Do we really understand Christianity?

For Christians, Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter, is the most sacred of times.

During this week, Christians commemorate the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus. How they enter into this commemoration varies a bit from denomination to denomination, but primarily it is ritual to recall what Jesus did. Pastors usually lead their congregations through these rituals, encouraging members to realize what Jesus did for each of them.

On Saturday, during a day of retreat I listened to a Franciscan speak about the gospel in a profoundly challenging voice. In the presentation, “How Do We Help: The Goal of Christian Ministry,” Richard Rohr said that most of us are led to an insignificant brand of Christianity.

He claimed that we always remain on the first step of conversion because we are not given the real challenge of the gospel. We are not called to anything more than ritual, language, and charitable giving.

As an educator, and a practicing Catholic with a doctorate in ministry, I have tried to move myself and my students into a deeper participation into Christianity.

Somehow, I know that a daily dying and rising is the essence of Christianity, but I never understood why we fall short. For what it’s worth I offer my newly gained insights.

Jesus’ mission was not about ritual.

In fact, he referred to Pharisees as hypocrites because their emphasis on externals came up short in their interaction with others. Was Jesus about using certain words like so many are want to do, claiming to be saved, or calling out others who don’t use those words?

Actually, “The Lord’s prayer,” considered by biblical scholars to be authentically Jesus’, doesn’t depend on personal claims at all, but moves us to think about God’s ideas of human life and how we participate in that life.

Lastly, we are constantly taught to give to others out of our pockets. And Christians do! Generous giving is often the hallmark of Christian living.

The point of Rohr’s talk was to move us up the ladder to a higher realm of Christianity. He proposed that to understand our religion as ritual, words, and charitable giving, is a limited view that might easily make us become modern persecutors of Jesus. Why? Because those three things will never satisfy us nor those who suffer.

What he did encourage is for each of us to embrace Christianity as a commitment to each other. In his understanding of Jesus’ dying and rising, his followers will challenge and change any system that enslaves, impoverishes, and diminishes the lives of others.

—Virginia Graf writes from Jefferson County.

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