1 comment:

  1. We need to have alot of trust in God, that even when doing the right things appears against the "norms" - we should do what is right.

    Very often, we end up doing what is most convenient and immediately advantageous instead of choosing the correct but more difficult way. It is so much easier to give in to our kids' whims instead of teaching them the difference between needs and wants. Most would write reports to follow the superior's views even if they don't believe it themselves.

    Perhaps I must qualify that I have the "luxury" of being true to my values at work as I have a very nice boss, and if it came to the crunch, my job is not needed to put food on the table.

    Norms are meant to make people conform, and they are largely safe and uncontroversial. Jesus just wants us not to follow norms blindly and challenge them when it is just to do so.