Mark Shea channels his former Protestant self:
December is the month of Advent and Advent is about not just the First Advent at Christmas but the Second Advent on the Last Day. Accordingly, it confronts us with the reality of Judgment.
Lots of folks wonder how to get ready for the Last Judgment. Everything in your life and mine, as well as in all the rest of the Universe, is moving inexorably toward That Day. Yet when we look at the saints, we find some remarkably unconventional advice. St. Therese of Lisieux, for instance, when asked what she would do if you knew the world was about to end, said, “I would have confidence.”
The question, of course, is “In what would she have confidence?” and the answer was light years from what our culture places its trust in.
After all, consider: When some inspirational Oprah video smears the air with a schmaltzy soundtrack and we are breathily invited to “Believe” what instantly follows that word?
“…in yourself!” Again and again, when our culture talks about “confidence” what it invariably means is “self-confidence”. Our kids are, likewise, constantly taught to “believe in themselves” and “feel good about themselves”.
For Therese, all this self-help prattle was nonsense. For her, the only place for confidence was Jesus Christ. She knew herself as a sinner, so she simply threw herself into his arms like a child knowing that, while she could never get to heaven on her own steam, she could not fail to get there if he carried her.
This sort of Christian trust is (to a person like Therese) simplicity itself. To people like you and me, maybe not so much. We can play games. We can, for instance, tell ourselves “So long as I am doing good things in Department X of my life, God will forgive all the bad stuff I’m doing in Department Y.”
This is the trick that Jesus warns against when he tells us:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)