Thursday, July 29, 2010

The cost of discipleship...

"Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship)
Several years ago during a conversation with my sister, I must have said something suggesting she return to Mass - I never pressured her ever - but she must have been exasperated with me because she snapped, "If religion is so great why aren't you happy?"  (Or did she say, "Why do you still have so many problems?") 
I really did not know how to answer her.  I think I said something lame like "I would be worse if I didn't practice my faith."  I knew telling her what Our Lady told St. Bernadette wouldn't compete with her idea of a comfortable faith:  "I can't promise you happiness in this world, but in the next."  My sister is convinced God wants us to be happy and content in this life, so if we don't want to go to church, we can think of God in bed.  If the kids don't think it is important to marry their significant other, that is okay too - after all, "what does a piece of paper mean?"  Likewise, if her gay son wants to get married, why can't he?  She just wants him to be happy.
Anyway - I'm not ragging on my dear old sister here, not at all.  I can't change her.  But now and again I am reminded of the affront made to me, "Why aren't you happy?"  It was but a few days ago that I decided it is not always necessary to have an answer or to offer an excuse.
I recalled similar challenges made to someone else, a very long time ago now; "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."  And, "Aren't you the Messiah?  Then save yourself and us."  Christ never responded.   [Luke 23:37-41]


  1. I will pray for your sister today.

  2. When Luke left for the Middle East last Fall my stepmom said "well, at least you have your faith." It told her "Faith is not an anesthetic."

  3. Thanks Vin.

    Angela - exactly!

  4. Anonymous11:41 AM


    I'm really glad you wrote about this--thank you. I've battled with this question "Does God want us to be happy?" so often, particularly the past year. In vocational discernment and all, the word "happy" comes up a lot. The majority of the people I've spoken with and whom I respect have responded in an almost "of course He does!" way, some aligning happiness and holiness, as if to suggest that one will know one is on the path God intends if one finds true happiness.

    Others, the minority, have called the whole notion of "happiness" itself into question, some dismissing it outright as simply not the point and some locating it more as a consideration for eternity and not the here-and-now, as Our Lady seems to.

    I don't know the answer to this. I do know that happiness in the way that our heart desires it is not found here, but only in heaven.

    There can be a snare, I think, when we begin to align God's will with happiness--isn't that what the properity gospel is all about. Job's plight flies in the face of that as does Christ Crucified.

    There must be a word--I don't think even "joy" gets at it, though maybe--to describe what I think is true Christian "happiness" in this life. I think I have experienced it before. Certainly, it isn't this completely content kind of "I desire nothing more" feeling. There is a peace to it, this sense of "happiness" but again, not totally--that we're 'on the way' and not yet in the 'lasting city' is still very much clear.

    It's a special, singular realization where it seems like we truly understand Christ and His standards and the 'otherness' of God in a very real way that runs contrary to our world. It's a happiness that really, in my experience anyway, immediately flattens any other happiness I may be experiencing and it constantly calls me forward to want to remain in such intimacy with Christ, if I can even call it that.

  5. Terry - just returned from a morning in Adoration and reflecting on Martha & me ... your posting is timely and coincides with some thoughts I was having befor our Lord.

  6. I like C S Lewis' answer, given in the 1993 film version of Shadowland

    'Isn't God supposed to be good?
    Isn't He supposed to love us?
    Does God want us to suffer?What if the answer to that question is yes?
    See, I'm not sure that God particularly wants us to be happy.
    I think He wants us to be able to love and be loved.
    He wants us to grow up.
    I suggest to you that it is because God loves us...
    that He makes us the gift of suffering.
    To put it another way, pain is God's megaphone...
    to rouse a deaf world.
    You see, we are like blocks of stone...
    out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men
    The blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much...
    are what make us perfect.'

  7. +JMJ+

    For what it's worth, Terry . . .

    This post of yours came up in a recent chat with a good friend from Ireland who had just asked about a certain Filipino lay preacher who identifies as Catholic but is marketing his own brand of the gospel of prosperity. I brought out the big guns and let this lay preacher (and his adoring groupies) have it, but then admitted to my friend, "You should know that I'm extremely biased against this guy. I've just seen one too many giant billboards with his smug, smiling mug."

    My friend teased, "I was just thinking of putting a billboard with your face in front of my parish church to see what happens."

    And I said, "Put both mine and Terry Nelson's up there, and you're guaranteed to scare away even the faithful regulars." (What do you say Terry? Photo op!!! I want it to look like a Calvin Klein spread, but since you're the artist, I'll cede creative control.)

    But think about it: for over two thousand years, the Catholic Church's "billboard" has featured a bloody, naked, suffering Man nailed to a cross--either dead or just about to die. But He said that when He would be lifted up, He would draw all men to Himself anyway, and He is still doing that. And I daresay that in a way that you might never know in this life, Terry, He is also using you to do it. Maybe not for your sister--though I will pray with you for that intention--but for someone else.

    (Captcha: ecess . . . because my comments are always overlong! =P)

  8. Anonymous12:48 PM

    Seminarian X, you might like Josef Pieper's "Happiness and Contemplation." It answers many of your questions using Catholic philosophy.

  9. I just LOVE it when other people's definitions of "happiness" is expected to be my own....they think that I must be miserable because I don't ghave a husband and a housefull of kids, that I don't have a big fancy house, wear the most fashionable clothes or get my nails done ( even though I can afford it all).

    the material things of this world do not buy me happiness, nor does the handsome hunk on my arm (although it would be nice for a little while.. :)

    My TRUE happiness is the indescrible fullness in my heart that comes with me knowing that I am doing the best I can to walk the path that God has given me. I was never so empty, so lonely, so unfilled, as when I strayed from that path.

    I have all that I need...the rest of life is frosting on the cake :)


    (now off to scoop litter box :) My exercise in humility :)

  10. doughboy10:43 AM

    to all commenters here: you each touched on a thread running through the *courage* conference going on now in mundelein. there's a deepening understanding going on this weekend here of the suffering with SSA; not in a martyr fashion, but just that God is allowing us to partake of the mystery if His redemptive suffering in this particular fashion, and there's a letting go and peacefulness about it in the struggle. amen.


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