Wouldn’t it be nice if being Catholic didn’t make us so annoyingly different from everyone else? If we didn’t have such a strong emphasis on sacraments and hierarchy, while those around us rely on egalitarianism? If Sundays meant football and not church, if Fridays meant hamburgers and not fish? If we could follow a comfortable relativism in which each religion was equally valid, instead of espousing the politically incorrect claim that there is one true religion and every other is in some way erroneous? Wouldn’t it be nice to be like them?
This is, in one sense, what the Israelites sought from Samuel when they asked for “a king to govern us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5). They wanted to be like everyone around them, to have the earthly stability and security of a monarchy. They found it inconvenient to be governed by the Judges, charismatic leaders chosen extraordinarily by God—it cut against the established customs of the world. Who would foreign leaders approach? When a war needed to be fought, who would lead them? In times of prosperity, who would they bestow honor and affection upon? God would raise up leaders and judges when necessary, but the Israelites desired to have a ruler of the same kind as everyone else.
Samuel warned them that the king would “take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots … He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers … you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Sam. 8:12-18). Still, they wanted a king, and so God gave them a king. It was a mixed blessing, giving them kings like David who killed both Goliath and Uriah.
Sometimes we ask from the Lord things that are very mixed blessings, and sometimes we ask things that are no blessing at all. In such cases there is always the terrifying possibility that God will give us or permit us to have exactly what we ask for; in a way, that is what our particular judgment will be. You will stand before the throne of the Judge, and he will look at your life and discover what you truly, in your heart of hearts, have desired: God or something else. If you have accepted God’s grace and by that grace have desired God, you will be welcomed into his presence to see him face to face, and find in that vision joy beyond joy. And if you rejected grace and do not desire God, he will grant that desire also and cast you out of his presence, where the burning absence of Him who is every man’s fulfillment is the worst torment of hell.
Every Catholic knows this, or should, even if we don’t often put it into words so harsh. But then one day we find that being Catholic is awkward or difficult or frowned upon in “polite company.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could watch that movie with our friends, or occasionally take a day off and skip Sunday Mass? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could ignore the truth and be tolerant in the way they want us to be, if they didn’t call us bigoted or islamophobic or patriarchal or homophobic?
Wouldn’t it be nice to be like them? Or do you live for something better?
Image: Peter Paul Rubens, Self-portrait in a Circle of Friends from Mantua