In Layman's Terms - Bob Sullivan

Ed and the high jump

By Bob Sullivan

This is a story about a guy named Ed. Ed is a fictional character, but his story illuminates a serious problem in Christianity today.

When Ed was 16 years old, he asked a priest, “What is the bare minimum I have to do to be a good Catholic?” Ed didn’t like the answer because it sounded boring or difficult (he couldn’t really remember which), so he researched the answer on his own. He found some paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Precepts, starting at paragraph 2041: Catholics must attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, confess our sins at least once a year, receive Holy Communion at least once during the Easter season, observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence and provide for the material needs of the Church, according to our abilities.

Ed was amazed at how simple that sounded and wondered why the priest had not simply given him that list. He got the idea that getting into heaven was something like a high jump contest. To Ed, the five precepts listed above were the lowest rung on the standards that held the bar. Ed was confident he’d be able to step over the thigh-high bar and at least make it to Purgatory. He presumed he could leap high above the bar and if he was lucky, that may even get him into Heaven. He reasoned that setting the bar higher would only increase his chances of failure, so he decided to live a life that kept the bar on the lowest setting.

For the rest of high school, Ed practiced this “spiritual high jump” and found that it was very easy. However, in college, there were lots of distractions and no parents looking over his shoulder. Ed’s new friends didn’t go to any church on Sunday, so Ed quickly fell into the habit of skipping Mass on Sunday as well. He felt bad about it, but reasoned that he was probably going to miss Mass most weekends, so he’d wait until he was ready to commit to Sunday Mass again, then he’d just confess all his sins and get back to his old status as a “practicing Catholic.”

Before he knew it, he was at Easter Sunday Mass with his family. It was then that he realized he could not receive Holy Communion because he had let his faith slide and had not been to confession in nearly a year. He felt shame, but as his family got up and went to Holy Communion, Ed found himself getting up, too.

When he approached the priest, he said, “Amen” and received the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ in an unworthy manner. In doing so, he added sacrilege to his mounting offenses, but he reasoned that at least nobody knew he was not a “practicing Catholic” anymore. For Ed, appearance meant a lot more than reality. As long as others didn’t know he had fallen away, he hoped God would understand.

That summer, Ed moved back home. One day, his eyes were drawn to the Catechism sitting on the shelf in his parent’s study. He opened it to the place where it talks about the Precepts. To his surprise, he had failed to meet each of the five precepts in the last 12 months. He had set the bar as low as he could set it, and he still failed to get over the bar. Ed still called himself a Catholic, but he had to admit, he wasn’t in good standing.

That summer, Ed returned to confession and started going to Mass each holy day but when he returned to college in the fall, he and his friends resumed their usual practices of classes, intramural sports and parties on the weekend. After a few weeks, Ed concluded that he wasn’t a “practicing Catholic” and that he probably had to start referring to himself as a “former” Catholic. His friends didn’t seem to care as most of them were former Catholics and former members of other churches as well.

One weekend, Ed was driving across town when a truck ran a red light and slammed into Ed’s driver’s side door. In an instant, Ed found himself standing before a high jump pit. To Ed’s dismay, the bar was not on the lowest rung on the standards, it was a little higher. Ed waived at the person standing next to the bar and asked him to put it down to the lowest height. The man just shook his head. So Ed walked up to the man and said, “I need it on the lowest rung.”

The man replied, “That’s the ‘Precepts’ rung for people who did not have the gifts and opportunities you had. You were expected to use the gifts you were given. Our Father gave you many gifts and blessings, well beyond the ability necessary to observe the precepts. With the grace you were offered, you could have read Scripture, prayed throughout the day, learned about the beauty of the Church, shared the Gospel with your friends, and demonstrated heroic virtue to others. You would have clothed the naked, fed the hungry and lived the beatitudes. If you would have accepted God’s call, you would have been a great blessing to many around you.

Ed was stunned. “Nobody ever told me that,” he said.

“Ed, many people told you these things, including God Himself. But you were too focused on getting by with the bare minimum to pay attention to anyone. You allowed many distractions to take your mind and heart away from God’s plan for you. Because of this, you never accepted most of the grace God offered you in the sacraments and because you didn’t accept them, they went unused.”

Reader: Now it is your turn to write the ending to this story.

Bob Sullivan

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