We can't really answer that question until we get some things straight about what it means to be a Christian. And that means first getting some things straight about Jesus Christ. This is another one of the by-products of our secular age: we don't really quite know what to think about Jesus anymore. A few years before he became Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote something that is unfortunately very true. He wrote: "Today in broad circles, even among believers, an image has prevailed of a Jesus who demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us. . . . The figure is transformed from the 'Lord' (a word that is avoided) into a man who is nothing more than the advocate of all men."
We all know people -- friends or family members or both -- who think about Jesus in these terms. It's hard to avoid. Our culture has given Jesus a make-over. We've remade him in the image and likeness of secular compassion. Today he's not the Lord, the Son of God, but more like an enlightened humanist nice guy.
The problem is this: If Jesus isn't Lord, if he isn't the Son of God, then he can't do anything for us. Then the Gospel is just one more or less interesting philosophy of life. And that's my first point about how we need to live in a secular age: We have to trust the Gospels and we have to trust the Church that gives us the Gospels. We have to truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the son of Mary. True God and true man. The One who holds the words of eternal life. If we aren't committed to that truth, then nothing else I say tonight can make any sense.
Second point: Jesus didn't come down from heaven to tell us to go to church on Sunday. He didn't die on the cross and rise from the dead so that we would pray more at home and be a little nicer to our next-door neighbors. The fact that you smile when I say these things means we know intuitively how absurd it is to imagine a privatized, part-time Christianity.
The one thing even non-believers can see is that the Gospels aren't compromise documents. Jesus wants all of us. And not just on Sundays. He wants us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind. He wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is, with a love that's total.
As I said, you have to read the whole thing to really appreciate its brilliance. It is sophisticated enough for my twenty-year-old to be impressed and straightforward enough for my fourteen-year-old to read it and say, “So it really isn’t what we choose to do with our life, but what God chooses us to do.” Bingo!
After you read it, pass it on to all the young (and not so young) people who are making decisions about the direction of their lives.