Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Light of the World

New York City

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 mNor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so nthat2 they may see your good works and ogive glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:14-16, ESV)

A couple of days ago I read an interesting post by Bruce Charlton, a British professor and prolific writer and blogger.  He always has some interesting point to make on his blog. The post I refer to was titled, Should Christians Self-Identify in the West?  His conclusion was in the affirmative, and he gave two or three or more reasons for saying so. There was one I thought was one easily over looked by most people today.

And partly because most non-Christians self-identify... that devout adherents of most other religions are usually immediately identifiable - and so are anti-Christians by their style of dress (youth cult allegiance, immodesty), bodily self-mutilations, badges, consumption and conspicuous life styles.

It isn't fashionable, or politically correct, to be Christian these days. It's actually positively frowned upon. We are to keep our religion to ourselves if we are Christian, especially if we are Catholic Christians. Yet, as Mr. Charleton pointed out, for members of other religious groups, for instance, Muslims, these rules don't apply.  Why shouldn’t Christians be more visible in the world?

The question is, how do we do this?  Professor Charlton doesn't tell us, but one way could be to make ourselves more conspicuous by wearing a crucifix around our neck or as a lapel pin.  We could wear gaudy t-shirts that proclaim some Christian message.  I guess we could even wear sackcloth and ashes on occasion.  After all, Jesus did say, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden,” we shouldn’t just be invisible. 

Yet this isn’t the way Christians have “self-identified” in the past.  For instance, since the days of the early Church, Christians have self-identified by the way they live their lives.  The Letter to Diognetus tells us:

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

It seems it was the distinguishing marks of the early Christians not to be distinguished; they blended in, as far as the casual observer was concerned.  Yet, there was “something extraordinary” about them – they lived their lives in a different way, with different goals, than their non-Christian neighbors.  They self-identified by living truly Christian lives.

I agree with Professor Charlton that Christians should self-identify, but that doesn't mean we have to wear different clothes, or Christian symbols around our necks.  We should self-identify by living Christian lives.  Christians today are indistinguishable from those around them, but sadly, for the most part, neither is there much extraordinary about them.  Too often, they’re willing to share both their meals and their wives; they’ve surrendered to the culture.  We should be noticed as Christians, not because we don't dress like those we live and work with, but because we don't act like those around us; we act like someone seeking to be holy.

How do we do that?  St Josemaria Escriva had a specific, and simple, method for Christians to follow, described by Scott Hahn in his book Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace:
St Josemaria Escrva sketched out a simple apostolic program: ‘First, prayer; then, atonement; in the third place, very much “in the third place,” action.”  Most of our apostolate, then, will be invisible.  Our friends might someday glimpse the tip of the iceberg – maybe.  In heaven, however, they’ll know our love in its very depths.”

Prayer, atonement, action – these are the steps necessary if Christians are to have any hope of self-identifying, maybe also the only hope of the West itself.  It's a call to Christians, and our neighbors, to true conversion.  Little else has worked to change our steadily declining culture; this surely can.

Enhanced by Zemanta


bgc said...

These are good points - but you would need to know somebody well to see a difference in their lives. By contrast, the self -identification of Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus etc is often very obvious and they often greet each other, even strangers.

I personally would be pleased to know who, among people I meet casually, is a Christian.

Ron said...


As I think of it, when meeting someone you don't know well, it would be good to know they're Christian, so you know if you're in good company or not. And there is the point that, knowing someone professes to be a Christian and that their actions also profess their faith would be a very effective way to evangelize.

I certainly can't say I'd disagree with you.

Thank you for taking to time to comment.