Monday, July 2, 2012

Our great challenge as Church

There is no doubt that we face many challenges as Church on different levels.  What makes ours a great challenge more than those which any other organizations face is the fact that our existence and raison d’etre permeates and affects everything that one experiences and encounters in life.  A baptized person’s very character as a disciple of the Lord has to influence and affect everything that one does in life, so much so that there is no area in life that should be off-limits to one’s Christian sense. 

As such, carrying and living out one’s Christian character is far more basic and pertinent to one’s life than one’s occupation, hobby, likes or dislikes, personal penchants or family.  It has to ‘flavour’ everything that one does, and for this reason, it also becomes extremely challenging at the same time.  It should influence one’s work ethic, selection of spouse, choice of entertainment, approach towards politics, family life and every other dimension of one’s personal life.  Perhaps it is for this very same reason too, that the true Christian is a very rare breed, because it is far easier to ‘compartmentalise’ one’s Christian life and live as a Christian only where it is ‘safe’ and ‘non-threatening’, like on Sundays for an hour or so, and when in the company of other Christians who share one’s similar beliefs, than to be a Christian 24/7.  Thus, it would come as no surprise that there might be many baptized Christians who conveniently leave their Christian identity outside the Boardroom door, the Bedroom door, or the door to the Cyberworld.  It is much more challenging, albeit necessary, to be ‘on one’s Christian toes’ all the time. 

Yet, this is the challenge that is posed to every Christian believer, without the term ‘fanatic’ attached to it.  No doubt, it takes practice, which never really reaches the point of perfection.  We are never ‘done’ as Christians.  One becomes, after baptism, a constant ‘practitioner’ of the faith, aware at each moment how the fact that one is an intimately beloved child of God impacts the way one approaches anything and everything else in life, be they joys or sorrows, successes or disappointments, life or death.  One never really perfects the faith, but just continues to practice it. This, combined with the unique personality of every human person which is just as unique, forms an incredibly complex and diverse matrix which makes the world such an interesting and beautiful, albeit sometimes difficult place to live in. 

There are catchphrases that one encounters often in life, and many of these catchphrases crossover from the secular world, infiltrating the spiritual and religious realm.  One of the most damaging ones is the phrase ‘being relevant’. 

This is touted freely, especially by churches and institutions that appeal to the masses by spreading a gospel message that promises material blessings, often laced with head-bobbing, fist-pumping pop music.  Those coming out of these gatherings very often say that their church is ‘being relevant’ in today’s culture.  No doubt, these ‘churches’ do draw in the crowds of the young, the hip, the tech-savvy and the easily distracted.  Why should it not?  Going to church becomes much like a concert event, because everything mirrors the intoxicating ambience of going to an event, where one escapes from the world and becomes inundated by the trappings and trimmings of a well-organized entertainment extravaganza.  They are so ‘relevant’.  Can anyone find the word ‘relevant’ in the New Testament?  Has Church ever been about being ‘relevant’? 

I would be the first to say that it is not.  We don’t need to go far to get biblical evidence for this.  Just go to Jesus’ sermon on the mount and you will get plenty of evidence to see that the true Christian’s life is going to become so irrelevant to the ways of the world.  One almost needs to stand on one’s head to see the sense of Jesus’ sermon.  It is a call to look at the world and its ways with a glance of caution, because the ways of the world are not what they are purported to be. 

Just looking at our Catholic liturgy alone will give ample evidence that church is not about becoming ‘relevant’.  The Eucharist does not conform to the norms and standards of the secular and popular world.  There is an organized dialogue and exchange that goes on between the presider and the people, and the words and phrases used in liturgy, especially in the New Roman Missal’s translation, which is faithful to the Latin in a very literal way, makes this markedly different from everyday speech.  One becomes almost purposefully ‘uncomfortable’ in the Mass, and for good reason.  It makes both the presider and the people aware that what is going on, what one has come into, is something that needs your utmost attention and not in a passive way, primarily because what is happening has a heavenly realm.  And if the preacher does his work well, the message that one gets from his ‘work’ often would be that the true Christian’s life is not going to be plain sailing, and that one’s mission is to become more and more Christ-centered in every sphere in life.  ‘Relevance’ is hardly ever the theme of the day. 

The fact remains that the true Christian life is going to be seen as unrealistic and even irrelevant to a world that wants you to be the centre of everything and everyone.  The well formed Catholic is one who dares to go against this very strong current and stand up to be different, not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of becoming another Christ.  If this is not somehow clearly made known to our flock, right from the incipient stages of one’s faith formation, they will always want to listen to a more ‘relevant’ message preached elsewhere. 


  1. Dear Fr. Luke,

    It seems to me that - as practicing Catholics, we never really "fit in" with the rest of "mainstream" society. The world in general will see us as a little odd, at best - whilst in more extreme circumstances we'll be hated.
    If I had a dollar for every time I was made fun of because of my religious beliefs and practices I'd be a rich man. But that's OK.
    I came to the realization long time ago that from time to time I'd be seen as a complete fool by many. And it hurts, sometimes. But that's a small price to pay (others have lost their lives) for staying faithful.

    God Bless you, Father.

  2. Sometimes, we use catch-phrases so mindlessly because it sounds so ‘’with it’’ or ‘’hip’’ but if by being relevant one takes it to mean ‘’significantly pertinent’’ or ‘’meaningful’’ – I can’t see how – “Going to church a concert event, ............................ the trappings and trimmings of a well-organized entertainment extravaganza....’’ makes church relevant ? Isn’t it more – trying to desperately re-assure oneself that one is still “relevant’’ or that one’s life is still relevant? This is especially so when one questions, “What is the purpose of a life exclusively focussed on one’s own self-development and or self-indulgence.....if it is only to make one feel good about oneself? How does that make one relevant to self and to society, unless it can be used for the good of others?” It has to lead to serving humanity, with the heart of Christ.

    Besides, “The Church is not the stopping place but a starting place for discerning God’s presence in this world............When people leave church, they no more leave God than God leaves them. They simply carry what they have learned into the wide, wide world where there is a crying need for people who will recognize the holiness in things and hold them up to God......” ( B.B Taylor –Episcopal pastor) Thus, the Church need not need to be needs to be a beacon !

    Thank you for a reflective post Fr. God bless you.