Noman is on retreat this weekend and will be sharing what he hears in various meditations and talks. The opening meditation was about the lives of the first Christians. Their cultural circumstances weren't so different than ours: deadlier than in the present day US, but not than in the Sudan or other Moslem countries. Fr. CJM quoted Walker Percy to the effect that the battle today is between Rome and Hollywood; and Bernard Nathanson, who in 1988 predicted that abortion would pale in comparison to what would be coming in the next 20 years (i.e., to what's here now): cloning, genetic manipulation, fetal experimentation and the like. FCJM said that the Roman Christians lived in a world much like our own; we just have better technology. Until the Edict of Milan (AD 313), they were openly persecuted, stripped of property and put to death. Within 100 years, the empire was Christian. They accomplished this by being confessors of the faith, living it fully in the world. We will do the same by recognizing that now is the acceptable time to rise out of lukewarmness, mediocrity. Luckily, we have a Pre-Milan description of the way Christians went about their lives in the letter to Diognetus (1st or 2nd C). "Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life... With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens... They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law..." Noman says that this short letter is worth a careful reading, and serious prayer.
Today's problems are the same as yesterday's: me, you, and the human desire to have it all in this life. God, who gives us freedom, wants us to choose eternal life rather than temporal gratification. The letter turns to the hatred this arouses in others. Christian witness is a reproach to those who don't want to be bothered: "Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again... For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life... To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body... The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hate the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments... It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together... Such is the Christian's lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself." Noman likes his pleasures and enjoyments as much as the next man. And, thankfully, one need not give them up altogether in order to follow Christ or confess the faith. But, Noman gets the point that not every pleasure and enjoyment is a good thing to bask in, an "authentic good," as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas would have put it. Some diversions are only "apparent goods." Noman says that lots of pass times that posture as hallmarks of freedom are, in fact, agents of dependency, depravity, degeneracy and death. Christians know this. They always have.