What does it really mean to be a Christian, a follower of Christ? What does it mean in a world of hunger and oppression?
Many would claim to be Christian because of a statement of faith they made once or which they make each Sunday. But is that what makes a true Christian?
Some would seem to limit true Christianity to code of ethics, especially in the realm of sex?
For me true Christianity means following the God who became flesh as a poor man in an occupied land in order to make us free – from sin, from oppression, from strife. He is a liberating God.
Today is the anniversary of the death of the French author and philosopher Albert Camus who died in car accident on January 4, 1960. His novel The Plague and several of his essays, especially those in the collection Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, have touched me deeply. In particular I continue to be challenged by this excerpt of a talk he gave in 1948 to Dominicans, entitled “The Unbeliever and Christian”:
What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest [person]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the bloodstained face history has taken on today.
On this day in 1995 another prophet died, the Puerto-Rican Jesuit bishop, Monseñor Antulio Parilla-Bonilla. He was a bishop who spoke out forcibly against the Vietnam War and for the independence of Puerto Rico. I met him once in a church’s gym in Spanish Harlem in the early 1970s. It was probably around the time he spoke these words at a Mass in the First Spanish Methodist Church in New York which was being occupied by the Young Lords:
There’s oppression in the whole world: two-thirds of humanity is oppressed by the white axis of nations. The poor, nonwhite population is being oppressed, I would say, by maybe 15 or 20 percent of the people of the whole world. And anybody who will just cross his arms before a situation like that should not call himself a true Christian.
It’s about time that we realized what true religion is – seeing that when Christ was trying to explain who was going to be rewarded and who was not, he didn’t refer to a catechism, he didn’t refer to daily communion, he didn’t refer to externals – he referred to good deeds and good works. And it’s not good works to one person individually; it’s good works to change structures now, this moment in the history of humanity.
An unbeliever and a bishop reveal to us just a bit of what real Christianity is.