Christ Mocked by a Soldier- Bloch
If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.
The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion
Laudato Si' 217
Looking at many of the reactions to the encyclical 'on care for our common home' by Pope Francis I began to wonder 'what is meant by the world hating Jesus and His followers and why is this hatred felt?' Given the widespread welcome given to the document outside of rigidly conservative and rigidly liberal circles (one group wishes to go on polluting the other wants to impose artificial sterility on poor people) this may seem like a perverse subject to reflect upon at this time. I am reminded, however, of the time when a fiery sermon by St John Chrysostom against the practice of applauding in church was greeted with a standing ovation by the congregation. Individual propositions by Christ and His Church can be warmly welcomed but the whole package cannot be accepted without the profound interior conversion of which the Holy Father spoke. And it is the determination to resist conversion that is at the root of hatred to Jesus and those who faithfully follow Him. As our Lord put it Himself 'Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters' (Lk 11:23)
To begin at the beginning, a very formidable and exceptionally varied coalition was formed to oppose Jesus during the time of His mission. It is easy at this distance to think that what united His opponents was greater than what divided them but really except on this one subject they were completely with odds with each other about almost everything. American Democrats and Republicans are more in harmony with each other than the enemies of our Lord were. From the Gospel we can see that His opponents included the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the High Priestly party and the Roman occupying power. Each of these groups had a distinct agenda and priorities which excluded those of their rivals. The followers of Jesus were mostly the anawim, the humble poor, who were either poor in fact or, like Joseph of Arimathea, poor in spirit. What is significant for our purposes was that it was possible for people to be anawim and Pharisee or anawim and Sadducee or even anawim and Roman and so on. The key to being a follower of our Lord was not outward allegiance but inward conversion. The issues that the different parties disagreed about were chiefly to do with matters of prudential judgement, about which disciples of Jesus can legitimately come to different conclusions to each other, not about how the inner person relates to their God.
The second question 'why is this hatred felt?' is the easier one to answer. Being converted, accepting Jesus and His values, into the very core of our being and into how we live our life means turning our personal world upside down. It means looking upon the things of the world, wealth, power, prestige, celebrity and so on as so much dross and making it our ambition to serve rather than to be served. It means that we desire others to be applauded, we should be glad, indeed, if they receive that applause for what we have done. To be converted is to prefer Christ not only to ourself but also to our family, our nation, our culture, our language in short to everything and everyone. Such a radical demand is madness and revolution to those who cannot surrender themselves, abandon themselves to it and so they reject it with a shudder.
The first question is more tricky, how is this hatred made manifest? How do Christ and His Church experience it? Some of you may have thought that it was curious that I included the Romans in the list of our Lord's enemies since Pilate was manifestly reluctant to execute Jesus. We see in the attitude and actions of the occupying power the truth of the statement that 'whoever is not with me is against me.' Pilate was not for Jesus he was indifferent towards Him for he knew little about Him. What he was chiefly for was himself and secondarily for Rome when he felt that both of those were under threat because of the Jerusalem mob then he willingly sacrificed Jesus for the sake of a quiet life. Without an inward conversion everyone, in fact, is willing to sacrifice Jesus for the sake of a quite life.
Fast forwarding several centuries we see a picture transformed. The anawim had so far prevailed as to make Christianity the official religion of a great empire but the coalition of enemies of Christ remained intact, as it will until the end of time. Those whose first love is power or wealth or sensuality will always resist conversion and hate the converting agent. What happened instead is that they masked their hostility to the whole by offering their support to the part, that is, by emptying Christianity of its core while officially supporting its shell they sought to destroy the content as they upheld the form. To kill Christianity as a living thing at the same time as upholding it as a dead one became the preferred approach of the new Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians and Romans. And this is what it means when Jesus says that the world will always hate Him and His followers. In the post-Christian West we see both approaches flourish, the outright attacks by overt enemies of the faith and the equivocal support of selected aspects of the message, but not the call to conversion, by those who profess friendship to the Church.
So what has this to do with Laudato Si'? The message of the encyclical is primarily about one thing- conversion. The wealthy must abandon their wealth to save the poor, the powerful must abandon their power to save the powerless, those who use creation as an object to be exploited must accept it as a subject to be cherished for itself. Those who welcome Laudato Si' or reject it simply because of what it says on the subject of man-made climate change are not only missing the point but wilfully, deliberately and selfishly doing so. They fear that if they accepted it they would be converted.
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