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. 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. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
Please read the entire letter, which is shorter than the vast majority of my posts.
I bring this up today because many people became Christians last night at the Easter Vigil, and many Christians became specifically Catholic Christians. And ALL of we Catholics renewed our baptismal promises and affirmed the Creed by which we live.
I fully believe that the Letter to Diognetus should be required reading for every single Catholic. Whenever we are struggling in trying to live our faith in a world that hates us, we should be directed to this letter. Whenever we are faced with a moral dilemma, we should be directed to this letter. The words are ancient, but eternal; they applied to the people then just as they apply to us now. And if the words of the letter don't match the way we live our lives...then we need to take a serious look at whether we are fit to be called Followers of Christ.
For a long time now, I have felt like a fish out of water. I don't seem to belong anywhere. While I realize that it is a privilege to be an American, I have also seen other parts of the world and would likely feel just as honored to be a citizen of those places. (I considered the idea of dual citizenship in Mexico.) And there have also been times that I wanted to flee the borders of my country as I considered our impending leadership...and realized that at least here, we have a voice. But what is a "voice" in a corruptible and corrupted world, one in which the most innocent are silenced in favor of the preferences of a few? This is no place for any of us. But here we are, feeling out of place or not, we have an obligation to live out our faith even if it is contrary to the raging winds of cultural ideology. Especially then.
Some time ago, I heard something on the radio likely discussing this letter, and it made me understand that my sense of restlessness had overtaken me for a reason; this is not my home. I look around my city; it's where I live and I'm comfortable here, but it's not my home. I look around my townhome, for which I struggle to pay every month, and I know that this is not really my home. I watch the News, and realize that, if this is "home" it's completely dysfunctional and I'm an idiot to remain in such a place. But no place else is any different and in fact, most of the world is probably worse.
When I walk into a church though, especially my home parish, I am "home". I remember that feeling, a few years ago, as I knelt to pray before Mass. I remember looking up at the Crucifix and thinking with perfect peace and clarity, "I'm home."
My conversion was real; it had taken a long time, but God brought me Home. Since then, He has expanded my home, giving me a few parishes in which I have become comfortable. The first is my home parish, the second is the parish where my classes are located, and the third is the parish where I work. In each church, I can go and hear the same Word proclaimed, the same Gospel, the same beliefs, the same liturgy. Christ is present. And if I am called for some reason to another parish, I know what to expect and how to worship. It's not necessary to re-learn anything. It's not necessary to debate. I can relax and worship God, no matter where I am. This applies even if I fly across the world and attend Mass in Germany, Spain, Italy, Mexico...everywhere. As St. Ignatius of Antioch proclaimed, along with St. Irenaeus and St. Clement..."There is one altar...one Sacrifice...one Bishop." (paraphrased)
But there's another catch; even though we Catholics are spread throughout the world, and our parishes and every parish is our "home", it is only temporary. We are only leasing the space. We are citizens of another Kingdom, and our call is to make this Kingdom present on Earth, until we are recalled to union with our Creator; our true Home.
It is not enough to simply declare that we believe in Christ and in His Resurrection. It is not enough to attend Mass once per week and give God that hour. We are called to greater things; we are children of God before we are anything else. We belong to Christ before we belong to our parents, siblings, or political machinations.
I have no problem in saying that before I am American, I am Catholic. Before I am Republican or Democratic or Libertarian, I am Catholic. Before I am woman...I am Catholic. All other things are secondary accidentals. Because it isn't my body that saves me, it isn't my political leanings or my earthly citizenship. It is my soul that defines who I am, and my soul cannot be divorced from my humanity; to suggest otherwise is anathema.
All of us need to look at our lives on this day of the Lord's Resurrection, and understand that we, too, are called to death to the world so that we might arise with Christ and embrace the life to which He has called us. We need to recognize that Call above all others, for our duty to God superscedes our duty to Caesar. By God's own command, we are to pay our tributes to Caesar, but when those tributes conflict with our Citizenship of Heaven by virtue of our Baptism, then the choice is clear; Ceasar can ROT. The Glory belongs to God, even if that Glory is our own blood.
We are Citizens of Heaven; we are to behave as such. I leave you with these immortal words, from the Letter referenced above:
As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.
Citizens of Heaven...are you willing to accept these terms?