Saints and murderers – beware the trappings of Christianity


Mary MacKillop holding her life orders.

The trappings of Christianity are precisely that, a trap – just ask Teresa Lewis or Mary MacKillop.

When we adhere outwardly, publicly or religiously to Christian faith but deny its inner, personal change, eventually we – and others – are snared in a trap of our own making.

What tends to happen is that the appearance of being a good Christian becomes an ever broadening disguise, hiding the real turmoil within. We would have been better to deny the appearance and be honest about the reality.

As guilt and condemnation do their insidious work, and as we have more to lose if our charade is exposed, we work harder on the exterior, becoming even more lost on the inside.

Jesus gave the simple example of the religious leader coming to pray, full of hubris, flaunting his religious superiority but in reality being further away in God’s eyes than the scorned tax collector who stood at a distance, ashamed of his wrong-doing, and seeking mercy and forgiveness.

Extreme examples in today’s world come to light with the execution of a US woman and the one-time excommunication of soon-to-be-Catholic-saint, Mary MacKillop.

Teresa Lewis was executed in Virginia on Friday afternoon (AEST) fo arranging the killings of her husband and a stepson over a $US250,000 insurance payment.

Amazingly, Lewis had the appearance of a strong Christian and even prayed with her husband in bed before getting up and unlocking the door of their home to let in the killers.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Lewis admitted her life had been marked by outrageous bouts of sex and betrayal even as she ‘hewed to the trappings of Christianity’.

‘I was doing drugs, stealing, lying and having several affairs during my marriages,’ reads a statement by Lewis. ‘I went to church every Sunday, Friday and revivals but guess what? I didn’t open my Bible at home, only when I was at church.’

Which is why a Christian life marked only by ‘meetings’ is not a true marker of discipleship. Jesus said that while we would find his presence in the company of other believers, so too among the poor, in serving others and in a heartfelt searching of our own hearts.

Mary MacKillop by all accounts was someone known for these qualities which is no doubt why she was responsible for exposing the paedophilia of a priest, and then excommunicated for her troubles.

A documentary to screen on the ABC’s Compass program on October 10 alleges that Mary MacKillop was excommunicated from the Catholic Church partly as revenge for helping to expose the paedophilia of South Australian priest, Father Keating, of Kapunda. 

The documentary claims this action by sisters in MacKillop’s Josephite order of nuns attracted the ire of South Australian priest Father Charles Horan who then used his influence to convince a troubled Bishop Shiel of Adelaide to throw MacKillop out of the Catholic Church, a decision he reversed on his deathbed.

The ugly issue of child abuse in the church is an extreme example of when religious behaviour is a disguise for, rather than a reflection of, the true life of a person.

Right now you may be muttering that all Christians are losers or thank goodness you are not a Christian like that. Neither position is sustainable.

Jesus is still the friend of sinners and a true and powerful spiritual encounter with Christ is life-changing like no other thing, as millions of humble followers around the globe will profess.

Likewise, to imagine we do not have the potential to hide behind a religious disguise is probably to naively deny something that is occurring right now. Better to acknowledge we are no better than Teresa Lewis and be reflectively determined to pull down any religious pretence we have been entertaining.

We might risk excommunication but at least we’ll avoid the death penalty…

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