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A Few Words in Favor of Zealotry PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 17 September 2007 05:02
John Allen has an article on why Fr. Peter Phan's book, "Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interreligious Dialogue" is being investigated by the CDF and the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Doctrine. The latter is questioning whether Fr. Phan's writing is obscuring three important points:
The uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the universality of his salvific mission
The salvific significance of non-Christian religions (without connection to Christ and the Holy Spirit)
The uniqueness of the church as the universal instrument of salvation

It's an interesting article, and I linked it in the title of this post. What struck me most, however, was the difference between what John Allen was reporting about Fr. Phan's writing, and what I was reading this weekend while traveling back and forth across the country.

In a wonderful book by Fr. Robert Barron, "the Strangest Way," Fr. Barron quoted Fr. Anthony de Mello (another theologian whose writing was discussed by the CDF posthumously) as saying that attachment is "anything in this world - including life itself - that we convince ourselves we cannot live without." Fr. Barron continues, "The implication, of course, is that in Christ we CAN live without anything in this world, and to know that in our bones is to be detached, spiritually free. To live in the infinite power of God is to realize that we NEED nothing else, that we CRAVE nothing more, that we CAN LET GO of everything else...To become focused on something less than God (anything created, including our own lives) is therefore to place ourselves in spiritual danger and desperately frustrate the will." (pp. 50-51)

It is Jesus who reveals this truth in a variety of ways, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom," "Sell all you have and give to the poor, then come follow me." The poor, meek, sorrowful, persecuted for the sake of Jesus are blessed precisely because they are not attached to things, status, and good feelings, but are attached to Jesus, for whom they willingly suffer persecution.

This is a kind of zeal that is seldom found within Catholic Christianity these days. We reserve such singlemindedness to the saints. Part of the testimony at the canonization process of St. Dominic reads, "he was zealous for souls, fervent in prayer and preaching, and unrelenting in his pursuit of heretics. He loved poverty, was strict with himself, but kind towards others. He was chaste, humble and patient, calm under persecution, and joyful amid tribulations. He was deeply religious and held himself in low regard."

Another book I'm reading is by the Evangelical George Barna, head of the Barna Research Group. In "Growing True Disciples" he writes about the cost of discipleship, "When we hear that the apostles were followers of Jeesus, the image that comes to mind is of people who tagged along after the Lord..." but "Each of the twelve disciples abandoned his profession. Each lived a minimalist lifestyle, carrying frew possessions and having no enduring sense of residential stability. The disciples learned new principles constantly and were expected to apply those principles on demand. Although all they tried to do was help people, they suffered persecution because their Teacher and His ways were so radical and threatening to some of society's powerbrokers...There were no textbooks on which they could rely, so they had to be constantly alert and retain all of the information and insights gleaned during their training stage. In short, they had no life apart from what they were being trained to do. Being a follower of Jesus Christ was an all-consuming obsession."

While many Christians would agree with that description, we tend to hear it as what described the Twelve, rather than as a model for all disciples of Jesus. Barna disagrees. "[Jesus] is seeking people who are absolutely serious about becoming new creations in Him - individuals who are fanatics, zealots, mesmerized, passionate about the cause, completely devoted to mimicking their model down to the last nuance. Discipleship is not a program. It is not a ministry. It is a life-long commitment to a lifestyle." (pp 18-19).

We can't be zealous in following Christ simply because he can help us lead a fulfilling life, or because he can help free us from attachments that screw up our priorities and make us addicted. We can be filled with zeal in following him only if we believe he is truly God incarnate, the sole Way, Truth and Life. While that zeal and full commitment might be preached differently in different cultures (and inculturation is a key point among many theologians working in non-Western cultures), the starting point is always Jesus, and not the culture.

I would propose that it might well be the postmodern West that will be the most opposed to the kind of zeal called for in the Scriptures, and the western consumer-oriented culture in which it might be the most difficult in which to be a passionate - and unencumbered - disciple of Jesus
 

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