At Catholicymblog.com, one of my favorite websites, D. Scott Miller posted a fantastic quote a couple years ago discouraging youth ministers from sharing a “Christian varnish” with our youth. (The quote comes from Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s Soul of the Apostolate.) Here it is:
“Take my advice, do not be afraid to aim as high as you possibly can, and you will be astonished at the results. Let me explain: do not merely have, as your ideal, to give the youth a selection of clean amusements that will turn them aside from illicit pleasures and dangerous associations, not simply to give them a Christian varnish, through routine attendance at Mass, or the reception of the Sacraments…
Launch out into the deep. Let your ambition be, first of all, the noble one of making a certain number of them, at any cost, take the firm resolution of living as fervent Christians; that is, of making their mental prayer every morning, going to Mass every day, if they can, and doing a little spiritual reading, besides going frequently to Communion and fervently too. Put all your efforts into giving this select group a great love for Jesus Christ…And then stir up in these young (people) to act upon their companions.”
As you likely know, we use varnish to coat wood and fill in/ gloss over the imperfections in that piece of wood. Varnish does nothing to fix the wood… if the imperfection is a serious defect, all that varnish does is hide this problem until more damage is done.
Jesus did not come to varnish our sins and imperfections, covering them with a glossy finish of Christianity. He came to uproot and rebuild the structures of our lives, removing the sins, healing the defects that have resulted from our sins, in short: to make all things new. (See Revelation 21:5, among many others.)
Healthy Christian living is anything but varnish. A healthy routine of Mass, prayer, and Reconciliation supplemented by friendships that do the same should be leading each of us towards perfection. As we get closer to Light, our weaknesses and faults are illuminated… and we (should) realize that we need to do something about them. We should also feel more passionate about injustices around us. To put it simply: not a single one of us should be standing still, as this is impossible in the spiritual life. We are either growing closer to Christ – approaching the light – or moving away from Him, and preferring darkness to the light. Allowing feel-good words and self-righteous justification to act as a varnish for our sins is standing still.
Moses reminded the Israelites of this right after giving them the covenant:
I call Heaven and Earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your disciples may live.” -Deuteronomy 30:19
Don’t accept the varnish. Don’t settle for less- press on, press forward, and become who God has created you to be: Holy.