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Test Everything; Hold Fast to What Is Good – A Meditation on a Teaching from the Imitation of Christ

September 1, 2015

Test EverythingHow do you and I regard this world? How do we perceive its offerings, philosophies, and standards? I pray that we soberly assess the things of this world. Sadly, many Christians pass through their days in this world in a very unreflective manner, accepting without critique many ungodly and harmful notions. Almost anything can be spewed forth from the television, the radio, or some celebrity’s mouth and many people will accept it uncritically, even with applause. Many will look at, read, and purchase material that is not only contrary to what our faith teaches, but even ridicules it or presents it in an unfair, unbalanced, or distorted way. Many parents pay far too little attention to what their children are being taught in school, what they are viewing, and to what they are listening.

St. Paul exhorted, Test everything; hold fast what is good (1 Thess 5:21). Do we?

Note that St. Paul does not say that everything is bad (in this instance he was referring more specifically to prophecy). Rather, he says that we should test everything. And how should that be done? For us who believe, everything should be tested by the revealed Word of God in Sacred Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church.

And yet not only do many Catholics fail to do this, they have things precisely backward. We should put the world and its ways on trial, judging it by the Word of God. But instead, many put the Word of God on trial, judging it by the world and its standards. Many will accept uncritically almost anything that is “popular,” but quickly cop an attitude when the priest in Church says something that does not conform to commonly prevailing opinion.

And it is not just in matters of sexuality, life, and marriage that this happens. Other biblical concepts such as forgiveness, love of one’s enemies, generosity, submission to authority, and obedience are too often dismissed as naïve and even foolish. And though we live in a world deeply wounded by greed, violence, the lack of forgiveness, promiscuity, rebellion, and hatred; though we are Christians and should know better; still many of us scoff at God’s wisdom and prefer the world’s folly.

In the Liturgy of the Hours, we recently read an excerpt from The Imitation of Christ addressing this unfortunate tendency among believers. In the following passage, the author takes up the voice of Jesus:

The Lord says, I have instructed my prophets from the beginning and even to the present time I have not stopped speaking to all men, but many are deaf and obstinate in response.
Many hear the world more easily than they hear God; they follow the desires of the flesh more readily than the pleasure of God…. [Yet] who serves and obeys me in all matters with as much care as the world and its princes are served?
Blush, then, you lazy, complaining servant, for men are better prepared for the works of death than you are for the works of life. They take more joy in vanity than you in truth ….
Write my words in your heart and study them diligently, for they will be absolutely necessary in the time of temptation. Whatever you fail to understand in reading my words will become clear to you on the day of your visitation.
He who possesses my words yet spurns them earns his own judgment on the last day
(The Imitation of Christ, 3.3).

This is a pretty tough assessment to be sure. But, sadly, it is a common problem among believers living in a world that mesmerizes and can offer only fleeting pleasures.

The Lord Jesus once lamented, The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light (Lk 16:8).

The Greek word translated here as “shrewd” is phrónimos, an adjective referring to how we “size things up.” It is related to the word for wisdom, but refers here not to godly wisdom but rather to worldly wisdom and thinking. Hence modern translators rightly translate it as “shrewd” or “cunning.” And indeed so many, even among believers, are far more savvy in dealing with the world than with the faith. They can tell you all about the stock market, the local sports team, the current political situation, or the latest movie, but can’t say much about Scripture or the central truths of our faith. Many have PhDs in worldly matters, but barely a 3rd grade knowledge of the faith.

But, thanks be to God, many Catholics today, like a faithful remnant, are waking up and realizing that they cannot go on living with an undiscerning mind. Some fervent groups of Catholics are studying the faith in depth, attending Bible studies and lectures.

More and more, I meet large groups of people who are hungry for the faith and are willing to test everything by it. Catholic television, Catholic radio, and Catholic presence on the Internet are all growing. It is my privilege to encounter many of you through this blog and my columns at Our Sunday Visitor and The National Catholic Register. I have been honored to be able to do a lot of work with Catholic Answers Radio and with the Institute of Catholic Culture. I have also been privileged to travel around the country from time to time giving retreats for priests and leading parish missions. Yes, I can testify that many Catholics have become more earnest in knowing their faith and testing everything by it. And many of these are young adults.

So please help us, Lord! For too long, many of us (your flock) have been compromised by this world; we have become enamored of it even to the point of scorning your beautiful teachings. But many of us are finally waking up. Keep us sober and alert. Help us to test everything by your glorious truth. Increase the number of strong and dedicated believers. Equip us not only to test this world, but to transform others by touching them and drawing them more deeply to your truth. Help us. Save us. Have mercy on us and keep us by your grace!

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Comments (6)

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  1. edraCRUZ says:

    ‘Blush, then, you lazy, complaining servant, for men are better prepared for the works of death than you are for the works of life. They take more joy in vanity than you in truth ….’ Uh oh. If that doesn’t sink in, I don’t know what will. Just today California legislators revived the already rejected bill on legalizing assisted suicide. Works of death! We are killing innocent babies already and now the unproductive members of society, too. Where are we going? Maybe the disables are next? Next would be the Catholics? because we question the government. Have mercy on us, Oh, LORD.

  2. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    “Do not be confromed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”Paul’s warning to the Romans, (Romans 12:2)

  3. Nick says:

    “Test everything, hold fast to what is good” should be a cooking slogan.

  4. Candida Bohnne Eittreim says:

    Excellent meditation Msgr.Pope! Hard hitting and pulling no punches. i pray that the God who loves us beyond our ken, raises up more shepherds to bring His flock to their knees in repentance and in a thirst, a true hunger, to learn His truths.

    We are hungry, literally begging our priests and ministers to teach us the way we should go and grow in Christ. We are so frighteningly ignorant of the wiles and machinations of satan. Its subtleties in warcraft! We need the weapons, the knowledge to be aware at all times of how corrupted this world is and how very easy it has become to quietly slip away from the sheepfold. Thank you for filling this well in me this day. God bless you. Thank You Holy Spirit!!

  5. Chris says:

    I am one of those Catholics you talk about here. Thank God for my wife, my family and you Msgr. Pope. If it weren’t for you I would not be back home in the church and on fire for our faith. The ICC and Catholic Answers Live are also resources I consume on a daily basis.