Summary: Like the eunuch from Ethiopia, we must be open to God's plan in Christ.

Thursday of 3rd Week of Easter 2015

Joy of the Gospel

The Father was surely drawing this Ethiopian to Jesus, and–not by luck–deacon Phillip was on the same road as the African’s chariot. The eunuch had been in Jerusalem to pray and study, so he was either a Jew or an admirer of the Hebrew religion of one God. He had an Isaiah scroll, so he must have been wealthy, or had purchased the scroll for his queen. The passage being read was one that the rabbis had pondered over for generations with no conclusive shared opinion. It was surely a man whom Isaiah was writing about, but what man? Isaiah himself? All of Israel? Or, as some taught, the Messiah of God. Phillip was at hand with one of the earliest teachings about Jesus. Yes, Jesus had come, He was the Messiah, and He was God. That was His generation. And He saved us, and wants all humans to come to Him and be like Him. Thus the sacraments–firstly baptism. The eunuch was open to the Gospel, accepted its truth and his need to be washed free of sin and immersed in Christ. They came to an oasis and he was baptized. Christian tradition tells us that this was the first convert of what later became a vigorous Ethiopian church.

We must be open to the truth about Jesus, who is the Truth Himself. The pope has been warning us in his letter about what he calls “spiritual worldliness.” It’s what one teacher has called “doing holy things without becoming holy.” The pope writes: ‘This worldliness can be fueled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.’

A word of clarification may be needed here: Pelagius was the teacher who wrote that human beings have the ability to be saved without the grace of God. In other words, do good and you will be saved apart from faith and the sacraments. His great opponent was St. Augustine, who insisted that grace is needed–that it alone gives us access to the saving power of God.

Pope Francis continues: ‘This insidious worldliness is evident in a number of attitudes which appear opposed, yet all have the same pretence of “taking over the space of the Church”. In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few. In others, this spiritual worldliness lurks behind a fascination with social and political gain, or pride in their ability to manage practical affairs, or an obsession with programs of self-help and self-realization. It can also translate into a concern to be seen, into a social life full of appearances, meetings, dinners and receptions. It can also lead to a business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations whose principal beneficiary is not God’s people but the Church as an institution. The mark of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, is not present; closed and elite groups are formed, and no effort is made to go forth and seek out those who are distant or the immense multitudes who thirst for Christ. Evangelical fervor is replaced by the empty pleasure of complacency and self-indulgence.’

Over the centuries, human beings have always thought they were smarter than God, that they could invent a short-cut to circumvent faith, discipline, worship, and the practice of virtue, especially charity. But that’s the devil’s plan, the one he tricked Adam and Eve with in the beginning. One of the best days of my life was when I finally accepted that God’s way is best, and that I could never improve on His plan.

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