I’m not a huge coffee drinker, but two or three times a week, or even more or less depending on my workload, I’ll have a cup or two. Now, I’m not a big fan of the taste of coffee (scandal, I know). The real reason I might drink it, however, is because of the natural “boost” that the caffeine gives me. It makes me feel awake and helps me into that “Go get ‘em!” attitude. Why am I saying this? Because, unless you genuinely drink coffee for it’s taste (yes, there are such people out there), I just don’t understand why you would drink decaf! I don’t know that anyone would do that, to be honest, I just assume that everyone who drinks decaf likes the taste.
There are many Christians, including Catholics, who take their faith decaf. What I mean is that they de-emphasise or outright remove the aspects of the faith that are challenging in order to make it easier and more square with the lifestyles that people already live. It’s a good intention, but this removes the caffeine from the faith; it removes some of the elements of the faith that are truly life-giving and fulfilling to the human person.
Just in case you’re not following my coffee analogy here’s a simpler one. It’s like trying to make something more swallowable, but in making it more swallowable you also make it tasteless and therefore the desire to swallow it is diminished or gone.
This takes many different shapes and sizes and if you just open your eyes to this concept you’ll start to see it all around you. Here’s a popular one. There’s a huge de-emphasis on sin and a massive emphasis on God’s love and mercy. I hear it in the pews and I’ve heard it from the pulpit too (or rather, haven’t heard it). Is it bad to emphasise God’s love and mercy? Absolutely not! We definitely need to proclaim them from the rooftops because the world is starved of those two things. However, you cannot neglect to talk about sin and its devastating effects on lives. If not for the sake of fidelity to the Deposit of Faith, at least because of the fact that talking about mercy makes no sense if people don’t have or don’t know their sins, which they need mercy for.
Let’s have a look at God’s Word to see this clearly.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks His disciples who people say that He is. As you know, some of the disciples respond with their thoughts and what the word on the street is and then Peter makes his famous proclamation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:16) to which Jesus responds,
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ. (Mt 16:17–20)
So after Peter gets it right and makes this beautiful and accurate proclamation of Jesus’ identity, Jesus basically makes Peter the most powerful man on earth (after Jesus) and everyone is on a high. Then Jesus immediately adds the sobering part to Peter’s ministry because it is a truth that Peter needs to know nonetheless.
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)
It doesn’t sound like this has anything to do with Peter, but it does. However, Peter doesn’t realise this yet. Peter just gets upset at this seemingly outrageous plan. “You are the Christ, and you wanna do what?” Check out how Jesus responds:
And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” (Matthew 16:22–23)
“That’s a little harsh, Jesus. Really? Did you really have to call him ‘Satan?'” Actually, this reaction was warranted. Why? Because if Jesus doesn’t give His life for the world, there’s no salvation for anyone and for what? To hang out with God and heal people for a few decades? No. Instead, Jesus takes up His own Cross, carries it with nothing but love to Calvary, allows Himself to be nailed to His Cross (and make no mistake, it was His love that bound Him to that Cross, not three pieces of metal), and gives His own life as a ransom. Now, for those who believe and accept it, eternal salvation is offered to all. Let me spell it out: A never-ending, disease-free, pain-free, sadness-free, anything-less-that-perfect-free life in perfect union with the Most Holy Trinity. That is what Jesus has won for us on the Cross and by His Resurrection, and when we try and squeeze out the hard parts of the faith and skip around them, we risk losing all this. But how does one accept this and attain this?
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (Matthew 16:24–26)
You see, Jesus didn’t suffer so that we wouldn’t have to. Jesus suffered so that we would know how to! Jesus in this passage is telling you Himself: “This is hard! If you try to save and preserve your life and make it the most comfortable life possible, you will lose your life. But if you spend it all on me and prove your faith even when it goes against your grain to no limit, I guarantee it that you will live for ever with me.” This is why Jesus’ words affect Peter. If Peter is going to be Jesus’ point-man, then Peter is going to have to learn this way of life. If you know how Peter died, then you know he got it down eventually.
When we try and avoid these parts of the faith, we are trying to make for ourselves an earthly paradise here. Let me tell you that it’s not going to happen. The paradise is on the other side. It’s where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you (cf. John 14:1-3).
Here in this life is where we persevere, and perseverance normally requires something difficult that’s beyond a couch, some popcorn, and Netflix. Jesus said so Himself, “But he who endures to the end will be saved,” (Matthew 10:22). We have to endure; we have to travel a difficult and treacherous path. But let me also tell you that this path is the most exciting, the most beautiful, and the most fulfilling path that you will ever travel on. It must be said, though: This is the only path that leads to heaven and you’ve got to take the treachery with the beauty — it’s a package deal! Look at what Jesus said about these paths:
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13–14)
Take It Head On!
Every morning, and anytime after that when necessary, put your best poker face on and say “All in.” Spend it all on Jesus. When you hold some of those chips back in case things don’t work out, say again “All in, Jesus. I bet my entire life, every moment of joy, every pang of pain, every tear of sadness, on you. You are my everything. Tear me away from anything that tears me away from you.”
We need to love the Cross. Suffering, in this life, is our travel companion for the journey. But remember that suffering is valuable! Nothing will go unpaid said the Lord (cf. Matthew 10:42). Look at what St Josemaría Escrivá said, they are words to take to prayer!
I will tell you which are man’s treasures on earth so that you will appreciate them: hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pain, dishonour, poverty, loneliness, betrayal, slander, prison… (The Way, 194)
Those are the words of one who swallowed what was difficult to swallow; one who took his faith with caffeine.
P.s. You might dislike me now for being harsh, but I’d rather give it to you straight and have you dislike me for it than have you like me for being fake.
P.p.s. Remember that with God’s strength that He gives you through the Sacraments and prayer, you can do all things, especially walk this path (cf. Philippians 4:13). He has walked it Himself before and He walks it with you now. Lean on His strength, not your own.
P.p.p.s. What other examples of these compromises or de-emphases do you see around you (no names or places—no gossip!)? Let me know in the comments below.