While studying the theology of Benedict XVI through an online STEP course, a classmate, Bernadette Vance, suggested that we try writing our own apostolic type letters. Choosing our own audience, we would to exhort them to Christian love and fidelity. She chose politicians (who certainly need the advice). I’m sharing my attempt here. I wrote from my heart, so it’s a bit rambling. (More on the STEP course here: http://step.nd.edu/registration/complete-catalog/theology-of-benedict-xvi/ )
A letter to the Fallen-Away
Dear brothers and sisters,
I address you in the name of Jesus Christ – not in order to beat you over the head with a name, but so that you may have what God wants for you: abundant life, so that your joy may be full. For Jesus is not part of a magic spell or formula that confers instant perfection upon you, or instant health upon others, with its vigorously repeated utterance. Nor is Jesus a weapon to make people who are not Christians feel inferior and accursed. I come before you, therefore, in my imperfection, with all my flaws, mistakes, and weaknesses, as one who knows what it’s like to have cringed at the sound of “Jesus” and who is now, much to my own surprise, tenderly holding his name in my heart and finding myself deeper, richer, and more fully human as a result.
The intent of this evangelization is not for you to subscribe to a club for the self-righteous, nor for you to conform your behavior to my mere liking under the threat of painful punishment and the lure of candied reward. As a fellow truth seeker, I do not wish you to delude yourself with fairytales as though you were a child in need of comfort or a cripple in need of a crutch. No, my brothers and sisters, I am one of you and I want the same thing that you want: a full and joyous life. But, in the love of truth, I ask you: are you living the fullness of life? Are you truly and fully human, truly and fully alive? If you turn your mind away from the possibility of reality beyond your five physical senses, can you truly say that you only want the truth? If all the thoughts, words, and actions of your life are concentrated on the mere physical confines of perishable flesh and the fleeting pleasures and accolades that the world has to offer, can you honestly say that you are experiencing the fullness of being human? More than poetry and art, more than music and sensual delights, beautiful, good, and powerful as they are, they point to something more – the human spirit yearns for Something More. This is the deepest bond that we share with every human being, in every culture, in every corner of the world, in every age. And, yet, you would deny yourself this Something More in your quest for happiness. Does this make sense?
Please don’t let the bad examples of miserable, unloving people who call themselves Christians or the fear of being labeled a fantasy-loving fool by mainstream society lead you into a soul-blindness that keeps you from becoming who you are made to be. Be brave! Be bold! Dig deeper, my brothers and sisters, dive into the depths of being; look deeper, my fellow human beings, see beyond the cardboard cutouts of Christ; love deeper, my beautiful friends, embracing the one who gives himself utterly and completely to you, who chooses a crown of thorns over domination, who willingly receives spit and cruelty instead of fawning and praise, who lets himself be imprisoned on a crossbeam by iron spikes driven through his body rather than sitting in comfort on a silken couch commanding all around him to bring him pleasure… Don’t roll your eyes at this man, don’t look away with dismissive disinterest if you are indeed a human being, if you are at all capable of love. I say to you, as one who once rejected but who has now seen in ways unfathomable, whose gaze has been lifted up out of the darkness of self-centeredness into the light of ultimate reality… this person who pours his love out bodily is God. The Creator has become creature, fragile and beaten like us, willing to suffer like us, for us, with us, so that he can be fully with us and we can be fully with him – fully alive, as he is glorified, for ponder the Resurrection, don’t naïvely conclude that you know everything possible. Look, consider, dig deep, open yourself up to possibility so that you can awaken the fullness of your humanity and be fully, abundantly alive in body, mind, heart and soul – so that you can know what it’s like to be united with the Divine, in the terrible beauty of infinite, intimate love and true joy…. In the most often recorded words of Jesus, Be not afraid. Do something daring.
When you see my wandering sister, Carole, please give her my love and these my hopes for her fulfillment. Please also look respectfully upon her husband, Carl, who has lately shown himself to be a true seeker of fullness and life; in kindness, please do not let any coldness of heart tempt him away from true and utter love. Honest and loving emissaries of Christ have been sent to you, I pray that you will be able to recognize them and not shut them out of your lives. From my place of solitude and prayer, I humbly ask God to do for you what He has graciously done for me, though I am unworthy – to gently and tenderly call my name. Confident in God’s mercy and generosity and hopeful for your receptiveness, I am
a child of God
and so your sister,