Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Who's In

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the July 3, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Ours is no different. Every society has its way of measuring degrees of acceptability. There are those who are In and those who are Out. If you don’t think so, visit the local mall on a Saturday afternoon, take a stroll through a park, or walk down almost any busy street. Observe the people and watch for the signs of acceptability.

People are In if they wear the right brand of running shoes; Out if they wear the wrong kind of socks. People are In if their hats are turned backward; Out if the hat is too traditional. People are In if they own the latest gadget or quaff the newest latte; Out if their jeans ride higher than their kneecaps.

The examples are numerous. There is no right or wrong here – not until we start judging our self-worth or the value of others on the basis of these external measures. Every culture has its standards and all of us, to some degree or another, fall prey to being defined by those standards. In the more personally destructive mode of this outward judgment, one may even label them examples of co-dependency. The co-dependent find their dignity and value in how others define their goodness or acceptability. They have no strength to be comfortable in their own skin, as it were.

In such a world it is not easy for the Christian – or anyone, for that matter – to live from one’s inherent, God-given dignity. Social and peer pressure can be blatant – or most often, manifest itself in subtle and often unrecognized ways. We all want to be accepted, to belong, to be part of the In crowd. It’s a bit scary to note to what extent we will go to achieve that end … or how much we will sacrifice our personal integrity to savor its shallow blessing.

In Jesus’ day, people did not wear their hats backward, but they did have to battle with the clutches of co-dependency. Those who heard the Good News Jesus proclaimed received it in terms of how their religious culture defined acceptability. We see in the Gospel narratives that many people in Jesus’ day tended to see themselves acceptable before God on the basis of cultic purity and related issues of personal cleanliness. Just another way of being In – or Out. The pure are In because they follow the laws of ritual.

The pure avoid any actions which will render them culticly impure – and therefore not able to engage in worship of God. Hence, the need to be clean. Not hygienically clean, mind you, but ritually clean. If we think our culture is concerned about body fluids, the people of Jesus day were crazy about the matter. Cultic purity and cleanliness were seen as measures of closeness to God. That’s why we see the preoccupation in the Gospels with touching bloodied bodies, healing (work) on the Sabbath, etc., etc.

Jesus announces that there is no measure which restricts God’s love for us. God loves us, not because we wear our hats a certain way, perform certain deeds, or avoid certain actions. Sacrament, ritual and moral behavior have their proper place in Christian spirituality, but observances in themselves do not establish right relationship with the One who blesses us with life and holiness. We are In with God as a direct result of the wonderful work of grace, not because we have made it so.

It is no wonder Jesus was at loggerheads with those whose co-dependency choked off the miracle of grace and revelation. Resistance to God’s unconditional love is learned behavior; Jesus reminds us that a trusting, child-like acceptance is all that is required. Unfortunately, we set up the limits and barriers, or let others do it for us. The love of Jesus gives place and perspective to the rituals and actions we necessarily use to give expression to our gratitude and faith. Jesus frees us to live with the dignity of the sons and daughters of God. We’re In.

(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)

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