Have we conformed to the world, or have we challenged it?

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman reflects that Christians who escape what Scripture calls “tribulation” in entering the kingdom of God should examine whether they have, in fact, “taken the world’s pay” and been “put under its yoke.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Recently I was reading Blessed John Henry Newman’s sermon on “Endurance, the Christian’s Portion” (PPS, V: 20) and was struck by a comment he makes in reflecting on the affirmation of St. Paul and St. Barnabas “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14: 22).”

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron

Newman observes that perhaps one of the reasons Christ’s disciples in a particular time and place seem to escape being persecuted — escape having “endurance as their portion” — is that they have conformed themselves to the thinking and behavior of their society. He poses this provocative question: “Is it strange that they [our contemporaries] should think that the world may now tyrannize over the Church [i.e., determine her doctrines and morals], when we allow that the Church may now indulge in the world? Surely they do but make a fair bargain with us; both they and we put aside Scripture, and then agree together, we to live in ease, and they to rule. We have taken the world’s pay, and must not grudge its yoke. Independence surely is not the Church’s privilege, unless hardship is her portion.”

To be sure, the situation of the Catholic Church in the United States today is distinctly different from the Church of England in Newman’s day, but the New Testament’s conviction that enduring trial is the natural state of a Christian disciple retains its validity. So, during Lent, we can with profit for our salvation ask ourselves whether we’ve “taken the world’s pay” and so justly been put “under its yoke.” Have I made the thinking of the world, of this early 21st century American society, the measure for my judgments about right and wrong? About success and failure? About whether to make the Lordship of Jesus the foundation of my life? About the time and energy I give to growing as his disciple? About my witness to the Gospel of Life? About the preferences I give to the service of the sick and the poor and those on the peripheries? About my convictions regarding marriage and what it means to live chastely? About the need for honesty and integrity in all my dealings with others? About the value I place on the goods and rewards that the world offers?

Blessed John Henry reminds us that characterizing one of Christ’s disciples as “counter-cultural” is, or at least ought to be, redundant. That gives us all something to consider as we examine our consciences as part of the Lenten repentance that prepares us for the Easter Feast.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit


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