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“Ask a Priest: Why Is Christianity so Costly?”
Q: I am a Catholic young woman. I am always intimidated about following Christ because of all the sacrifices I must make. I am annoyed that others can live how they please. It is not my duty to judge or correct them. Why must I have to hold myself to high standards while others can live however they please? If I can lead a decent life, why does God require Christians to go above and beyond? Many atheists are very kind, well-to-do individuals. Some sins also do not make sense to me, such as self-sufficiency. The closer you grow to Christ, the more you suffer. Why can’t I be a Christian in ways that are convenient and ignore parts I dislike or that cause me to suffer? I am not better than those outside the Church because I am suffering. Why does God set the highest moral standards for human behavior? -I.O.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: God loves us and wants us to be holy, which means he wants us to follow his will. If he demands a lot of us, it is because he will give us the grace we need to live his will.
First, it would be good to clarify the phrase, “that others can live how they please.” True, we cannot judge others. Nevertheless, each person will be held accountable for his actions. God alone knows a person’s heart and intentions.
Before getting into the specifics of your question, I would like to address an assumption underlying the points you raise.
We are made for true, lasting happiness. Many passing earthly pleasures seem to promise happiness, but they can’t give it. When we expect them to, and when we live as if they were our highest priority, we turn them into idols. In the end, this leads to deep frustration and unhappiness.
Following Jesus Christ, walking through life in friendship with him, in a personal relationship with him in the Church, is what leads to true, lasting happiness. As we grow in our friendship with him, we begin to experience deeper happiness than the passing pleasures that come from simply doing whatever we feel like or whatever others tell us will make us happy.
At times, our friendship with Christ is difficult, because we have a lot of selfish tendencies within us, and Jesus always invites us (and helps us) to overcome those self-centered tendencies. That can be painful, but fulfilling one’s potential in any area of life always takes sacrifice. Whenever God asks us to make a sacrifice, it is always because he knows that it will help us move forward along the path to true, lasting happiness (after all, God is the one who designed human nature).
OK, with that under our belt, we are ready to address some of the specifics of your question.
If we Christians seem to be held to a higher standard, that is because God has given us more. We have the grace of baptism; and Catholics, of course, recognize seven sacraments. If God gives us more, he naturally will expect more from us.
Your difficulty might be that you fail to see your Christian faith as, first and foremost, a gift of God’s love to you.
An analogy might help. Imagine a woman is married to a man. That wife expects more from her husband than she expects from, say, a neighbor down the road. Should the husband complain that his wife is demanding more of him? Or should he see that his wife expects more from him precisely because she loves him far more than she cares for the neighbor?
A second point might be to look at Jesus and Mary. Jesus, as the Son of God, loved God the Father infinitely. And what was the Father’s will for Jesus? That he suffer and die on a cross for our redemption. And Mary his mother had to stand by the cross and watch Jesus die. These were the two persons (one divine, one human) who most loved God. Yet they suffered terribly.
This brings us to a key mystery: Love and suffering go together. How does a woman know a man loves her? She knows because he is willing to suffer for her. Think of a mom — she might suffer terrible pains to give birth to a baby. She loves the baby intensely — maybe more so because of her suffering for the little one, rather than less. It is a mystery of life.
What this means is: If God is asking you to suffer more, it is because he loves you and wants you to draw closer to him. Suffering helps us realize how small we are and how much we need God’s help. If you want to dig into this mystery a little bit more, you may find these videos by my friend and colleague useful: “When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong“; “The Colors of the Cross“; and “Troubled Hearts.”
So, again, see your Christian faith as a gift of God. He holds you to a high standard because he wants you to be a saint. Learn to unite your suffering to that of Jesus. Your suffering can have meaning. You can offer it for your loved ones, for the conversion of sinners, for your own salvation. In this way you can imitate Jesus in his suffering.
I hope some of this helps. God bless.