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Seeing Things as They Are, Part II

My wife, Amparo, and I recently taught a 16-hour course in Spanish for 30 students in the Hispanic Leadership program of the Diocese of Des Moines on the subject of Discipleship, the vocation of the followers of Jesus described in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles.

I first became aware of “discipleship” to describe serious Christians in the famous book, The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German Lutheran minister who was martyred by the Nazis in 1945.

The paper jacket of my copy says Bonhoeffer “examines the serious implications of believing in Christ, the intensity of the struggle between the world and God in man’s deepest self whenever he takes upon himself true discipleship.”

Heady stuff, then and now. Our course included use of a method for acquiring and living faith of which Bonhoeffer would surely approve: see, judge, act.

Dedication to Social Activism

The see-judge-act method was created by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, who died in 1967. A Belgian, he was founder of the Young Christian Workers movement. According to Wikipedia, Cardijn “was best known for his lifelong dedication to social activism and working towards the improvement of the working class.” 

Pope Francis used the same approach in his encyclical Laudato Si, which was subtitled, On Care for our Common Home,” or Mother Earth. Here I want to focus on the “see” part, to which Jesus refers in Mathew’s gospel.

In a discussion with Jewish authorities, Jesus said, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

Not How We Wish Them To Be

So disciples, and we who are searching for God, must be able to see things as they are – not how we may wish them to be or how the majority sees them – and make a judgment about them. That’s what Bonhoeffer did with the Nazis while many others – including many Christians – went along with their murderous agenda, Bonhoeffer saw them for what they were.

The pope was heavily influenced in the use of the see-judge-act method by a conference of Latin American bishops he attended in Aparecida, Brazil, before his election as pope. The conference identified six “signs of our times:” consumerism, individualism, materialism, glorification of the culture, violence and sexual confusion and permissiveness.

In observing today’s reality, you try to be positive. Especially as you reach a certain age, you find yourself more critical and it’s hard to separate your stereotypic aged views from reality. Nonetheless, for people searching for God I think there is value to examining these descriptions of society’s values and how they line up with the search for God.

Regarding consumerism, the desire for stuff and stuff’s promotion in the media got a good start with the advent of radio and TV but has exploded with social media. I often find myself “needing” things I didn’t know I needed, and accumulation of stuff and attachment to its waning value is a barrier in our search for God.

I’ve written often in this blog about individualism, the state of mind that puts self before all – in politics, in religion and in society in general. Materialism is the sibling of consumerism, but is a bit more diabolical when you include the philosophy of materialism, which acknowledges only the existence of the material and denies the spiritual.

“Glorification of the Culture” is somewhat vague, but encompasses a sort of communal egoism in which we see our culture as superior to others and vigorously pursue our culture’s fads and whims. Violence has long been a staple of our society, including in the history of religion, but its promotion by popular culture and social media has brought it to new heights of baseness.

Finally, in our eagerness to overcome what many believe to be the puritanism of the past, we have arrived at a sexual permissiveness and sexual confusion that is the new normal.

It’s not always easy to see things as they are and tell it like it is. Bonhoeffer paid the price, as did Jesus himself. But it’s an imperative for people of faith, and for people searching for God. And, in my view, you can’t see things as they are if God is left out of your life.  

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