A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
By the freeway in Tulsa, there is a megachurch with an attention grabbing name. Their main campus is sprawling, and they have more than one. Their services are tailored to modern tastes, featuring heart-pumping music, colorful strobe lights, and positive sermons. Their motto? “Help people win.” Their website proudly encourages visitors to “Win every day,” a marketing slogan reminiscent of the many casinos and recommended best online bingo websites in the area.
My point is not to inveigh against megachurches. I am sure there are many good-hearted people who attend this church. But I do want to ask the question, are we called to “Win every day?” Is this the Gospel? Is this why Christ died, to make us winners at life?
As Catholics, we must answer with a resounding No. Nowhere in scripture is there any reference to “winning.” Quite the opposite. Over and over again we are called to die, to carry our crosses.We are called to put to death the old man and walk in the life of the Holy Spirit. We are told the poor in spirit and the mourners are blessed. We are told that the outcasts and the despised and the brokenhearted of this world will inherit the kingdom of heaven. The first will be last. The poor will be rich. The humble will be exalted. The greatest are those who serve.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, his disciples wanted to be winners. Sure, they left everything behind to follow Christ, but they also expected a great reward, a high place in his earthly Messianic kingdom which would soon be ushered in. So intense was their zeal for earthly exaltation that they were constantly bickering over who would get the very highest place. Whenever Jesus spoke of his destiny, death on the cross, they rebuked him and told him it wouldn’t, it couldn’t, happen. Temporal triumph was the only thing on their minds.
But then the unthinkable happened. Their Messiah was arrested, beaten to a pulp, mocked, and crucified with common criminals. They were dumbstruck, stupefied. How could this be? The Messiah was to trample his enemies, but now his enemies nailed him to a cross! Their Messiah, their God, was utterly defeated, utterly shamed in the eyes of the world. They did not yet know that they served a self-emptying God, a God who did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.
The Gospel is quite simply the inversion of all human values. It is the priorities of pride turned upside down and inside out. Only by embracing death and defeat, the way of the cross, can we enter into the joy of eternal life.
The Americanized gospel of prosperity and winning at life is foreign to historic Christianity and the faith of the apostles. Such a gospel is meaningless in the fiery forge of prison camps and gulags, the places where saints are made. It is nothing but cruel mockery to a martyr who is being tortured and killed in imitation of his crucified Lord. And such a gospel would be unrecognizable to the Christians of the catacombs who went singing joyfully to the lions. This false gospel is but an shallow and superficial lie, no matter how pleasant it may sound.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” teaches St. Paul, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The world is never friendly to true Christianity. Love came into the world, and Love was crucified by the world. If we could follow Christ, we must be prepared for defeat, for we are called to follow a Lord who faced the ultimate defeat—the shame and ignominy of the cross. The servant is not greater than his master.
That is not to say the Christian life is one of misery and gloom, nor does it mean we should we seek out persecutions or suffer from a victim complex. Far from it. We will find there is tremendous joy to be found in the way of littleness and humility that is following Christ. Countless martyrs and confessors and sufferings saints bear witness to this fact. And this joy is far more satisfying and lasting than the joy offered by the world’s paltry promises.
Americanized Christianity preaches success, victory, prosperity, and winning. Those who follow this gospel have their reward. But as for us, let us say like St. Paul, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Are you referring to the “GUTS” church off the BA expressway?
Sam Guzman says
How’d you guess? 🙂
Thank you – great article, sir.
Ken (Nitpick) Jarman says
Excellent website, ministry, and article. Please keep up the good work! Just one small concern: If you are going to use absolute statements like “Nowhere in scripture is there any reference to ‘winning,’ ” you really should make absolutely certain that you are correct. Phil 3:14 immediately came to mind: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” A quick search finds several more verses with “win” in them. In the positive (that is, we want these “wins”): 1 Cor 9:19-22, Luke 21:19, 1 Thess 4:12; in the negative (we should not want these): Matt 23:15, Gal 1:10, Gal 4:17, Eph 6:6; and some that are sort of neutral: Exod 17, Prov 3:4, Prov 13:15. All of these can be addressed and keep your conclusions intact, but saying “no such thing” potentially damages the message. (FYI I’ve chosen to use the NIV for my search only because chances are that’s what someone who wanted to defend a “Win” Gospel might turn to.)
Gerard McCullough says
I’m not a expert on biblical translations but it may be a translation problem. In English, the verb to win has a very specific meaning. In Spanish, it is interchangeable with the verb to earn and this may be the case in some ancient languages.
I like this. I agree that most Christians think the “abundant life” is a life of abundance in material possessions/money. I believe it is an abundance of peace, hope, joy and a love beyond measure.
I’m in BA at least twice a year Sam; that’s where my wife is from and every time I see that church I usually mumble something like, “What could possibly be going on in there?” Love Oklahoma and especially BA. We’ll be retiring there in just over nine years. Can’t wait!
Ellis Spear says
Sam, awesome job. Where do get such insight and wisdom ? Amazing greatness.
Don’t forget the Paradoxical nature of our Christian faith, Ken. We win by ‘losing’. vaya con Deus!!!
Michael Gladius says
Certainly, the world’s definition of winning is different from God’s, since the priorities are different. Our definition of winning is accepting God as the source, summit, and center of our lives, which is what will ultimately fulfill our deepest needs. The world tries to substitute God with other things.
But at the same time, we should try to win souls over to the light. We must be fearless, bold, and willing to risk everything to save those outside (and inside) the Church from rejecting God. Each soul will ultimately choose to accept or reject God, but we must inspire and encourage others to pick the former. Populism is not a Christian virtue, but we should make efforts to bring souls back to God.
Our Lady of Fatima said that there are many souls in Hell because they had nobody to pray for them. We can do a lot in that arena.
David Homoney says
Ahhhh, good ol’ GUTS. I frequently go past with my wife and ask, “Win what?”. The reply is always the same, a first class ticket to hell. Christ to them is a slot machine that pays. They think Christ wants them rich. To remove the cross, which you will not see there, is to remove the central point of Christianity. Without the cross, without suffering there can be no resurrection, no redemption. They lead astray these little ones and earn the millstone.
Good article, and I very much appreciate your site and the work you do. You are right — we are not called to win, earn, secure, or otherwise obtain anything. We are called to one thing, and that is love. When we love, we participate in the life of our Creator, who is Love straight through and outside of which nothing exists. John’s Gospel sums up everything we need to know in 3 startling words — “God is Love.”
Faith, Hope and Love is what we must live by on our earthly journey. The instant our soul leaves the body it has loved so much, we will not need faith and hope any longer, as we will know the truth. Hopefully we will have loved while on earth, as that is what our eternal judgement will be based on, nothing else. No need to win anything on earth , just love all, and then in death you will WIN eternal life with God.
San Luigi says
We are on the lord team…
I think the problem is not the victory (not as the world), but to accept the Cross before.
Good Lent to everybody
I like your writing! Straight ahead yet paints the an engaging picture!
Thinking of my favorite film, A Man For All Seasons. When a man has conquered self and lives a virtuous life, he is naturally disposed to leadership, and many (though not all) will be drawn to him. “Faithful in small matters” before being trusted with large ones, St. Thomas More rose all the way to Chancellor of England, and all the power and privileges pertaining to this position. I would love to see more Christians in positions of influence, even if this entails earning a higher paycheck. The secret to More, however, is that everything you wrote about Christian victory-in-death also applied to him fully. It is funny, that holiness may both be irresistibly attractive and a source of hatred and persecution, a source of “winning” as well as a source of “losing”.
Really Realist says
As the Church goes, so goes the world. The catastrophe of Vatican II, with its selling out to the world and the devil, has greatly enabled the spread of the prosperity “gospel.” And let’s not forget some of the most infamous words of Jorge Bergoglio: “Who am I to judge?” What a disaster.
Hello, can you please tell me what picture you have in this article?
Just to be fair, is it possible that this church is referring to “win over sin”? A spiritual victory?