One of the many great things about being a new Catholic is getting to know the saints. Those heroic men and women, who through their lives of obedience and uncompromising love for God, give us a blueprint for becoming holy and growing in our faith and love for Jesus Christ. The witness of the saints' lives--as well as their writings--contain vast treasures just waiting to be discovered.
Over the past several weeks, I've been reading St. Josemaria Escriva--a wonderful twentieth century saint from Spain. A biography or summary of his life would take up the entirety of this post, so here are two links (http://www.josemariaescriva.info and http://www.escrivaworks.org) that contain a plethora of information about St. Josemaria. Of his writings, St. Josemaria is perhaps best known for three books: "The Way," "Furrow" and "The Forge." I've been reading and reflecting on The Way most recently.
As point of reference, The Way is broken down into individually numbered paragraphs, each containing short, concise thoughts and words of wisdom from Josemaria on a variety of topics, all regarding life in Jesus Christ. His prologue summarizes the point of this style better than I can:
"Read these counsels slowly. Pause to meditate on these thoughts. They are things that I whisper in your ear--confiding them--as a friend, as a brother, as a father. And they are being heard by God. I will only stir your memory, so that some thought will arise and strike you; and so you will better your life and set out along ways of prayer and of Love."
I have no doubt that I will return to many of St. Josemaria's "counsels" throughout the life of this blog, but one in particular jumped out at me so much that, after some prayer and reflection, I knew it would be the topic for my first post. It is a term (or idea) that I had never heard used before reading it in The Way: Holy Shamelessness!
So what is it? Something that every Christian should have. Indeed, St. Josemaria describes holy shamelessness as a characteristic within "the plane of sanctity our Lord asks of us." (¶ 387) Simply stated, "[i]f you have holy shamelessness, you won't be bothered of what people have said or what they will say." (¶391) As such, it is "characteristic of the life of [a] child," who "doesn't worry about anything" and "makes no effort to hide his weakness . . . even though everyone is watching him." (¶389) Thus, a Christian with holy shamelessness should "[l]augh at ridicule. Scorn whatever may be said. [And] see and feel God in yourself and in your surroundings." (¶ 390) Although St. Josemaria doesn't touch on it directly in The Way, it seems clear to me that holy shamelessness should compel us as Christians to live our faith visibly and publicly so that all those we come into contact with can see the joy and true happiness that an encounter with Christ brings.
Reading St. Josemaria's words though, it didn't take long for me to realize that for most of my life, I've had anything but holy shamelessness. In fact, I've usually had just the opposite--I'll call it "worldly bashfulness" (purely my term, not St. Josemaria's). Far too often--both in my youth and as an adult--I've been embarrassed to visibly live my faith in a way that made Christ's role in my life evident. For example, several years ago, I had a co-worker (who is now a close friend and brother in Christ) tell me that he assumed I was an atheist because of certain language I used in emails Sadly, none of my other actions or words (or lack thereof) while in his presence had given him any impression that I was a Christian.
But why? Because I was too worried about what people might say or think of me if I wore my faith in Christ on my sleeve. I was consumed with worldly bashfulness instead of holy shamelessness. I was more concerned with people thinking I was weird, a "Jesus freak," "bible thumper," "one of those people," . . . the list could go on and on. Instead of laughing at ridicule, I was more worried about being ridiculed. Being cool and being liked took precedence over proclaiming the truth of the eternal Son of God. Perhaps you can recall similar instances from your own life.
Of course, the idea of holy shamelessness--not being ashamed of God--is firmly rooted in Sacred Scripture and the words of our Lord himself:
- "And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me." (Luke 7:23)
- "No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lamp stand so that those who enter may see the light." (Luke 8:16)
- "Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (Luke 9:26)
- "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." (Luke 11:23)
- "Nevertheless, many, even among the authorities, believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not acknowledge it openly in order not be be expelled from the synagogue. For they preferred human praise to the glory of God. (John 12:42-43)
- "In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast in what pertains to God." (Romans 15:17)
- "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:31)
I could list many more passages, but the point is clear--we should aspire to have holy shamelessness because our Lord demands it! The popular secular notion (even believed by some Christians) that faith is a private affair that should be kept mostly to oneself is simply unbiblical. Indeed, being too bashful to acknowledge Jesus, concealing the light of our lamps, preferring human praise all are incompatible with a living out the love of Christ . Yet all too often we do just that, succumbing to worldly bashfulness so that we don't stand out from the crowd.
Perhaps this will help put things in perspective. Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge sports fan--football, basketball, baseball, you name it. I root for my teams with reckless abandon. Fan, of course, is short for fanatic. Tune into any football game on Saturday or Sundays in the Fall and you will see thousands of fanatics crammed into stadiums. Most of these fanatics scream at the top of their lungs continuously for 2-3 hours trying to influence the outcome of a game that will have no real impact on their lives. Many of these fanatics paint their faces and/or bodies is various ways to support their team. All of these fanatics, however, have one thing in common: they are not "bothered by the thought of what people have said or what they will say" (¶ 391) about their fanatic behavior. They are shameless about being fanatics.
I use this example not to belittle sports fans (of whom I am one of the biggest), but to illustrate the dichotomy. We are afraid to talk about God, to make any public pronouncement of faith for fear of ridicule or offense. But when it comes to something as trivial as a children's game played by adults, we will go to almost any lengths to make our fanaticism known. Think about that for a second and imagine a world where we converted only a tiny fraction of that shamelessness into holy shamelessness--to proclaim Christ crucified and raised from the dead in our everyday lives.
So let us be fans for Jesus Christ! As the great philosopher and theologian Peter Kreeft says, "what the world calls fanaticism, the saints call fidelity." The good news is that each and every day God presents us with opportunities to grow in holy shamelessness. It doesn't have to be anything large or grandiose. Start small. For "[h]e who is faithful in very little things is faithful also in much." (¶ 243; cf. Luke 19:17) For example, pray before meals in public; incorporate phrases like "God bless" and "have a blessed day" into your everyday greetings and salutations; talk openly about all the ways God has blessed your life and how thankful you are for Him. Most importantly, let the joy of Christ show on your face! Jesus has conquered sin and death through his precious blood. What better news is there than that?! Any maybe, just maybe, somebody will notice one of these small gestures of holy shamelessness and ask about the reason for your joy.
God bless and have a great weekend!