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By Benedict Augustine
“If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.”
Seeing the great sins on the world on full display and great heroism that fights those sins hidden or discredited can put a Christian in a foul mood. When news of Church attendance declining, church and civil authorities becoming lax on morality, and politicians gaining popularity for their crude barbarity or shameless demagoguery, all reach one’sears, nothing seems like enough.
Going to church doesn’t seem like enough. Being responsible at work doesn’t seem like enough. Good deeds and wholesome relationships don’t seem like enough. We need to do more. Our country needs to do more. Our neighbors need to do more. Our elders need to do more. Our children need to do more. Parents need to do more. Teachers need to do more. Etc. Etc.
And so we resolve to do more and tell others to do the same. We pin our hopes to a great leader, a great movement, a great idea. We do random acts of charity. We read a few good books, or articles, or blog posts, or comment boxes. This lasts for a few days, or even a few weeks, and then the enthusiasm to improve the world dies down. Usually some kind of event or issue will come up and distract our pursuit of justice. Worse still, a new season of some popular show or new video game will come out and do their part in sdeucing and effectively extinguishing the soul on fire.
Like many of us today, the early Christians likely suffered from the same cycle of agitation, the brief flame of inspiration, and the inevitable relapse into passivity. A Christian had to witness their civilization go to pieces so many times over, sometimes at the hands of barbarians, more often in the hands of emperors, and all the while the people would actlike sheep chasing money and entertainment without a care for the less fortunate or eternity.
St. Paul gives the best advice one could possibly hear in this situation: “Seek what is above.” The devil tempts us to seek what is around us, in front of us, behind us, below us. Rarely does the clever person seek what rests above him; that would mean he stands below something greater—an affront to his pride. He assumes that it is better to be “practical,” “pragmatic,” or “proactive,” and he will repeat the same insane patterns of seeking something in the imperfect world to restore the imperfect world.
Many Christians might show a little more tact than the atheist or secularist who deny the existence of an “above” altogether, but they still work under the same assumptions. When they seek to do good, they do not think of Heaven or Hell, or of guardian angels, or of the cloud of witnesses, or grace flooding their lives in the sacraments. They seek respectability, decency, and moderation. They act gently and tolerably, calmly indifferent to implications on their soul. Rather than the radical transformation Christ teaches with His beatitudes, they follow the insipid adage of “leaving the place a little better than they found it.” This is not enough to change anything and will leave the curious bystander cold.
We need to remove ourselves from this banality. We need to seek what is above, and make our homes there. If this offends others, good; it means we’re doing something right. We need to become mystics engulfed in prayer with thoughts of the Passion, thoughts of the Nativity, thoughts of Resurrection, thoughts of the saints and angels, thoughts of the dead praying for us, thoughts of demons tugging at our sleeves and reminding us how crazy we are.
No one can understand Christ if he refuses to seek what is above. Christ makes absolutely no sense from any perspective based in the world. The world would make Him into a social activist, a charismatic motivational, a eastern holy man, or something equally small and pointless. If Christians accept the world’s vision of Christ, they will be imitating a fake, not the real person. That might appeal to people’s vanity, but it does not achieve anything of consequence for anyone.
What lies above us is the only reality that lasts. In all other directions, everything will pass and either conform to that heavenly reality, or perish in eternal non-reality of Hell.