We – or maybe I should say “I” – have been reflecting upon the way that we see other people as people. One of the flaws underlying the mainstream culture is a confusion regarding who we are as human beings. While it might seem like such a discussion has little to do with our faith as Christians, St. John Paul II stated in his opening Encyclical as Pope, Redemptor Hominis, and then quoted again in his 1994 Letter to Families: man is the way of the Church. At the beatification Mass of St. John Paul II, his good friend Pope Benedict had this to say , regarding St. John Paul II’s Pontificate: This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. All this is true because of what the Church teaches through the II Vatican Council:
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light … Christ…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. (GS, 22)
Thus, it is essentially linked with our journey towards union with the Triune God that we have an authentic understanding of our human nature. If we don’t understand who we are, we won’t understand why we’re here on this earth. If we don’t understand why we’re here, how can we expect to fulfill our purpose as human beings? Sure, some people might accidentally find the purpose and meaning of our existence, but frankly, eternal salvation is not something that should be “hit or miss”! We must see our humanity through Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, for He is the One who shows us how to authentically live as human beings in this world of ours. Thus, the Church sees “man” as Her mission because She wants man to know eternal salvation and that means knowing Jesus Christ.
A house built on a bad foundation is a bad house! The foundation of this authentic understanding of our humanity as persons composed of a body united to a soul demands that we reject anything which seeks to deny this fundamental reality. Thus, our presentation of ourselves – physical and spiritual – should reflect that (see Post 1 on this topic) and we should be aware that we need to actively and intentionally form our young people in this way of thinking and acting because it’s true (see Post 2 on this topic). What I’d like to do in this (perhaps) final post on this topic is to talk about a consequence of this authentic understanding and authentic formation of individuals: the (trans)formation of the culture.
In the midst of what can be seen as very dark days, our response might be one of “flight.” The waves of evil seem to crash against the bark of Peter as well as against the authentic goodness found in other parts of our culture. The Church in recent decades seems to have “taken on a lot of water” partly because of the faults of Her members and partly because of the faults of those outside the Church. In addition, in many parts of the world, the ugly head of violence has risen up against people of different races, sexes, religions, and creeds. The Christian response, however, is not one of “flight” but of “fight” – in the noblest sense of that word. As a fellow priest recently said, “We know the outcome of this fight; the victory is already won! Our job is to gracefully run out the clock.” We are to not be afraid, as God is apparently fond of reminding us. We should boldly engage the world and form the culture according to Christian principles which we know to be good, true, and beautiful! We shouldn’t give up and recede, but rather get back in the fray. The genius of Catholicism, throughout history, is not in retreating but in rolling up our sleeves and getting to work at recapturing the culture. This is what we do; want proof? See the lives of the saints, starting with St. John Paul II and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta.
Let’s play out a certain scenario: God reveals His Wisdom in Jesus Christ, God-made-man, to 12 men uniquely-chosen and uniquely-equipped to share this saving message with the world in every time and place. That Message, whose veracity is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, is continually transmitted by the Successors of the Apostles (bishops) through their co-workers (priests) in local “outposts” (ie. parishes). These co-workers imbue the heads (parents) of even smaller outposts (families) with the wisdom to assist in the concrete passing-on of that Message by word and deed so that everyone, from top to bottom, can know and live that Message and fulfill their purpose in this Divine Plan of Salvation. Admittedly, this is a simplistic notion of the whole process and more distinctions are needed to portray this accurately, but you start to get the idea, I’m sure.
What happens if this scenario gets played out in every time and place? Let’s just say the world would be a different place. Everyone, imbued with the wisdom of the Gospel, lives their lives in the world, taking the Gospel with them wherever they should go: to the grocery store, gas station, workplace, park, school, backyard, playing field, etc. This is the vision which the Church has regarding the formation of the faithful; it isn’t just parents forming their kids, but Holy Mother Church forming Her children in faith and morals. The real power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be unleashed upon our lives with profound and far-reaching consequences. In short, this is what is meant by everyone living out their vocation, not only as a priest, consecrated person, or spouse, but also their vocation in society as baker, police officer, engineer, teacher, stay-at-home mom, etc. with God-given purpose, imbued with Catholic theological and philosophical principles, that is, human wisdom and Divine wisdom.
Some might object that the Church is imposing its views on others, but this goes back to what I said about our rejection of the wisdom of past generations. Nowadays, we fear telling another person they’re wrong, but this is because we’ve forgotten – or are unable to prove to anyone – that there are truths which apply to all persons, no matter their race, sex, or creed. Because the Church has not forgotten the enduring nature of truth, and because “the truth will set you free”, the Church wishes to “re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone” (St. John Paul II, Novo Millenio Ineunte) the saving truth that has been given to the human race through Jesus Christ.
Because of a unique gift given by Jesus Christ, the Church finds itself as the steward and servant of the truth that will transform both individuals and cultures if we take His Message seriously. It’s a gift that has been given and a gift meant to be shared, not buried underneath the bushel basket. Lest we, however, look at this as merely a “nice idea”, this is precisely what has happened in numerous ways throughout the history of the Church. Well-formed Catholics have changed their culture and left their mark; see for example, St. Thomas More, St. Louis IX (King of France), St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Albert the Great, St. Isidore the Farmer, St. Benedict Joseph Labre, St. Juan Diego. From the noblest to the humblest of social positions, the saints have lived out their vocations in a Catholic way and thus transformed the world around them!
Lastly, I think of the model which is given in this regard by Opus Dei, a group founded by St. Josemaria Escriva. He embraced this notion of the sanctification of culture by means of the sanctification of individuals. Transformation of the culture requires transformation of individuals, but once those individuals are formed and transformed by the graces of the Gospel, the transformation of the culture inevitably takes place. Thus, as we begin this new year, perhaps our best resolutions involve allowing Christ to transform us as individuals more into His Image and Likeness that we might be equipped to bring the Light of Christ into the darkness of our world.