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Realistic Idealism: Weekly Message for 1-9-18
Dear Fellow Digital Pilgrim, pax Christi:
A new year is underway. Again. We can’t help feeling a surge – even if only small and temporary – of optimism, or maybe even hope, at the start of a new year. The world around us is full of advice for New Year’s resolutions. Some of that advice is good, but none of it will do any of us any good unless we take it from a true Christian perspective. I like to call that perspective “realistic idealism,” or maybe, “idealistic realism.”
An ideal is a goal we strive to achieve or a standard we try to live up to. Having healthy and challenging ideals helps draw the best out of ourselves. Someone without ideals, without something to strive for, has lost a key part of their humanity. We are created and called to make an impact on the world, to grow and learn and flourish. Healthy ideals remind us of that fundamental direction of our lives here on earth,
our lives as pilgrims.
But ideals need to be tempered with reality. Being too idealistic can lead to perfectionism, to thinking that holiness (that’s the abbreviated name of the ideal of all Christians) consists of perfect performance. But it doesn’t. Christian maturity – growing and flourishing as friends and disciples of Jesus – flows from a loving relationship with God. It does not consist in a kind of Hollywood-esque flawlessness and impeccability.
For us who are intentionally pursuing a deeper relationship with God, New Year’s resolutions can be helpful, but in a sense they are nothing new. An intentional disciple of Christ regularly renews a commitment to follow him more closely – regularly resolves to give what God is asking and to receive what God is offering. And the best way, in my opinion, to keep our idealism properly tempered with reality is to focus always on keeping first things first: keep going deeper in our prayer life. That was the real reason I wrote The Complete Christian collection, three books of meditations that help you fill out your understanding of the Christian ideal while giving practical directions about how best to pursue that idea. The Better Part focuses on encountering Christ afresh each day. Seeking First the Kingdom focuses on what it means to follow Christ as his disciple. And Go! focuses on how we engage in the mission that Christ has given us to be his messengers in this world.
If you haven’t finalized your New Year’s resolutions yet, maybe you could resolve to work your way through those three books this year, either individually or together with a small group, a friend, or your spouse. After all, if our relationship with Christ is vibrant and growing, everything else will surely fall into place.
Happy New Year!
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Fr John Bartunek, LC