And Mark Shea and Steve Greydanus are gushing. There is some truth to the fact that God prefers the son who listens even though he says no, to the son who says yes then ignores the father. There is that tendency to point to the Rahabs or the Uriahs of the past and show they could be the true child of God, while those chosen by God did unspeakable things.
And yet. When I have given my testimony, I mention that I became a Christian because of the Protestants I knew, but I became Catholic despite the Catholics I knew. Of course I quickly follow up that since I've become Catholic I've met some of the most jaw droppingly awesome examples of holy living and Christ like devotion I ever thought possible. But I had to become Catholic to meet them. Most of the witnesses I knew before I entered the Church were the classic stereotypes: P-A-R-T-Y! Why? Because I'm Catholic that's why!
In college, we used to joke and say if you want to get lucky, don't date religious girls. But Catholics were just as good. I was friends with some kids who were Catholic, and at no time did their lack of devotion point me to anything to do with faith in Christ. Usually, hanging with them, I felt vindicated for not believing.
I remember one evening we were at our karate instructor's house. He was a younger fellow, world champ and all. Several of the younger students would hang out, play cards, drink, and watch him show us the latest exotic Asian weapon he picked up at the last world championship. This particular night several of us were there. Finally our instructor and his wife went to bed, leaving three of us left who decided we'd had a bit much for driving. One of them was my childhood best friend. He was Catholic, and his parents had a few things about the house pointing to the fact, though I don't remember them ever going to Mass. He was usually quite available on Sundays, though perhaps they went other times.
So we crashed. Before we were out, he mentioned he needed to get up and go the church the next morning. At that time, I believe, he was in one of his little 'kicks'. Every now and then he would suddenly say "I can't have pepperoni on the pizza!", or make some mention to current events and the end of days. This may have been one of those times. So we crashed. Early the next morning I awoke, and noticed it was just past dawn. I remembered what he said. Even though I was quite the agnostic, I didn't begrudge others their own devotions, so I reached over and roused him.
Groggily he asked what I wanted. I reminded him that it was Sunday morning, and he said he wanted to go to church. He mumbled something or another, then finally said, "F-it," and rolled around and went back to sleep. I can assure you that didn't say to me 'Dave, you must seek the truth behind this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.' Quite the opposite. I had to chuckle that going to church seemed to mean more to me, a non-believer, than him a believer.
And he wasn't the only one. I can assure folks that the stereotype of girls had some truth to it. Fact is, there seems almost to be a swath of the Catholic Church that doesn't really care at all. Time and again I'm told this or that person was a Catholic, only to be shocked based on everything I knew about the fellow.
Yes, we all fall short. Yes, we should be glad that God prefers our actions to our intentions. Sure, I'm thrilled for mercy and grace and all. But I also want standards. I want someone to call a spade a spade, say what is wrong is wrong. Kick me in the ass if I've gotten off the straight and narrow. And that means in more areas than what my view on the Iraq War or waterboarding or on what our response to Iran's nuclear program ought to be.
Ah, there's the rub. For across the Catholic blogosphere, as we read gushing tales of pride and devotion of Mr. Ebert and his atheistic Catholicism, of a movie critic who firmly supported the sleazing down of movies and typically had little good to say about movies attempting a more traditional, wholesome narrative, we will also be reminded that if you fall to the left or right on any one of a thousand geopolitical or social philosophies or strategies, then that - That! - is where the true cries for vengeance from God arise.
Here's the thing. If we are going to err on mercy, if we are going to say 'ah shucks, he was still a cool guy and I'm sure God's just loving on him right now and it's good for all those atheists who hate religion but are still sometimes good people', fine. I'm actually OK with that. I'm OK with trying to find where people are and why they are there. Why did Ebert become such a champion of so much of the muck and cultural mire that those Catholic praising him abhor The Andy Warhol syndrome I guess.
But if we extend it to those who live out a life apart from God, or even advocate hatred of everything sacred and holy, then we should do it across the board. Even for those who disagree with us on things like Ayn Rand or whether we should waterboard prisoners. After all, consistency. Plus, there's something about defining holiness as the right opinion about events that may not even impact me, versus holiness as something I live out and believe from my own little life, with immediate consequences and impacts on those around me.
For me, it's better to remember mercy, and know that Roger Ebert is in the arms of a loving, merciful and just God. A God who really knows Mr. Ebert, good, bad, and ugly. Likewise, that's where I will be someday. And it will do me good to raise the standard, rather than lower it, lest I fall. Or, lest I become convinced that true worship is having a right opinion about some far flung political crisis half a world away that doesn't impact me, while using God's mercy as an out to do and act and say anything I want whenever I want to. Hold the standards high, remember that mercy is there, but also justice. And remember that it's the person I see in the mirror, and what he does that matters most to my own pilgrimage. And be consistent to how I approach everyone else outside the reach of my life's mirror.