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To be friends with the world but also its enemy, to live in it without feeling like you belong here, to transact worldly business without disobeying the principles of the Kingdom of God, to conform to its usages without compromising the Truth, THAT is the life of a true Christian. But oh! What a challenge! It means living as a stranger in your own home town.
They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:16-19)
“Do you think it is easy to keep friends with the world, to live in it, to transact worldly business, and to conform to its usages, and yet, in one’s heart, to remain a stranger and enemy of this same world, like an exile? … Unless (you are) forearmed by knowing the need of spurning all things earthly beneath (your) feet, detached from all things transitory, and wholly devoted to what is eternal, (you) are bound to manifest (your) imperfections, strive as (you) may to hide them. For are (you) not dealing with the world? Do not imagine that it will pardon or fail to observe (your) shortcomings. Much that is good may pass unnoticed — or even perhaps be considered evil, but no fault or imperfection will escape criticism.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)
To be born of this world and then reborn in the Kingdom of God means that we live in our native land yet become like strangers just passing through. It means we speak a new language, and the old language becomes foreign. It means we gain new understandings, and the old understandings no longer make sense. What once seemed very good now is seen as harmful.
What once held so much value now is seen as worthless. What once seemed so certain and true now is recognized as an illusion. It means we become increasing uncomfortable with the world around us and we are eager to leave it and go home to where everything is familiar. It means that as long as we’re here, we want to do everything possible to make the world around us feel more like home. THAT is the life of a true Christian. But oh! What a challenge!
To belong to the Kingdom of God instead of this world, we have to spurn all things earthly, detach from all things transitory, and wholly devote ourselves to what is eternal.
To belong to the Kingdom of God instead of this world, we have to spurn lies, arguments, revenge, retaliation, and the idea that success lies in wealth and power. We have to spurn selfishness, prejudice, superiority, condemnation, and the desire to control others and have everything our way. We have to spurn the enjoyment of sex and violence in movies and books, and the belief that suffering is always bad and comfort is always good.
To belong to the Kingdom of God instead of this world, we have to detach from money, new cars, bigger houses, and the idea that happiness comes from the possessions we buy. We have to detach from smoking, drinking, uncontrolled or extra-marital sex, and the desire to hang on to addictions because quitting is hard. We have to detach from our schedules, our wishes, our ideas of how to solve problems, and the belief that we know what’s best for our lives.
Unless we are forearmed by knowing the need to live as a stranger in our native land, belonging to the Kingdom of God instead of the world, gaining the approval of the Father instead of the world, following the example of Christ instead of the world, being guided by the Holy Spirit instead of the world, we are bound to manifest our imperfections, strive as we may to hide them, and the world will condemn us for these, even as it commits the same sins.
Unless we are forearmed by knowing the need to live as a stranger in our native land, when the world refuses to pardon our shortcomings but quickly observes them, the inner peace that comes from God will not remain in us.
Unless we are forearmed by knowing the need to live as a stranger in our native land, much that is good in us may pass unnoticed or even be considered evil, and we’ll react from pride and hurt instead of humility and joy.
Unless we are forearmed by knowing the need to live as a stranger in our native land, we will not understand what Jesus meant by:
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
Holy Spirit, who teaches me all truths, show me in what ways I still belong to this world, and empower me to let go of these attachments so that I may fully belong to the Kingdom of God. Amen!