Because I am outspoken about being Catholic, in the early years following my conversion, I frequently entered into conversation with those who no longer attend Mass. Almost always, the first few reasons were ideologic: “I disagree with the Church on abortion, birth control, homosexuality, and the church’s refusal to ordain women as priests” tended to head the list.
But things changed in 2016.
And even more in 2020.
Suddenly, Anne Rice’s objections to Catholicism were legitimized. Including even a few she’d not mentioned: euthanasia, gender affirmation and same-sex marriage lead a long and confounding list of sin now institutionalized in Democratic ideology.
When Fr. Greg Altman posted his notorious video called, You Cannot Be Catholic & A Democrat, I wholeheartedly agreed. Indeed, I thought it self-evident. And yet, fifty-two percent of Catholics voted self-professed Catholic Biden in as President. In doing so, Americans have rid themselves of one of the most disliked presidents in history while unleashing one of the most radically pro-abortion agendas in the world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the Lutheran scholar, spy and martyr executed before the age of forty by Nazi Germany. I have read his book, The Cost of Discipleship, three times. With each reading, I’m more persuaded that he was also a prophet.
“This commandment, that we should love our enemies and forgo revenge will grow even more urgent in the holy struggle which lies before us and in which we partly have already been engaged for years. In it love and hate engage in mortal combat. It is the urgent duty of every Christian soul to prepare itself for it. The time is coming when the confession of the living God will incur not only the hatred and the fury of the world, for on the whole it has come to that already, but complete ostracism from ‘human society,’ as they call it. The Christians will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment and death of every kind. We are approaching an age of widespread persecution. Therein lies the true significance of all the movements and conflicts of our age. Our adversaries seek to root out the Christian Church and the Christian faith because they cannot live side by side with us, because they see in every word we utter and every deed we do, even when they are not specifically directed against them, a condemnation of their own words and deeds. They are not far wrong.
Bonhoeffer writes about the German Lutheran church in pre-WW ll Germany. Desperate to appease Hitler-and their lives- the leadership of the Lutheran state church approved Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews. Not so baldly put, of course. The words of evil always obfuscate the real meaning, euphemisms are a device which works wonderfully well to manipulate thought. In his splendid biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Spy Prophet, Eric Metaxes details the diabolical manner in which the Lutheran Church was corrupted and brought to submission by the German government.
The phrase “cheap grace” is borrowed from Martin Luther’s protest against the selling of indulgences by the 16th century Catholic Church. This was one of the many sins committed by the Catholic hierarchy which led to the Reformation. Luther is referring to the practice of cheapening the grace of God by selling it. Over five centuries later, I realize that in Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship lies the answer to what has happened to us Catholics and Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace.
But the answer is simpler-and older. Belief is not enough.
After I read The Cost of Discipleship the last time, [embedded in the link is a free PDF] I was reminded of the very hardest part of faith, of any religion: obedience. So difficult at times that it feels impossible. And without an ongoing personal relationship with Christ and His sacraments, obedience is impossible.
Writing about the disciples, Bonhoeffer examines the two-step process of conversion.
“The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. How could the call immediately evoke obedience? The story is a stumbling-block for the natural reason… Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more or less than the end of discipleship. In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ….Discipleship without Jesus Christ is a way of our own choosing. It may be the ideal way. It may even lead to martyrdom, but it is devoid of all promise. Jesus will certainly reject it….”
During the process of my conversion, many perhaps most, of my former beliefs and values died. Along with them so did some dear friendships.
Decades later, much of my faith has been assimilated into my being.
But are there times when obedience still feels impossible?
At times every hour of my day.
Maura Harrison, my online poet and artist friend, penned a poem that explains our battle poignantly.
Who are These Clothed in White Robes?
Reflection on Rev 7:14-17
Crumbling culture crashes down
hateful curses, cancelation, control
of the soul. Our beliefs are pinned, pressed, ground
into the grinder’s barbs. It takes its toll.
We are tumbled in tribulation,
into pits of society’s gravel,
turned and trained by godless excavation
into fine sand, swept out as dust and dull.
Choking, sighing, we take our thirsty mess—
grated mar—to the depths of love, to Heart,
to the color of blood that lives to bless
and burn. We emerge robed in white and depart
the quarry like a holy hot mirage,
undulating with joy and God’s own will
while sun lights our facets, tearless because
we spring from where the living waters spill.