Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Once in philosophy class we had a long discussion about the difference between a Christian and an atheist doing a good deed – the same exact deed. What is the difference - or - is there a difference? We all wanted there to be one and came up with some possible answers. But fifteen years later the question seems a bit weak.

It is not enough to consider oneself a Christian and do good deeds. There was a great conversation had in this house the other night with a man on parish council who worried that such groups could easily fall into the “complaint and fix” mode. That is, somebody notices something like the parish fence needing painting. We get together at a meeting, somebody mentions that the fence needs painting, and then we pass a resolution to fix the fence, and then move on to the next complaint or idea.

He said that there has to be more to it than that and he is right. We cannot loose sight of the bigger picture. It eventually comes down to fixing the fence, yes, but it is not about fixing the fence and we need to remind ourselves of that from time to time. We are not here to preserve a church, but to provide a space in which to be Church. We paint the fence because we believe in Jesus Christ and His presence in the Eucharist and that we are called as His Body to worship Him and serve each other as Church; as brothers and sisters in Christ. And part of being able to do that is preserving our property which means the fence needs to be painted!

It is a subtle difference but essential. It poses the question of why we are here in the first place and aids us in building the community to which Christ calls us.

Every group with which I have met so far in my short time at my current parish I have emphasized that the first priority is the Eucharist; what we do as a community around His altar on Sunday. Everything else is important, but only so if it flows from what we do at the Mass. Basketball teams and sewing circles are great, but ultimately meaningless unless it flows from the source and summit of our lives. We are not here to sponsor teams or clubs or paint fences; we are here to worship Him.

It all must flow from this simple concept and then, at the end of the week, be offered back to Him otherwise our mission becomes to paint fences.


uncle jim said...

been engaged in that christian vs atheist [or humanist] doing a god deed several times in various types of courses & seminars & workshops.

the end was, to your point, the motivation or source behind, or at the root of, all the rest of what we do.

Anonymous said...

How timely. This is even more of the clarity I've been seeking in a matter of service, a matter which is terribly crucial in our day, but the means was too man's-way oriented, not Jesus-oriented enough (for me, anyway--it'll work fine for others). My activism has to be based at all times in the love of the Lord, or it may as well have come from an atheist, and that seems unfair because Jesus is the one Who gets the job done; we merely assist. Great points. St. Sebastian's is very lucky.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean about making the resolutions that never come to action. (So glad THAT purgatory is done..!)

Unknown said...


I echo Carol in the matter of the timeliness of this post... I had been debating getting involved at the parish I attend, lets chalk it up to a few bad experiences.... once burned twice shy kind of thing. Not to mention my unique conversion situation that is wrapped up in that too. So today I took the plunge and actually submitted the paperwork to join the parish I had been attending since I was received into the church.

But back on point. Good post, made me think.