Keeping Christ in Christianity
Fr. Byron Miller, CSsR
If only Christmas came when all the stores were less crowded! ‘Tis the season for banners, billboards, and bumper stickers to remind us to avoid commercialism and “Keep Christ in Christmas.” What if there was also a perennial campaign to keep Christ in Christianity? Is Christ’s gospel message easily recognizable all year long in those of us who call ourselves Christian?
In Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood, a street evangelist preaches his own gospel from his so-called Church Without Christ. But is truth stranger than O’Connor’s fiction when Christian televangelists preach a “prosperity” gospel that claims God rewards true believers with material wealth? How does one reconcile such a gospel with Christ’s humble birth in a stable?
Moreover, how is such a gospel consistent with the heart of Christ’s preaching—the Beatitudes? “The Beatitudes confront us with decisive choices concerning earthly goods; they purify our hearts in order to teach us to love God above all things” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1728).
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,” Jesus says concerning the poor in spirit and the pure of heart; the meek, merciful, and mournful; the righteous and those persecuted for their righteousness; the peacemakers and those who are reviled because of their belief in him (Matthew 5:3–12).
“The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to his own beatitude” (CCC 1719). This beatitude “teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement…but in God alone” (1723). According to John Henry Cardinal Newman, “All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which [most] men pay an instinctive homage….resulting from a profound faith…that with wealth he may do all things.”
Because of Christ’s total obedience to the Father, our reward is everlasting, unlike material wealth: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). “The beatitude of eternal life is a gratuitous gift of God” (CCC 1727). For this treasure, all bow down and pay instinctive homage!
The reward for true believers is not earthly prosperity but heavenly posterity! Mark Twain said, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, assisting the poor—and expecting no reward—together comprise the fundamental difference between keeping Christ in Christianity and belonging to a Church Without Christ.