By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is the Gospel Really That Complicated?

text of the Acts of the Apostles 2:17-21 with ...Image via Wikipedia
Christians can sure get complicated, and certainly we Catholics can. It is human nature. The Gospel is very simple: turn your life around and trust in Jesus. The early Christians are described in the Acts of the Apostles as living in a very straightforward fashion:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

Acts 2:42 (ESV).

Pray, gather together, celebrate the Eucharist. Many Christians will rightly emphasize the need to pray daily, to set aside time to read the Bible and to listen to God more than just once a week.

Yet, we do love complexity. That complexity is, to a certain extent, part of the healthy and natural human desire to go deeper and to try new things. Yet, that complexity, when excessive, can also be due to unhealthy human desires stemming from psychological problems and personality disorders (the list of such disorders is long; the most distasteful disorders are usually a variation of some form of megalomaniac tendencies). In previous Catholic generations, some of these dysfunctional approaches to religious practice were usually captured by the term "scrupulosity." Today, some might instead use the term "obsessive compulsive disorder." In the history of Catholicism, another term you hear sometimes applied to a compulsion toward very legalistic and burdensome religiosity is Jansenism. All of this  legalism and adding of burdens is profoundly ironic given that, in the Gospels, Jesus is always butting heads with the ritualistic and legalistic Pharisees and even explicitly declares that his burden is light and his yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30). 

Today, we see many examples of excessive, anxious religiosity among Christians. Of course, we also see examples of burdensome practices in other religions, often to an even greater, much more damaging, and more absurd degree than in the various forms of Christianity. A prime example of such unhealthy religiosity among Catholics is the obsession by many with absolute liturgical purity and propriety (usually according to their own imagined and ever more stringent standards). If you want to get Catholics talking, just raise the topics thoroughly beaten to death over the last four decades by the various liturgical wars. It would be a much better situation if you could, instead, stir up avid conversation merely by raising topics such as helping the poor, reaching out to unwed mothers even before they drive to an abortion clinic, and encouraging people to live simply. The burden of anxious religiosity is also seen in an excessive focus on religious conferences, retreats, pilgrimages, devotions, and various ministries. No one is called to do everything. In fact, in my personal opinion, individuals are called to only a few, very important things: pray often, read the Scriptures, celebrate the Eucharist, reach out with spiritual and material help to those around you.  That is a very simple list, but human nature and its various desires prefer burdensome complexity. Yet, Someone walking the villages of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea a very long time ago promised us freedom from all of that. Burdensome, anxious religiosity was old news even back then. Why act as if He never came to free us from all of that?

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