My recent readings have taken me through a modern classic in Christianity: CS Lewis' Mere Christianity. Over the years, my faith journey has been anything but easy. Lewis has the ability to bring some clarity and some focus, in practical terms to what I feel, and what many people most likely feel. Before I move on, however, I will answer the question of "is is all worth it?" with a resounding YES!
The goal of all Christians is to become "little Christs", not just to pretend to be good. We strive to "die to ourselves" and let Christ live within us. Lewis explains the idea of "pretending" to be like Christ, is, in a sense, similar to the person not feeling rather friendly, forcing himself to be friendly. This is a start, because most likely, the person will become a friendlier person if he simply acts the part. This goes deeper, however, in our attempt to actually become like Christ--in affect, let Christ take us over. In his chapter entitled "Is Christianity hard or easy", Lewis makes a profound statement that encompasses all of my anxiety about my challenge to be righteous. He states, "The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier". This statement speaks directly to me! As I challenge myself to be "perfect" in the eyes of the Lord, I realize more and more that this is impossible! In fact, I realize that I am much worse (a wretched sinner) than I ever thought before I focused on my faith journey. Lewis further discusses that this journey is both easy and hard at the same time. We could simply say, "I am a good person, God loves me and he knows I love him". The problem here, however, is that this is too easy---nothing worth having is easy! Lewis shares the analogy of two school kids learning geometry. One studies hard and works hard, while the other is lazy and tries to remember everything by heart. In the end, the one who studied comes to his final exam stress free, as he knows the subject. The other must fret and stress and he has done nothing to better his knowledge of the subject. We choose one of these roads on our own journeys toward God. The road of "perfect" is rough most certainly. We are constantly humbled as we see truly see how we fail to reach the level of perfection. The easy road, however, is much more dangerous. While today we may seem happy and easy going, in the end, we will not have the assurance of grace...why take the chance? Think about this: the hardest thing, the most impossible thing to do is to hand over your whole self- everything, dreams, hopes, worries, happiness, etc- to Christ. Although impossible, it is much easier than what we all try to do when we try to live for "ourselves"- to find our own happiness! We try to center our lives, our hearts, and minds on ourselves (if we are centered on ourselves- we are not centered on Christ). We do this and hope to behave properly, chastely, and humbly---Lewis goes on to state that this "is exactly what Christ warned us [not to do]. Who do you trust more, yourself or Christ?
What is exactly the point of all this? I remember when I didn't worry about a chaste, pure, righteous, Christ centered living. I never thought about Hell! Well, maybe a little, but not even an iota of a chance that I could end up there. It was a place were only REALLY evil monsters like Hitler, Stalin, and Mass Murders go. Hell, however, is very real, and I could end up there. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to put it back. Maybe ignorance is bliss! Maybe all the knowledge I have of salvation, God's demands of me (to be Christ), is too much for me to handle. Maybe it would be easier to be one of the masses who don't really know. This thought, of course is absurd! Lewis, in his attempt to remain "Merely Christian" leaves out some of the most important aspects that we, as Catholics (He was an Anglican at the publication of the book), have the Sacraments. This makes the pain and suffering of "dying to ourselves" a GLORIOUS experience! While I constantly and more progressively recognize the ugliness of my sins in the mirror of my soul, I have the saving and cleansing opportunity to receive absolution through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I can be clean in the eyes of the Lord through my own contrition and the saving grace of Confession. This, is not the end, however. I then, can physically take the Lord, Jesus Christ, into my body--his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity through the Eucharist. The graces of these Sacraments SQUASH the suffering of "dying to myself".
There is nothing in life worth anything in the whole picture of things. God is everything. Remember the words from the Gospel of Mathew (Mat 7:7): "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you". Today's Gospel of the parable of the Prodigal son (Luke: 15: 11-32) is a perfect example of this in action. So YES! With this knowledge, it is absolutely worth it! AMEN, AMEN!