How many of you go to bed without making sure the doors of your house are locked? Why do we bother about locking our doors and cars? Because we want to be safe, right? We know that the world can be a dangerous place, and we want to protect ourselves and our families from those would might try to steal what we have, or worse, threaten our lives and well-being. This is only appropriate, because the world can be a dangerous place. St. Peter seems to say just as much in today’s first reading when he tells the gathered crowds, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40).
Of course, St. Peter was not talking about protecting our homes and loved ones from criminals of this world. He was talking about saving ourselves from the corrupt generation that threatens our souls and our eternal life. So, what do you do to protect your soul from what threatens it? After all, this world is passing away — we will all die someday and we cannot take our stuff with us. Heaven and Hell are both real and they are forever. We need to give even more thought to protecting our souls from what threatens them, than to what only threatens the things of this world.
There are three books that have been published recently — Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World by Archbishop Charles Chaput, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher, and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen — which seems to have taken up St. Peter’s call for us to save ourselves from a corrupt generation. I have not had a chance to read any of these books, only reviews, so I cannot give a complete summary, but basically they feel that the world has become very un-Christian and they fear that we are on the brink of a new Dark Age. They think that the best thing for devout Catholics to do is to form intentional communities where they can support each other in holding fast to the Faith. There is some disagreement as to whether these intentional Catholic communities should develop a “bunker” mentality and withdraw from the world, or whether they should continue to “live in the world” while supporting each other in “not being of the world.” After all, our true home is heaven.
Personally, I think a “bunker” mentality is contrary to the spirit of evangelization which Jesus commanded us to take up, to make disciples of all the nations. There is no denying, however, that we cannot do it on our own. That we need to support each other as we journey as disciples following Jesus, and witnessing to the world His Good News.
This mission begins in our own families. St. Peter recalls that the promise of Jesus is made to “you and your children….” (Acts 2:39). Clearly, it is the job of the family, especially the responsibility of parents to pass on the faith to their children.
While parents need to teach their children their prayers, the primary way that parents hand on the faith is through their example. Children should see their parents praying everyday, they should see that mom and dad place a priority on their relationship with Jesus. In having conversations around the dinner table — and yes, you should be having dinner together — as you discuss your day, family members should help each other see the extraordinary presence of Jesus in the ordinary events of their lives.
We do need to avoid over-simplifying the Faith. There was an aunt who gave her nephew a St. Benedict medal to wear. She correctly told him that it was a “living prayer” for his protection. However, she was incorrect is saying that if he was wearing it when he died, he would go to heaven. The boy’s mother and father, politely corrected what the boy’s aunt told him. They told him that there are no guarantees, no free tickets to heaven. They told him that it is in following Jesus and being committed to His Church that we find our way. That discipleship is a lifelong process, and at times it is a struggle, but that we are aided by the sacramental life of the Church to live a life worthy of God’s will for us. Just as Jesus was perfectly obedient to His Heavenly Father, the parents told their son that obedience is the most important virtue for a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus created us, so He knows how we ought to live in order to have “life more abundantly.” This is why, for Christians, obedience has always been understood as a virtue, not a bad word.
In today’s democratic and individualistic society, obedience is viewed with suspicion as if anyone who obeys an authority is acting like a robot. But the Christian virtue of obedience isn’t mindless and irrational. It’s the obedience of an elite athlete to an expert coach. It’s the obedience of a docile student to a wise teacher. It’s the obedience of a sick patient to an experienced and good doctor. It’s the obedience of a healthy child to his loving parents.
The Christian obeys Christ by obeying the commandments of the Bible, the teachings of His Church, and the voice of conscience whenever it is clear and well-informed. The Christian also obeys just laws and legitimate authority in society. This makes Christians excellent citizens, and valuable members of any community.
Since Christ doesn’t want us to be blind robots, we should make an effort to understand the teachings of His Church, so that we can follow them with our whole heart and mind. There are times when we will not understand completely, times when a particular valley looks to us as if it has some luscious grass. But if our Good Shepherd, through the teachings of His Church, has warned us that enemies lurk there, we will obey, trusting in His goodness, wisdom, and love.
Today, as we receive Jesus again in Holy Communion, let’s renew our commitment to follow and obey the Lord, our Shepherd. If we do, as today’s Psalm reminded us, “there is nothing we shall want.”