But after a dramatic about-face to the love of Christ, I found myself floundering in the tangled web of confusion that swept over the Church in the twentieth century. What in the world happened?
It would be impossible to untangle that web completely here, or maybe ever, but I've been reflecting upon Father Robert Barron's new series, The New Evangelization, and he definitely seems to have some of the answers I've been looking for. As he lays out the need for a "new ardor," Father Barron categorizes the modern crisis of faith in the Church as a "Beige Catholicism." He describes one of the characteristics of this "colorless faith" as "a vague, abstract spirituality devoid of concrete traits distinguishing it from other religions and ideologies." I'd like to point out three expressions of vague abstraction I found so commonplace in my lived experience growing up as an average Catholic Christian...a so-called spirituality that left me in serious need of a savior.
One "colorless" expression of faith I'm still struggling to overcome is praying to, and talking about, a "Nameless God." He has a name, and at his name every knee shall bend. When the name of Jesus becomes primarily a way to express frustration and anger, the power of the Gospel has been stripped of its lifeblood. There's power in the name of Jesus. He is God. From this crisis of faith the Church is experiencing, a new culture must emerge. I don't presume to know what it should look like, but I do know that the name of Jesus must be spoken, boldly, with devotion, and as often as possible. Pray to Jesus, and to the Father through him.
Finally, a third experience of vague abstraction. I call it "The Fallacy of the Good Person." Protestants have a field day with Catholics who've fallen into this "works-based" idea of heaven. In my culturally Catholic upbringing, when asked whether I thought I was going to heaven I would confidently reply, "Well, yah, I'm a good person. It's not like I've killed anybody." But good people don't go to heaven. Saints go to heaven. And saints are sinners. Some of them have even killed somebody! Scripture is crystal clear on this: "Jesus is the One Mediator between God and man," and "lest any man should boast," we are saved by the sheer, unmerited gift of grace. We don't earn heaven. Salvation is a gift. And, if I can take it a step deeper, salvation is Jesus. He is the gift. Our unity with Christ is a participation in divine, Trinitarian life. I'm going to heaven because, by grace, I have received the gift of faith and now live in a transforming communion with Christ. In the hope of his unconditional, merciful love, I have an assurance of salvation. And it has nothing to do with whether or not I'm a good person. I'm not loved (or saved) because I'm a good person; I become a better person because I'm loved and am now experiencing the gift of salvation.
A vague, abstract spirituality has no power, and quite frankly it's unattractive and rightly dismissed by my generation. We need to do it with love and pastoral sensitivity, but we must overcome the modern pressure to water down the Gospel for the sake of "political correctness" and "tolerance." God's love is boundless, and we're right to hope in the salvation of those who don't profess Christ in this life. But if they are to be saved, it's because, somehow in death, they're given again the choice to accept Jesus as "the way, the truth, and the life" and there, before him in all his glory, (praise God) they say yes.