Last weekend I attended the annual, huge, Religious Education Congress in Anaheim (California). I’m such an introvert that even to drive to the Anaheim Convention Center and stand outside would have been a stretch. But I gamely made my way through the crowd and marched inside to meet a dear, kind editor friend who’d arranged several meetings with potential publishers.
The throng at this thing can top out at 45,000 and the hall was enormous. Booths and booths of candles, rosaries, vestments, and, mainly, mostly, books. Monastic wisdom, catechetical instruction, breviaries, Bibles. Books on prayer, healing, grace, vocation, forgiveness, action and contemplation.
Toward the end of the day, I was invited to participate in a Mass that another of the priests there held in his hotel room. We were twelve or so, standing, sitting on the bed, propped up on the floor. Very simple. Very short. The reading was Matthew 5: 20-26, which begins: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.’”
The priest gave a very short homily. “The true follower of Christ,” he said, “is never defined by his or her stance on an issue. The test is never ‘I’m against abortion and therefore I’m a Christian.’ It’s never ‘I’m for peace and therefore I’m a Christian.’ The litmus test of a follower of Christ is whether you love your enemy and forgive the murderer.”
Love your enemy and forgive the murderer. All the books, all the rosaries, all the Masses, all the lectures: Love your enemy and forgive the murderer. So simple and so deeply, subversively radical. So simple and so infinitely, paradoxically complex. So simple and so seemingly impossible.