Being Human in Christ: Chapter 1

What defines a true Catholic?

Is it time to take a new look at how we live our Catholic faith and begin to change our own lives to conform with what we profess?

The answer to that question will surprise no one until we understand what it really means.

Too often our faith succumbs to a great heresy. This false teaching is so powerful people actually mistake it for true Catholicism. However, those who understand what being a Catholic entails,  realize, often, what some teach and others believe is not what Christ founded in His Church

The heresy is this: Good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell, therefore, if we want to go to Heaven we must be good.

Does this sound familiar? Let me ask you this: In that scenario, what is the difference between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus? Yes, I know you will tell me that Jesus died on the Cross for us and Santa Claus did not. However, besides that what is the difference.

Obviously, the difference in the real world is huge but in this heresy, it is not huge at all. There is virtually none.

We teach people to be good so that they will go to Heaven. We teach children to be good so that Santa Claus will bring them presents. Whether the focus is Santa Claus or it is Jesus, in this teaching, we receive an award for being good.

It is the classic carrot on the stick approach—reward and punishment. However, think through this further. If a child is bad, he will receive coal in his stocking. If a person standing before Christ is bad, he will go to Hell for all eternity. When we read the Gospels, that is not the message of Christ. He does not say this at all. In fact, he brought to Heaven an admittedly bad person—the good thief on the cross. He was a good thief not because he was falsely convicted. He acknowledged he was a criminal and belonged on the cross.

The Romans executed him for being a thief. We can assume he went through their justice system and we know they found him guilty of the crimes which he admitted doing and for which he suffered crucifixion. There is no question he was a bad person.

How did he get to Heaven? Many will say because he was sorry and repented for his actions. That is true, but, if that is all one needs to be a good person, why did not the Romans take him down once they learned he was sorry for his sin? According to this model, he, right then and there, at that time, became a good person. The fact is that is not true. Therefore, the story of his redemption must have another element we are not considering. There was. He recognized Jesus for whom He is and changed his whole attitude at that moment. This is why Jesus brought him to Heaven.

He made a connection, a relationship with Jesus that changed his whole understanding of his existence. It began at that moment.

This is what we are missing in our faith because we are often not teaching the truth of what it means to be a Christian. It means to be in an encounter with Christ, to come to embrace him as our Lord but also as our friend and to alter our understanding of our existence. It is not just being a good person. In fact, many times the idea of being good is really about conforming to the mores of a society. It is not actually about being good. Some we would consider good people were not considered good because of where they were. Did King George III, the British monarch at the time of the revolutionary war consider George Washington to be a good man? I suspect not, he was a rebel and a traitor to his country in the monarch’s mind. We, however, consider him to be a good person. However, others because he was a slave owner even signed into the law the Fugitive Slave Acts do not consider him a good person having nothing to do with the opinion of the British Monarch.

Winston Churchill referred to Mahatma Gandhi as that half-dressed Indian.

Ask a Lutheran if Martin Luther was a good man, what will he or she say? Probably yes, however, I read Catholic material from that time of people who considered him to be an agent of Hell. Was he a good man or not? All that depends on whom you ask.

What about people who protest outside an abortion clinic? Are they good people or bad people? We would say they are heroic, others who work for the clinic consider them evil.

It is important to understand that it is not good people who go to Heaven in our Church, it is people who do the will of God. Some of those people are not good in the eyes of the society. The best example of this is, of course, Jesus. In the eyes of the leaders of the Jews at the time, He was evil, a blasphemer deserving of death. Today, we look at him as good and his executors as evil. One thing we cannot deny, however, is Jesus obeyed the Father. The one who does the Father’s will is good in the eyes of God.

Jesus even said that the one who does God’s will is his brother or sister. Who goes to Heaven: good people or those who do the will of God? the latter.

Therefore, do we describe Jesus as a good person or a bad person? It depends on whom you ask. The fact that you have to ask that question throws a wrench into the teaching. The good person does the will of God, any other definition of a person as a good Catholic person is incorrect. If it is incorrect, STOP TEACHING IT.

The truth about Christianity is that we teach people to come to know Christ and just as we see with the good thief on the cross, when someone encounters Christ, he either embraces him, his friendship and his teachings to draw closer to him, or he repels him and turns away from him. There is no middle ground. The good thief became the good thief when he embraced Christ and recognized him for whom he is. The bad thief rejected him embracing instead his own narcissism and self-aggrandizement. The bad thief was lost, the good thief found salvation but by the Santa Claus standards, both were bad. Both would have received coal in their stockings, both would have ended up in Hell. Only one did because his encounter with Christ changed him completely.

It is an encounter with Christ so powerful it changes their way of acting and being that gets them to Heaven.

Remember, nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus condemning anyone for being bad. In every case where he tells the story of one who will not inherit his promises, it is always spoken in terms of familiarity with Christ. His most common admonition is: “I never knew you.” The other admonition is for not bearing fruit. It is never because you are a bad person.

In terms of evil, the most evil people in His circle were those to whom He never responded: King Herod and the bad thief on the cross.

This becomes the defining point for the apostles. Peter by his own admission when first meeting Jesus and recognizing him for whom He is, declared himself a sinful man. Simon the Zealot belonged to a party that believed in killing Romans, we cannot call him a good person. St Paul was an accessory to killing Christians in the interest of orthodoxy.

St. Peter changed to live a whole new way of being and teaching the same to others through his writing and preaching.

St. Paul changed from persecuting the Church and promoting the death of Christians to dying for Christ in Rome and doing so happily. Simon the Zealot died a martyr for Christ. All changed their way when they recognized Christ resurrected and lives. They also understood their ability to do the will of God and be good people in God’s eyes depended on them being in communion with Christ from the deepest part of their being throughout their lives. Therefore, the term relationship is a more profound term in Catholicism than can be found in any other circle. However, it is still a relationship.

This changes the whole concept of good and bad in Catholicism and ties it to your friendship with Christ. It is not good people who go to Heaven, it is the friend of Christ who does. It is the person who recognizes Jesus is Lord and lives his life accordingly. This is what a Christian is. A Christian is not by default a person who does good things. He is someone in relationship with Christ, daily, and who lives influenced by that growing friendship daily.

The radical difference between the two understandings of what is in fact good can be seen in the statement that an atheist can do good things. Not only is that true, it is a common teaching from people such as world-class atheist Daniel Dennett that one does not have to believe in God to know right from wrong. That is true but it is the true Catholic who understands that one must be in communion with Christ to fulfill his commandment to love your neighbor. Your neighbor by the way is everybody even the one who just robbed you at gunpoint. An atheist cannot understand this.

Remember, the definition of the person who is good according to the New Testament is the one who lives the commandment of Jesus which is to love God and neighbor. It is to do his will. It is not to be named person of the year and given the key to the city. In fact, if you are truly living Christ’s will, you may never be in the running for such an accolade because your actions are not based on what is good in society but what is the most loving act to Christ and your neighbor.

The good/bad distinction comes from living your faith as a friend of Jesus Christ and choosing to celebrate his love in your life. It is to live in a way that all may recognize that Jesus is the Lord through the way you live your life to live your life differently than if you never knew Christ.

This is a whole different standard than people know otherwise.

The sine qua non of our behavior is that it is rooted in Christ, if we are not doing this, then we are not living our faith.

Santa Claus is not Jesus, Jesus is not Santa Claus and Christianity is not about receiving toys or coal for Christmas.