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On Being an Early Christian in a Pagan World (ca.100 AD)




Christians are indistinguishable from other men, neither by nationality, language, nor customs.

They do not inhabit separate cities of their
own, nor speak a strange dialect that nobody else understands nor follow
some outlandish way of life. With regard to dress, food, and manner of life in
general, they follow the customs of whatever country they happen to be living in.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own country
as though they were aliens
and were only passing through.
They play their full role as citizens,
paying taxes and carrying all the
responsibilities of all good citizens,
but they claim to be citizens of heaven.
Any country can be their homeland,
but for them every homeland
is a foreign country.

Like every man, they marry and have children, but they do not divorce their wives,
nor do they abort or abandon their children; nor do they abandon or kill their feeble elders. They share their meals and whatever they have, but not their wives; nor do they engage in homosexuality andebauchery. They live in the flesh, but are not governed by the desires of thelesh; nor do they allow themselves to give in to greed, pride,
snobbishness or rudeness.

They are not self-seeking, nor do they brood over injuries. They are
not jealous; they do not put on airs, nor are they prone to anger (1 Cor. 13: 4-5).
Obedient to their country's laws, they live a life that far transcends the law.
They are, indeed, the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13), for they live not as children
of this earth, but as children of God, in His own image and likeness. They
give to everything that is good a supernatural flavor, purifying what is
imperfect, and healing what is corrupt.

In everything they do, they act in silence, without grumbling or
arguing; they prove themselves peaceful, innocent, and straightforward; they
live in harmony and love with all the children of God and His creation,
without reproach in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation among
whom they shine like the stars in the sky (Phil. 2:14-15).

If men of good will lose their taste for good, Christians can help them
to regain it. But if Christians become insipid by becoming and living like
other men, who can restore their flavor? If salt becomes tasteless, who can
restore its savor? Then it is good for nothing, but to be thrown out and
trampled under men's feet (Matt. 5:13). It is fit for neither the soil nor the
manure heap (Luke 14:34).


Christians Are the Light of the World

What Christians believe or teach is not based upon reveries inspired
by the imagination of men, nor upon the vagaries of philosophers of this or
that school. Unlike other people, they champion no purely human doctrine
and hold as foolishness the wisdom of the wise. Their teaching is a heavenly
teaching and believe in the Word, the Truth, that has come down from
heaven, from the Father and God of all.

Christians love all men, but all men hate and despise them. They live
in poverty, but enrich many; they are often destitute, but possess spiritual
riches beyond price. Unlike other men, they suffer in silence, without
grumbling, and consider their pains and sorrows their glory. A blessing is
their answer to abuse; kindness and deference their response to insult. When
they are unjustly punished and even condemned to death, they rejoice as
though they were receiving a gift, the gift of life.

They are indeed the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Not of one city or of
one country, but of the whole world. Their light is far more brilliant than the
light of the stars, the moon, the sun. It is a light that enlightens the mind and
heart of man with sound doctrine, with divine words, with spiritual wisdom
from above. This light from above dispells the darkness of uncertainty and
error, gives certainty and security of truth and life in the midst of a confused
and always changing generation.

A little Christian book, a small catechism for children, has a truth, a
good suggestion, a sound teaching for everyone. It teaches kings and rulers
the art of good government, and spells out for all citizens the true principles
of liberty and equality, with justice for all. It provides criteria for just laws to
the legislators and ethical norms for the public servants. It points out the way
of justice to the magistrate; teaches rules of morality to the merchants and
laborers in the marketplace; safeguards for the rich his private property and
guarantees to the poor his daily bread from charitable hearts. A Christian
child is thus wiser than the wisest of purely human knowledge (Marello).

Christians are the light of the world. They are like a city set on a hill
that cannot be hidden, or like a lamp that gives light to all in the house. Their
light shines before all men so that they may see the goodness of their lives
and give praise to their heavenly Father (Matt. 5:14-16).

But what if the light goes out? What if Christians fall under the
influence of the teachings of the world and their lofty ideals are corrupted and
yield to human vagaries and fads? How dark will be their darkness; how
blind will be their blindness!

Christians Are the Soul of the World

To speak in general terms, Christians are to the world what the soul is
to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body and animates the
whole body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all
parts of the world giving to it flavor and light while they cannot be identified
with the world.

Christians love those who hate them, just as the soul loves the body
and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul within the body
that the body is held together. Similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the
world as in a foreign land, that the world is held together. The soul, though
immortal, has a mortal dwelling place. Christians, although for a while they
live among perishable things, wait all the while for the freedom from change
and decay that will be theirs in heaven. Such is the Christians' lofty and
divinely appointed function, from which they are not permitted to excuse
themselves (Diognetus).

[Thanks to Father Siro Dal Degan, O.S.J. This article originally appeared in his book "Letters from Theophilus," and is a good explanation of the meaning of life.]

Go on the the next page, A Christmas Story.


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