“Take a seat,” the receptionist said. “The doctor will be with you shortly.”
Coughing and sniffling, I plopped into a nearby chair. Three weeks of home remedies had failed to cure a persistent cold, and I’d grudgingly put aside my herbal teas and garlic cloves to seek stronger medicine. My sinuses and throat ached; my eyes were bleary behind an old pair of bifocals I’d thrown on to disguise my lack of mascara.
I reached for a tissue, feeling worn and frayed — a sentiment reinforced by the nearby television, where the perky hostess of a home improvement show was installing drywall while clad in designer jeans and hair extensions. “This old house will be gorgeous when we’re done!” she gushed.
And (although it took far more time, money and work than the 30-minute episode led one to believe) the hostess was right. Fresh paint, new windows and refinished hardwood floors transformed the rundown structure into a place of warmth and welcome. Cleared of its bramble and filled with flowers, the yard became an inviting garden. The eyesore of the neighborhood had become the showcase of the street.
Whether we’re revamping our houses or our bodies, we’re fascinated by makeovers, especially if they’re quick and relatively painless. Yet despite our willingness to update our look, we so often neglect the need to change at the level that really counts: the deepest one, in the heart.
Even (and perhaps especially) as Christians, we can resort to cosmetic fixes, rather than undertake the structural revisions our Master Builder died to complete in our souls. We settle into our “church routine” — our preferred Mass, our usual pew, our like-minded people.
We donate to charity, but never so much that we have to do without our vacations, our cable subscriptions, our daily lattes. We say that we forgive others, but we still keep a personal ledger of wrongs we like to consult. We know that we’re called to be missionary disciples, but we don’t want to be seen as “too religious.” We’re not all that interested in changing the world; we just want to find and preserve a bit of peace in our little corner of it.
Such half measures don’t content the Lord, as his saints attest. Once a rabid persecutor of Christ’s disciples, St. Paul experienced so profound a conversion that he became the Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-22). With the blood of the first martyrs on his hands, and after countless hardships endured in spreading the Gospel (including multiple scourgings, one stoning and three shipwrecks; 2 Cor 11:24-25), Paul could write with confidence that “whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17).
He knew what he had been, and he knew that what he became (as well as the strength to bear the attendant sufferings) was divinely given: “I am … not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective” (1 Cor 15:9-10).
After his momentous experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), Paul wasn’t simply a whitewashed version of his old self — slightly less aggressive, somewhat more tolerant. He didn’t decide to back off on hounding the Christians, stick to his rabbinical studies and focus on his tentmaking business.
Instead, he allowed his encounter with Christ to radically alter his mind, his will, his heart, his very being: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20).
Our world desperately needs Christians who are ready to gut and rebuild their lives according to the Lord’s plan — disciples who are no longer satisfied with temporary patches, but who long for true recreation in themselves and in society.
The latest clerical sexual abuse crisis, rampant tribalism, decades-long declines in Mass attendance, the confused secularization of Western culture and grave environmental threats have all revealed deep cracks in our foundation.
A mediocre mix of diluted Christianity and worldly wisdom will not suffice as mortar for this task;
the kingdom of God awaits living stones who are willing to be chiseled, carved and even crushed in love’s service to build a lasting — and truly beautiful — home for all.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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