Part of Christmas is having a favourite Christmas movie. What is yours? My favourite Christmas movie is Die Hard. The original one. There’s a few reasons why. You get to blow a lot of things up – I’m a guy, so I like blowing things up. The goodies defeat the baddies. But one particular reason is the nobility of virtue and courage that comes through the main character, the police detective John McClane, who manages to wipe out a team of expert criminals all by himself.
We all admire John McClane as a strong man: tough, courageous, and smart. But there are many times that he experiences discouragement and despair. He believes he can’t do it. It even seems reasonable: what chance does he have against a mob of expert criminals? Even the police chief says the same thing. Happily, he doesn’t give up: so he stops the crims, and we get an entertaining movie.
Being a Christian is just like this. There are times when we feel that what Jesus is asking us is too hard, and that we should give in and change what we believe. After all, the argument goes, surely some of Church teaching is too hard on people, and we should embrace married priests, and women priests, and divorce, and same-sex ‘marriage’, and abortion, and euthanasia, and being less united with Rome. That if we did this, it would make us a more caring Church, and people would flock to join us. In other words, like in Die Hard, it seems more reasonable to give up.
There are a few problems with this however. For starters, we already know that changing church teachings will not increase church numbers, because the protestant churches who have done this have dramatically shrunk into extremely small numbers.
A second reason its problematic is that it’s a closure of the heart to Jesus. Because who is suggesting these changes? Not Jesus. Today he not only forbids us from taking innocent life, extra-marital relations and divorce, he even commands that we never lose our temper or look lustfully.
Does this then make Jesus unloving and demanding? Well he can’t be unloving, because then he would not be God. But he is certainly being demanding. Why? Because true love is demanding. This is the third reason why it makes sense to follow Jesus’ directions. To be human means to be made in the image of God. To be made for love. So even though we have been weakened by sin, and are hurt by evil, we are made for and still capable of the great acts of love that these harder teachings of Jesus sometimes demand. As we heard in the first reading, If you wish, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power.
This power is freedom. And we are really free: no one is ever in a position where we have no choice but to do the evil. Whatever the circumstance, our essential humanity calls us to do the good and avoid the evil. As we heard: He has set fire and water before you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer. Man has life and death before him; whichever a man likes better will be given him. Does this sometimes require great sacrifice? Of course. But, like for John McClane, these are opportunities for us to show our courage, to laugh at despair, and do something worthwhile for those that we love. Let us ask God for that grace to day, for the courage to do those hard good things for those we love – especially Jesus. Amen.